|The Department of Defense has identified
the role of public affairs practitioners as providing timely and accurate
information to the public while maintaining the security interests of the
department and its personnel. Additionally, military public affairs
representatives operate from a common premise of providing the maximum
disclosure of information with minimum delay.
Although public affairs personnel generally practice these maxims, representatives still interpret their responsibilities slightly different. Arguably, the role of providing information to the public means exactly that--providing information. One interpretation is that information is simply supposed to be informative in nature. The information provided should include only the facts of who, what, when and where. However, some would argue the process extends beyond the disclosure of facts. Some practitioners suggest additional responsibilities exist. For example, releasing information at a carefully chosen time may sway public opinion or even impact a potential adversary more significantly. Similarly, a commander may want to downplay an issue or event hoping for a diminished affect on the public.
Some contend this type of information is persuasive in nature and extends beyond the scope of public affairs responsibilities. For example, if an aircraft crashed in the local community, killing 22 people, military spokespersons must respond to the public by providing as much information as possible. Informative information must be provided at a minimum, including whom the aircraft belonged to, what events occurred prior to the accident, and when and where the incident occurred. Additionally, public affairs officials would most likely include a statement from the commander of the organization offering his or her deepest regret and condolences to the families of the victims. Similarly, the commander might convey that military officials will begin a thorough and immediate investigation emphasizing that military law is swift, just, and fair.
The informative information in this scenario; who, what, when, and where is absolutely essential. However, the additional comments are not strictly informative in nature, they include elements of persuasion (O’Hair, Friedrich, Shaver, 1998). In fact, some of those persuasive comments my even be the initial comments of a news release. Whether public affairs representatives interpret their roles as providing information in the strictest sense of informative information, or they insist public affairs messages have elements of persuasion embedded within an informative framework, providing messages to the public is certainly a strategic process.
This study suggests that providing strategic public affairs messages to the public is largely dependent on gatekeepers of mass media organizations. Public affairs representatives can carefully craft messages and release them to the public via these organizations at a specifically advantageous time. However, most information does not directly reach a target audience without the use of specific mass media channels. Those channels have gatekeepers or editors who use the messages military personnel provide them and create their own stories. Frequently, gatekeepers do not include all of the elements of messages public affairs representatives want to convey to the public. Time, space and even personal opinions limit those messages (Morton, 1995).
Although there are different forums to reach public audiences that do not involve gatekeepers, such as a speech by a commander to the local chamber of commerce, those channels do not reach as many people as is often required. Therefore, the responsibilities of public affairs representatives extend to establishing relationships with the media in order to efficiently push military strategic messages through media channels to effectively reach a target audience.
This work contends that a strategic public affairs message applied through three different media channels will be remembered differently by a target audience. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to determine the number of elements of a message an audience recalls after receiving a strategic message via radio, television, or newspaper. These findings can assist officials to redirect the efforts of a current campaign or how to direct the efforts of a developing scenario.