Don’t mention the war: Parking fine story penalises clear communication

car-park-fines Photo Steve DavisA Saturday Advertiser story about new parking fine technology for Adelaide was reminiscent of a famous Fawlty Towers scene in which John Cleese ties himself in knots trying NOT to mention World War Two in front of German customers.

As I hope to show, skirting around the obvious risks leaving a vacuum for others to fill.

Don’t mention the fine revenue

The article, Spycams planned for Adelaide City Council street car parks, was about the proposed installation of technology that can sense when cars pull into parking spaces and fine them automatically if they overstay their time limit.

I don’t envy anybody working in local government who has the job of going on the record to talk about parking fine technology, even if the system boasts options to help motorists AVOID parking fines.

A fine piece of technology but no right way to rejoice

The ’tiser article references the fact that a trial of the new system in Charles Sturt Council on Port Road netted 285 fines in five months, compared to the average yielded by ‘old fashioned’ parking inspectors of just 16.

Any journalist worth their salt would be champing at the bit to focus on the ‘revenue windfall’.

Therefore, spokespeople are under pressure to communicate what they want to achieve through the technology (parker turn over) while journalists are listening out for their key points (revenue increase).

The difficulty of communicating in an age of short attention media

If you are ever in a situation like this where you stand to be damned if you DO mention an uncomfortable fact and damned if you DON’T, it pays to assess the community context.

In this case, the discussion topic is particularly tricky, give that:

  • Nobody likes parking fines
  • Most people believe government authorities institute limits and fines to raise revenue
  • Few people are aware of the complexities of managing parking and traffic, let alone city infrastructure

Be that as it may, I would love to hear anybody introducing a system like this in any council or shire within Australia, make a comment like this:

Yes, of course the initial increase in fine revenues will be welcome but the real goal is actually to get car parks turning over so that when people do visit the city they have a fair chance of finding a park, which will help them enjoy their stay and maybe they’ll plan to come back again and again.

I believe that actually naming the increase in revenue takes some of the poison out of the issue because not to do so leaves it up to journalists and readers to weave that aspect into their own versions of the story.

And in the weekend article we did see the claim that thousands more drivers will be nabbed even though both official spokespeople spoke at length about other various angles of the story

The takeaway point is, we, journalists and the audience,  will always be aware of any wars’ not being acknowledged. So in this environment it is up to us to find a way to mention it, put it into context, and then frame the conversation in a way that takes readers and journalists by surprise and grabs their interest.

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