Super injunctions, cabaret and Q&A

By May 10, 2011Presentation Skills

“But this is a weak point. I definitely shouldn’t include it. Then hopefully it won’t come up in Q&A”.

We have an amazing capacity for optimism when it comes to secrecy. Rather than acknowledge a weakness and present it in context, we often prefer to entrust the success of our endeavours to silence, charm and hope. Then – once it comes up – we are on the defensive, the losing position in any persuasive environment. Disclosure and contextualisation of bad news puts us in a stronger position.

This catastrophic error is on public display in the story of the ‘super injunction’. In the UK, the public has only recently been made aware of the existence of a substantial number of super injunctions, granted by the courts, preventing the publication of information about the private lives of certain public figures – and even banning us from discussing the identity of those people fortunate enough to secure their privacy in this way.

Other countries have much longer experience with censorship and finding ways around it. I lived in Poland in the mid-nineties and was astounded by the popularity of televised cabaret as a form of entertainment. Under Communism, I was told, not only had that been where the best comedians performed, but they were able to get sly digs at their leaders under the radar of the censors. It retained a fond place in people’s hearts.

We learn quickly. The latest and most brilliant way around this legal barrier to free speech has been tried by two national newspapers. In an atmosphere of speculation, their articles praising the virtue and family values of two public figures have been widely interpreted as signifying the opposite. [You’ll forgive me for not linking].

When the full information does become available, not only will 1) the original facts be known, but 2) the publicity surrounding attempts to suppress them will catapult that knowledge into millions more homes, and 3) the public will resent the individuals involved for trying to keep it from them.

So back to us. The lesson is – if you have bad news, get it out on your terms. If suppression fails – just once – the results can be disastrous.

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