COMMENT | In conjunction with World Freedom Day on May 4, it’s only fair for the media to urge leaders and politicians that the media be treated fairly.
If leaders don’t like the way they are questioned, the media can be barred from attending press conferences or requests for interviews with them can be rejected.
Unfortunately, journalists are taken for granted and shooed away like goats in a barn. No other profession is treated and criticised as journalists and the media are marked and ridiculed by leaders.
As a ‘no-Internet-censorship’ commitment was part of the Malaysian government’s promise when it launched the Multimedia Super Corridor, Malaysia enjoys unrestricted Internet access and a space for independent media outlets to operate.
Unfortunately, as of 2017, Malaysia ranked 144th on the World Press Freedom Index.
Having been a journalist for more than 35 years, taught journalism, media relations and authored five books, I feel that the constant harassment of journalists should stop.
Only then can Malaysia see its freedom index improve to a higher notch.
To move up the ladder of the Freedom Index, here are some tips for leaders to work well with and maintain good relations with the media.
The confrontations with the media must cease and leaders need to train themselves on how to work with the media and not fight with the media.
Get it right
Therefore, understanding the media and saying the right things at the right time is the first step a candidate to succeed in the 14th general election.
A candidate’s better perception of the media will gain greater positive media coverage in the media.
With GE 14 looming in the next few months, perhaps October, it is important for candidates to position themselves in the right media with the right message.
Politicians should stop blaming the media and face the truth. As this week commemorates World Press Freedom, it must be reiterated that the media has attempted to give two sides of the story all the time to make it a balanced article for its audience.
Individual politicians from both BN and Pakatan Harapan parties, meanwhile, have verbally attacked reporters who ask questions to unveil the truth.
Certain online media outlets have also been banned from covering press conferences after the Umno supreme council meetings at the party’s headquarters at PWTC in Kuala Lumpur.
Need for transparency
This certainly does not speak well for transparency. The lack of training for leaders in facing the media has made politicians appear sloppy, dumbfounded and tending to put their foot in their mouth at press conferences.
When a leader develops better skills in media relations, you are on the road to the victory of being elected and this is only one part of the journey.
Every other news headline and story on online news portals goes to show the weakness of a politician in the way they speak to the media and the blunders they make.
It’s because politicians take the media for granted and think they can get away from liability in their statements, thus making it into the headlines for the wrong reasons.
Therefore, one has to master the skills in facing the media when being interviewed, at press conferences, in writing effective press statements and maintaining excellent interactions with the media.
This is the first step to build greater hope for the leader in winning as a candidate in GE 14.
A candidate may think he has a ‘cool’ relationship with the media, but the media may perceive otherwise.
So, how does one build a cool relationship to win in GE 14?
If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.
Media relations training
In whatever field, learning is a journey. Without the passion to learn techniques in facing the media, a candidate’s chances of winning are dim.
No one candidate is perfect. To err is human. It is in this spirit that leaders can improve practical knowledge through training to improve their skills on how to face the media.
As part of Malaysiakini’s corporate social responsibility (CSR), it has organised eight courses to help leaders perform better with the media.
As a facilitator the workshops, I realise that from learning comes understanding and knowledge in being a better politician to serve the people better.
Knowledge sets us free, for it is ignorance that will make one inadequate as a politician or leader.
Let’s start with lesson one on key messages.
Key messages are phrases and sentences that will help the leader deliver his or her views on what is important for the community to know.
Today, the popular way to win the hearts and minds of the electorate is to convey your key messages in a story-telling style or manner.
It must be clear, free of jargon and be relevant to your audience or constituents.
Be concise and deliver key messages to be understood in simple storytelling language.
At the same time, key messages must be consistent and must be repeated so that it sinks into the minds of the people.
So, when facing the media, stay focused on the messages that will help prevent you from being “taken out of context” or saying something “you did not say”.
The key messages should be reiterated in the opening statement to the media in an interview, press statement or a press conference.
Being clear is straightforward. Don’t make your audience feel stupid, and they will not forgive politicians. This will be reflected in the way they vote for or against a politician.
Some samples of key messages:
Practice makes perfect. So, try using positive statements with the people’s welfare in mind.
Say it with sincerity and you can’t fool the people. And be sure to demonstrate in action and deeds what you say.
Get down to soiling your hands, if you have to clean up the environment for a day with the constituents. Listening to problems will not help. As a politician you have to solve the people’s problems.
In the next commentary, I will touch on what makes news? How to speak, connect and engage the people through the media.
M KRISHNAMOORTHY is a media coach, associate professor and a certified Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) trainer. As a journalist, he has highlighted society’s concerns and has gone undercover as a beggar, security guard, blind man, handicapped, salesman and as a Member of Parliament. He also freelances as a fixer/coordinator for CNN, BBC, German and Australian TV networks and the New York Times.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.