When the media asks, public figures must answer

Written by Lahra Carey

Surely enough celebrities and high profile media spokespeople have been humiliated over the years to render this one self evident? True, and perhaps it lies a little at odds with another of our nuggets – “Ensure you finish the interview on your terms”, which we are also at pains to teach.

But hopefully our students manage to execute this with a little more elegance than was displayed by the Victorian Premier last week when he stormed out of an interview after beginning to feel uncomfortable about the direction of the questions by an ABC TV news reporter.

Many of the people we assist, in understanding how to best get their media message across, are captains of industry who perform impressively in a boardroom but understand that the media interview – particularly for television, radio or the internet – requires a completely counter-intuitive skillset which takes practice to learn.

They come with a healthy respect for the media, and grow to understand that an interview is really a transaction with both sides implicitly bargaining to get to a common ground; the interviewee wants to say one thing, the journalist thinks there’s a better story and uses many tricks of the trade to get it.

Premiers and their staffers know this stuff – it’s fine to set the ground rules, but the job of the reporter is to ask all of the questions the electorate is entitled to have the answers to.

I’m not sure whether the Premier’s staffer Liz McKinnon ever worked in a newsroom, but Mr Napthine should have enough experience to know how to gracefully avoid answering any question he feels is not part of his agenda.

Further, there are enough spin-doctors employed on both sides of politics to ensure key messages are prepared and rehearsed on every current affairs issue – and the two topics the ABC reporter chose to question the Premier about were hardly obscure or irrelevant to the public agenda.

It’s surprising that the ABC journalist involved with the Premier’s storm-out was intimidated into agreeing to the Premier’s unreasonable conditions, but the ABC’s Victorian News Editor Shane Castleman was quick to ensure it didn’t become a precedent.

It would be well worth it for the Government to remember that journalism isn’t a free form of advertising…