Bad source, bad communication

Source credibility is everything

The ANC - a once proud party, the party of Albert John Lutuli, Oliver Reginald Tambo, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki, all of these proud leaders creating a strong image for a strong entity with an equally strong message. How will we judge the communication originating from this institution in 2017? The keyword in that last sentence is originating of course, because our judgement of the quality of any communication starts with the source of the communication, more specifically the source credibility or ethos of the communication. Source credibility theory has been with us for quite some time and there is a vast literature explaining the effects of perceived source credibility on the quality, acceptability and persuasiveness of the communication, clearly indicating the dangers of the mismanagement of one's credibility.

When considering the source of the communication, positive values such as the following come to mind (some of them will overlap, of course): knowledge and informedness, expertise, competence, leadership, vision, composure, integrity, reliability, believability, honesty, openness, fairness, responsibility, selflessness, respect (including self-respect and respect for others), sympathy, kindness - to name but a few of the most important (obvious?) ones. Based on the behavior of the source we make deductions regarding the presence or absence of these values.

Not only do we develop source characteristics for the individuals communicating with us, we also do so for organisations, institutions, companies and other larger entities. In the case of such larger entities the source characteristics of the entity are for a large part defined by the actions, the communications, the behavior of the most important role-players in these entities - the leaders, heads, CEO's, managers and others that play important roles in the entities.

Let's apply this to our case, the ANC. How will we judge the communication from a source of which the following can be said regarding the people who are the embodiment of the source:

  • a leader shown by our highest court to disrespect our Constitution

  • a leader with more than 783 charges of fraud, racketeering and corruption hanging over his head

  • the issue of state capture and the spectre of the Guptaleaks, with a number of senior leaders being implicated

  • the Nkandla scandal and the way in which leadership responded

  • incompetent management of the country's institutions to the point of bankruptcy

  • administrative mismanagement in government departments and local government

  • seemingly accepting the mismanagement and theft of public funds by a number of senior leaders and others; endemic corruption, and a total disregard for the role of custodianship

  • ... while punishing those who actually do a good job

  • the mismanagement of state entities such as Escom, SAA, Prasa, Transnet, Denel and others with losses amounting to billions, and no leader in government seems to think this is urgent

  • leaders putting the well-being of the party before the well-being of the country

  • leading us into down-grades

  • incapability of leaders to act on plans and policies

  • leaders presenting us with confusing or conflicting messages

  • leaders acting in a way that suggests that they do not really care about the people of South Africa and the future of the country

  • ... and the list goes on

Does this mean there is nothing good to be said of the source? And are there no good messages to convey? Of course not. But here's the problem: When negatives regarding the source are allowed to pile up seemingly without control, the good things become totally overshadowed by the bad, and the source then loses its credibility, so that any messages about the good stuff, good intentions, good plans, etc. become distrusted - it is simply the nature of the source credibility beast.

The problem then is that it becomes almost impossible to "fix" the credibility of the source, the image of the entity goes down the drain, and this then has a negative effect on any communication originating with the source. It is almost as if the South African public wants to break out in song with that simple little tune sung at weddings: "How the hell can we believe you!".


The best recent example was the medium-term budget speech by minister Malusi Gigaba on 25 October 2017. Mr Gigaba is also implicated in the whole state capture saga, and immediately after his speech political parties and media started questioning his credibility. A notable example is an article by Pieter du Toit in Huffington Post on 27 October 2017 (the reader can access the article here).

The ANC government is an excellent example of mismanaged source credibility, and as the number of discerning listeners and readers in South Africa grow (and the number ís growing by the day, make no mistake), the loss of source credibility will have a growing negative effect on the entity and the credibility of its communication with the South African community.

The management of source credibility is a complex and sensitive matter. It is lost rather easily, but regained with great difficulty, if at all. One disregards this issue at one's peril!

Want to know more about this topic and how we can help you? Contact Leon de Stadler and Associates via our website at www.leondestadler.com, or contact me directly at lgds@leondestadler.com .


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