Jodie Ginsberg is a recognised expert on media freedom.

She was chief executive of Index On Censorship, the global freedom of expression group, and is now CEO of Internews Europe, an organisation which empowers people worldwide with high quality news and information. Jodie started her career as a journalist with Thomson Reuters.

Here she tells Harpswood why communicators in countries with limited free speech tend to be better listeners, why Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary is effective at getting his point across… and why organisations should never bury their heads in the sand.

You have worked with some amazing communicators. Who stood out for you and why?

The most outstanding communicators I have ever come across were two young people from RECLAIM: a youth leadership and social change organisation based in Manchester. Invited to speak about their experiences at a YouTube event where all the other speakers were well-known communicators, these two put the others to shame. They were articulate, passionate, clear and concise: a model for all communications, whether written or verbal.

Your career has focused on fighting for free speech in countries in which it is restricted. What can communicators from countries where free speech is taken for granted learn from communicators in those more restricted countries?

I think it is easy to assume in countries where free speech is taken for granted that people in those countries are therefore tolerant of dissent and difference. In fact, communicators in countries where free speech is restricted tend to be much more respectful of, and willing to listen to, ideas they disagree with than many of the most outspoken people I meet in the UK and similar countries. For me, good communication is just as much about how willing you are to listen to others as it is about how well you can articulate your own opinions and ideas.

Tech has transformed communication in the last 20 years. What has been the most important change in that period? And what has been the biggest danger caused by those developments?

Personal tech devices coupled with social media are without a doubt the most important changes over this period. It’s amazing to think Facebook is only 15 years old and yet it is now one of the most powerful communications platforms in the world. The ability to communicate your thoughts and opinions to an audience of people whom you have never met – worldwide – at the touch of a button has transformed society. It has enabled groups and individuals who previously had no platform to make their voices heard. But it has also unleashed armies of trolls and abusers who feel empowered to abuse and attack those they disagree with. Working out how to walk the line will be the key challenge.

What do you think is the next big transformation in comms coming around the corner?

The COVID pandemic is already changing the way we use tech to communicate, making it more possible to have group discussions virtually. I hope the big change we’ll see in comms is an ability for people to communicate opposing ideas and beliefs in a way that allows for nuance.

With all the communications channels now available, how can individuals, businesses or organisations cut through the noise?

Individuals, business and organisations can cut through the noise by having something different to say — but that doesn’t mean they should be forced to be contrarian. Honesty and transparency about mistakes cuts though – and so does commitment to, and demonstration of, action. Lots of people talk the talk but very few actually walk the walk as well.

Social media has played a huge role in opening up free speech. How should innovative business leaders communicate in 2020? Should they be on Tik Tok or stick to appearing on business podcast?

Innovative business leaders should be communicating on a variety of channels — it really depends on who your audience is and who you want it to be. The most innovative business leaders will also recognise that they don’t always need to be the ones who are front and centre – the best change you can make is to use your platform to elevate others.

Which business or organisation has been effective in its communications in recent years and why?

Ryanair is an effective communicator, but mainly because it has a figurehead who is willing to stick his head above the parapet. You might not always like what he is saying, but it’s almost always clear what Michael O’Leary and Ryanair are thinking. I’d also highlight Greggs as a business that has worked out how to use social media to good effect. Conversely, many of the big tech companies are terrible communicators: often on the back foot, and great at making big pronouncements that say nothing.

Some businesses and organisations bury their heads and hide away when it comes to communicating. Are there risks to that insular approach?

Burying your head in the sand is a terrible way to communicate. People will always project the worst into the silence. The most effective way to deal with any issue, good or bad, is to deal with it proactively — and recognise openly when you have been too slow to react or made a mistake. People respect organisations that demonstrate honesty, humility, and humanity.

Coronavirus has obviously had a huge impact on how we communicate — from the rise of video conferencing to (perhaps) the death knell of the handshake. Do you think this has changed how we communicate forever?

I think it might reverse some trends that I think were damaging our ability to communicate effectively – such as a reliance on email and text. people are now being forced to communicate through video conferencing and audio calls, and while that is sometimes not as effective as an in-person meeting, it can certainly be more effective – and engaging – than doing everything via email.

A quote that’s been attributed to American comic George Burns (and others) is “The key to success is sincerity. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” How easy is it to pick out inauthentic communication?

I think it’s pretty easy to pick out inauthentic communication. You can always hear it in Donald Trump when he’s forced to give speeches or use phrases that are not his own. But that doesn’t mean an ‘authentic’ voice shouldn’t involve work: it is tough to work out as an organisation how to represent an organisational voice and it’s something that requires craft and thought – and involvement from the top.

Is there a business/organisational use of jargon that irritates you? Is there any place in communications for jargon?

I hate all business jargon but there is a special place in my jargon hell for acronyms.


Photo: Taken by Elina Kansikas, courtesty of Index on Censorship