Thursday, 30 June 2016

How not to face the media!

“How to face the media” was the subject of a training day I attended when I was running a breast cancer research charity. This was at the height of the vile and dangerous campaign by animal rights activists about medical research using animals. (It was vile – they dug up the body of an old woman from a cemetery to ransom to her family and dangerous, they bombed scientists and scientific establishments). 

One of the pharmaceutical companies arranged a training day for some of their key staff and very generously included a few people from charities. The pharmaceutical staff needed to know how to deal with aggressive journalists, most of our interaction with the media was gentler.

It was a most valuable day and a couple of generic lessons stuck in my mind. If the subject affects your sector but not your organisation you can say no.  You can say no anyway but then they may well say – “no one would comment”  The second and most powerful was – from the moment you walk into the studio or the journalist comes into your office you are on the record. Even if you believe the microphone or camera are switched off, don’t risk it.

When Prime Minister Gordon Brown called a woman he had just been very polite to a bigot he didn’t realise he still had the microphone on, even though he was back in his car (see here for the full story). This haunted him for the rest of his career.

Our charity was once approached by a TV company who wanted to do a “day in the life, behind the scenes” at our office.  The Fundraising Department was very keen – wonderful exposure.  My response was, not under any circumstances: not because we had anything to hide, we were very proud of how the organisation was run and our staff but we couldn’t control the off the cuff remark someone might make which could be misinterpreted, the phone call that might come in or how it might be edited. 

That’s why I was so surprised to see that Seamus Milne, Jeremy Corbyn’s Executive Director of Strategy and Communications, allowed a reporter from Vice to do exactly that.  Milne used to be a reporter – did he think that because the reporter was a life-long Labour supporter that it would be just fine. It starts off that way but turns into a car crash.  Watch it - here

While this wasn’t disastrous – things then became worse.  After over half the Shadow Cabinet resigned, new appointments were made and it was thought a good idea to let the cameras in to their first meeting. Not only does it start with Corbyn saying that he is not sure this is a great idea but when they regroup the people around him have moved seats – one key person is not there.  Seamus I'm not sure this is a great idea either has now gone viral.

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