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More Than Words

16th January 2017

Sigrid Krupica, CEO of Grayling in Austria, takes a look at one of the main objectives of the Austrian OSCE chairmanship and the role communication plays when it comes to nurturing or preventing extremism.

This year Austria has taken over the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe OSCE – the world's largest security-oriented intergovernmental organization which aims at conflict resolution, peacekeeping and the promotion of human rights across 57 countries in Europe, northern and central Asia and North America.

Facing a multifaceted problem
It is already clear that avoidance of radicalization and extremism will be one of the main focuses of the Austrian OSCE Chairmanship. This certainly does not come as a surprise in the current geopolitical situation and the December terrorist attacks in Istanbul and Berlin only underline the importance of the matter further.

But how can a governmental organization or – in fact – any other institution or individual effectively help in preventing violent extremism? Especially since it becomes clear, that the motivation behind these acts is very complex and hard to pin down? It’s not always purely circumstancial; about poverty, desperation, religious conviction or lack of education. Even the “angry young men” paradigm is not entirely true anymore as a we are becoming increasingly aware of the role of female terrorists.

So what role does communication play in this?
Several international studies conclude that the lack of social inclusion and search for significance and a sense of belonging are pushing some people into the hands of radical or extremist groups. So what role does communication play when it comes to alienating certain groups or individuals from the rest of us? In my opinion it means a lot.

And I’m not only referring to the vocabulary and tonality frequently utilized by populist politicians, tabloid journalists, and throughout different social media channels. There is no doubt that this kind of language incites latent fears, strengthens stereotypes among large parts of the population and establishes a strong “us” versus “them” feeling towards the people coming to the Western World from, for instance, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia or Iraq. I’m deliberately avoiding terms such as refugees or migrants in this context, because these words have become overcharged with polarizing connotations. To go around quoting widely accepted forms of hate speech,  even in attempting to speak out against it, should be a no-go.

Appropriate wording matters
Beyond issuing a press release or publishing an article, it’s the choices we make in our everyday language that count. Ever thought about the difference between describing a person as a job applicant instead of unemployed? As PR and communications professionals it is part of our daily job to apply measured language to the way we speak. Who knows - perhaps this could bring the importance of semantics beyond academic circles and our own communications industry, into the wider public eye?

Brands can benefit from taking a stand
And what about advising our clients to take a clear stand against any kind of discrimination in the public discussion? There are some great examples of that recently. Only last week Lidl in the Czech Republic reacted very clearly on a Facebook rage against a black male model in their latest leaflet. Lidl received high praises both from Czech officials and other brands active in the Czech market. For instance, cider company Magnetic Apple publically voiced their support for Lidl’s choice and opinion via Facebook.

So when the OSCE aims at containing extremist ideas under Austrian chairmanship in 2017, we can all do our share and contribute to a long-term change by choosing or words carefully. Everyday. In every forum. 

Grayling Team

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