Communication practice in relation to government communication reveals a lacuna in research and literature. Heise (1985:199) lamented the lack of academic interest in government communication. Because of such scant literature, government communication as a practice is poorly understood (Pandey & Garnett, 2006:37). Given its significance, government communication is too important a challenge to ignore (Canel & Sanders, 2013). A question of how government communication should be organised and practiced in order to contribute to effectiveness is rarely addressed. For that matter, Vos (2006:257) prescribes future academic research in communication management to focus on exploring government communication practices and factors that influence them. The present study responds to such a call.
The theoretical framework of this study is based on the thesis that communication management is vital for democracy. For government communication to be professional and strategic, it must be organised excellently and effectively while taking into account the advocacy nature inherent in external organisational rhetoric that could threaten the ethics and legitimacy of (government) communication management. It is equally essential for the distinctive communication environment of the public sector (the public sector distinctiveness theory) to be considered in both the theorising and the practice of government communication.
The purpose of this study is to explore the extent to which the distinctive communication environment of the public sector affects the practice of communication management in provincial government departments within the KwaZulu Natal province. In addition, the study examines the extent to which government communication can be strategic, ethical, and distinctive.
This study arrives at the following conclusions: The data confirms the distinctiveness of the public sector communication environment as measured by the 13 features identified from literature. It is conclusive that these features significantly affect the practice of government communication as they influence the organisational structures, communication practices, roles and functions, and evaluation measures of communication management in provincial government departments. However, it was found that the negative impacts of the public sector communication environment can be considerably reduced by the extent to which communication management in the public sector is professional, strategic (excellence and effectiveness) and ethical.
The results demonstrate that government communication in KZN is relatively strategic having fulfilling the excellence requirement of strategic communication. However, KZN still falls short of achieving the effectiveness requirement of strategic communication. Hence, improvements are recommended towards the fulfilment of the ‘effectiveness’ principle.
In conclusion, the study presented a model for strategic government communication that takes into account the distinctive, strategic, and ethical elements. This framework demonstrates that the structure (the distinct internal environment of the public sector) influences the practice (of government communication) which in turn determines the outcome (ethical & strategic). This is not withstanding to the fact that all four nodes consisting of (1) the external environment, (2) the internal environment, (3) the desired outcomes and (4) the organisational culture, equally influence the practice of government communication. For this reason, it is advisable for the study of government communication to take a multi-faceted theoretical approach.