DETROIT — General Motors CEO Mary Barra is reaching out directly to customers, as GM tries to counter bad publicity from a recall of cars with a potentially deadly ignition switch defect.

GM posted five videos of Barra on its website Wednesday answering questions about the recall of 1.6 million compact cars to fix the ignition switches. The company also said Barra listened in on customer calls for about a half hour last Thursday.

GM has acknowledged it knew about the problem for at least a decade but did not recall the cars until last month. The problem is linked to at least 12 deaths.

In the videos, Barra assures viewers that the compact cars are safe, as long as they remove everything from their key rings. GM has said that weight dangling from the rings can cause the ignition to slide out of the run position into accessory or off. That shuts down the engine and disables power-assisted steering, power brakes and air bags. As a result, a driver can lose control of their car.