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Pres. Lee`s Speeches Fail to Get Message Across: Survey

Posted August. 13, 2009 10:16,   


A common tool used by President Lee Myung-bak to communicate with the people is speeches. He has made the most of well-prepared addresses to effectively promote his pragmatic and pro-low income policies.

The Dong-A Ilbo analyzed his 286 speeches and radio and Internet addresses delivered between his inauguration Feb. 25 last year and July 27 this year. By applying a stylistic method, the most frequently used keywords were selected by item and the frequency of each keyword was counted.

The results show that the president has failed to effectively convey his messages to the people.

○ Fewer speeches on growth

Initially, the president stressed economic recovery as most of his speeches focused on growth. He promoted values such as national advancement, competition and global standards. After the candlelight protests against the resumption of U.S. beef imports last year, and especially after the death of his predecessor Roh Moo-hyun, however, Lee began avoiding placing too much emphasis on growth.

Growth-oriented keywords such as “overcome,” “advancement,” “companies,” “competition” and “global” appeared an average of 85.3 times a month in Lee’s speeches from February to April last year. The figure dropped 21 percent to 67 times a month in speeches delivered from May to July this year.

He mentioned “advancement” 44 times in 19 speeches made in April last year, but used the term only 15 times last month.

The president is also using fewer “future-oriented” keywords. He said “hope,” “future,” “new,” “success” and “opportunity” 66 times on average every month last year, but did so just 53 times this year.

Lee employed such words last year to encourage competition. In a meeting with Korean and American businessmen, he said, “Only losers harbor suspicion. Let’s move ahead together with hope and determination.”

He also used them to explain his plan to help low-income households this year. At a prayer meeting, he said, “Material assistance for the underprivileged is important. But no less important is psychological comfort. We must give them courage and hope to overcome their difficulties.”

This year saw a significant rise in the president’s use of grassroots-friendly terms. The frequency of such words as “working class,” “warm,” “alienated,” “balance” and “consideration” soared to a monthly average of 33.6 times between November last year and January this year.

He had said such words an average of eight times a month between February and April last year. The figure dropped to 17.6 times over the past three months but is still higher than early last year.

○ Sticking to ‘unity and communication’

In a news conference held June 16 last year on the candlelight vigils, Lee said he would communicate with the people, apparently referring to the lack of unity and communication with the public cited by many as the fundamental problems of his administration.

The Dong-A Ilbo analysis, however, showed that Lee still cannot get his messages across to the people.

He used words like “unity,” “listen,” “communicate,” “serve” and “of the people” an average of 14 times per month from February to April last year, six times in January this year, and 10.3 times over the past three months.

Expressions signifying pledges and determination such as “I will” or “I promise” declined from a monthly average of 73 times early last year to 40 times this year.

The presidential office also said, “In addition to speeches, the president has constantly conveyed to the people a message of communication and unity through policies.”

Certain experts attributed the changes in his word usage to the economic downturn, saying Lee frequently used encouraging expressions to overcome the economic crisis until last year.

Jeong Jae-cheol, a professor of mass communication at Dankook University in Seoul, presented an opposing opinion. “The president still seeks to persuade the people. Because of this, he fails to get his message through,” Jeong said.

○ Lack of metaphors

When Lee withdrew his nomination of Chun Sung-gwan for prosecutor general last month, he mentioned “noblesse oblige” to stress the importance of moral integrity befitting social status. On July 16, he said lack of corporate ethics caused the financial crisis.

Such comments led to expectations that the president will shake his image as a president for the rich and urge leading figures and businessmen to conduct sweeping reform.

This is not the first time for Lee to mention “noblesse oblige,” however. He used the term in a speech made Feb. 28 last year at a ROTC commissioning ceremony. Lee seems to value the spirit of “noblesse oblige,” but it has gotten little attention.

Given criticism of Lee’s alleged bias toward a certain religion last year, the president should have addressed it through his speeches, but failed to do so. He has spoken to Buddhists 10 times, but each of his speeches to them averaged 870 words. In contrast, he delivered six speeches to Christians with an average word count of 1,550.

The length of a speech does not necessarily signify favoritism toward a certain group, but experts say he should have struck a balance considering his position as president.

The literary style of Lee’s speeches is also dry, other experts said. As a former businessman, Lee focuses on details instead of emotive vocabulary. Many eloquent speeches made by world leaders, however, contain metaphors and analogies and also appeal to people’s emotion.

A case in point is the first speech by Winston Churchill after he took over as British prime minister in the middle of World War II, saying, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

Lee Sang-cheol, a rhetoric professor at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, said, “President Lee often lists his policies in congratulatory addresses,” adding, “He should adopt a different literary style based on where and when he will deliver an address to strike a chord with the people.”