Janek Mäggi: Prime Minister must communicate with the public more rather than less
Regardless of who the prime minister is, the head of government must communicate with the public more rather than less. I think it is good to know the prime minister’s thoughts, the way she understands things and what she considers important. Let her speak and more frequently, writes Janek Mäggi.
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas stirred up a storm by addressing the public five minutes before Estonia’s most-watched television programme Aktuaalne kaamera, where she expressed concern about possible power cuts should Russia pull the plug.
I listened to the statement at the end of the next day and wondered what was so complicated about her address that made the message seem convoluted, alarming and irrelevant? It was a regular address, the kind Estonian prime ministers and presidents have made before and, to a certain degree, what people expect. Our heads of state have also received criticism for not speaking to the public frequently enough. It is good to know what the leaders consider important and are paying attention to at the moment.
Facebook is full of posts by politicians that would have given them several more votes in the elections had they remained unpublished. It is not worth blaming the head of government for cheap self-promotion in the case of every address. The prime minister, who is the most informed person in Estonia owing to her position, often possesses more alarming information than regular citizens.
Criticising the prime minister is the easiest way to chase clout; every day, the prime minister must answer questions that are very difficult to answer due to the lack of time to analyse a sufficient amount of information to formulate a response.
I remember former Prime Minister Juhan Parts complaining to me a couple of decades ago when he invited me to work for the government’s press office.“How are you supposed to keep up with absolutely everything, give interviews at any time on any topic and make speeches and still appear sufficiently knowledgeable, succinct and amiable to the public?” he asked. My answer was and still is that it is completely impossible. Speech writers must be good, but this is not enough.
Even though I completely agree that the prime minister’s addresses on the most-watched television news programme in Estonia must be clear, reasoned and balanced and thought out to the smallest detail, of the previous prime ministers, I only remember Mart Siimann as capable of doing this brilliantly, as he was so well trained in all matters concerning television.
I think it is good to know the prime minister’s thoughts, the way she understands things and what she considers important. Let her speak and more frequently. Presenting prepared texts is Kaja Kallas’ strength. Impromptu speech tends to be full of excessive filler words and technical errors in thinking that diminish the importance of the text, but these can be overcome with practice.
Some of the government’s most noteworthy communication takes place during crises. This year, the topic that has garnered the most focused attention is probably the tank in Narva, which plays no role in the welfare of society. Electricity is a hot topic for the Estonian people who are interested in both the price and whether there is any electricity at all. The more attention members of the government pay to topical problems concerning welfare and coping with challenges, the calmer society is.
Regardless of who the prime minister is, the head of government must communicate with the public more rather than less. The less time the prime minister spends time in the meeting rooms of Stenbock House, the better she is at her job. The time slot immediately before Aktuaalne kaamera is an opportunity to look the public in the eye and be completely sincere. The fewer embellished speeches the prime minister makes, the more honest she is. The address of Kaja Kallas was honest talk.
Janek Mäggi is the founder of Powerhouse Communications, Former Estonian Minister of Public Administration (2018-2019) and a member of the Estonian Centre Party.