Pavel comments put spotlight on government policy messaging

Petr Pavel

President Petr Pavel has called on Czechia’s government, who have been taking a battering in the ratings for some time, to seek help with their communication skills. But is it actually possible to sugarcoat austerity policies that leave voters with less money in their pockets? I spoke to Anna Shavit, a political marketing expert who teaches at Charles University.

“It’s a very interesting situation when the president actually sort of openly criticises the government on the communication aspect; it certainly is very new in this country.

Anna Shavit | Photo: Czech Radio

“But it also shows in the case of President Pavel that he sort of understands that people might actually either be having a difficult life or feeling that, predominantly, they're not doing that well.

“And he’s telling the government that it should show interest and acknowledge that it’s completely understandable that people are expecting next year to be economically even more challenging – and that they should include this in their communication.”

The president also said specifically that the government should find their “own Dan Stach”, referring to the Czech TV journalist who famously spoke very well and clearly during the Covid crisis. But does that piece of advice make any sense? Can the government somehow find a member of the cabinet who could be a great communicator?

“Yes. I think that would be probably be more practical: to decide who in the government will be facing all these challenges and is talking about them publicly.

“So here I think the prime minister should not be scared to perhaps hire somebody, or to make some changes.”

Do you mean to change a minister? To get in a better communicator as minister, in one position at least?

Petr Fiala talking to the media | Photo: Office of Czech Government

“Or hire… Let’s look at the reality. Unfortunately part of politics nowadays is also the ability to communicate what you do in an understandable and acceptable manner.

“And it's sort of crucial for the government, if they want to gain trust and popularity, that they have people who are skillful in this aspect.

“If a minister himself or herself is not capable of that, they can hire some advisors or people who will improve the optics of this aspect of the job.”

But surely they must already have hired capable people, and it's not working?

“Right. It’s also difficult – we have a prime minister who is certainly is very conservative person. He's not like a typical leader, who will be all the time on the X platform on social media. So of course that reflects on the whole government.”

I've been hearing for a very long time that the current government are not able to communicate. But also they have introduced these austerity measures and people are feeling the pinch in their wallets. Surely it's asking too much of the government to make people feel positive about something like that?

“This is of course incredibly difficult, if not even impossible. But what should be an inherent part of introducing such measures as the government did – we can call them necessary measures, or drastic – is a communications strategy.

Photo: Igor Budykin,  Radio Prague International

“If nothing more that would at least explain why this has been done and what would be the benefit in the long-term, so people can understand it and understand, Okay in one or two or three years we will see some benefits. And I think this is missing.

“So perhaps it should not be about telling people that everything will be good but rather explaining why this has been done and how positively it will be reflected in the future of the country.

“And this I think a sensible government should be capable of explaining. I mean at the end of the day these are their reforms