This week, MP Nadine Dorries caused a storm when she accused “left wing snowflakes” of “killing comedy” and “dumbing down panto” by demanding the removal of certain words and phrases from public entertainment pieces.
While there is a case for the removal of potentially offensive words or the mocking of a particular person or group of people because of their gender, religion or sexuality, there is also a strong lobby for those who want to enjoy their chosen entertainment in the same way, and with the same content that they always have done – even if that content is unsavoury or leaves a bad taste in the mouth for some.
Choice of language is a challenge that comms professionals face on a daily basis. Everything we write – and it’s a lot – must be scrutinised for tone and for anything that may cause upset to anyone seeing it. And that’s not just in terms of potentially racist or sexist language. We also have to think about phrases that may unintentionally alarm a local community group that we’re engaging with. We have to think about who our client is, and what their values are. And we have to consider how any word or phrase within our press release could be used in a negative way. “Taken out of context” is a term we always avoid using, but it’s a very possible repercussion.
As protectors of a client’s reputation, the onus is on us to ensure that everything they say publicly is palatable. Of course, we wouldn’t work with clients who wanted to push a racist, sexist or homophobic agenda and no such language would come through our keyboards, but it’s our job to advise clients when their business language may be seen as inflammatory, upsetting or just plain unhelpful to their cause.
Slips of the tongue can and do take place, and while you could say that well-worn phrases such as that used by MP Anne-Marie Morris in July could slip into conversation if you’re that way inclined, there’s just no excuse for anyone working in PR or Public Affairs to cause offense with anything that is released by them.
If they do, they’re just not doing their job properly.