COMMENT | In the business of disseminating news, if you tell one lie and spin, and avoid the truth, the media will investigate and unveil the truth.
Can you blame the media? No. The media is after the truth and it cannot afford to protect anyone who lies to the media.
If the media lied, it will be doing a disservice to the public. No amount of blogging and social media will be able to help the leaders. In fact, spinning will only worsen the situation and my bring dishonour and shame to the politician.
As we commemorate World Press Freedom, punishing the media for telling the truth will only bring down leaders as it has done in many countries.
The freedom of speech which is enshrined in our constitution must always be protected, not only for the journalists but also for the man-the-street.
Therefore, to succeed in politics, a leader has to continue learning new ways to be newsy and be relevant to the electorate. Complaining about the media has its agenda, and not writing what politicians said is not fair to the media.
Humbly, I can say all that the media wants to do is present the news story objectively and make it palatable to its audience.
There are leaders and leaders, but what the people need is a person who can lead the nation truthfully.
I believe learning is a journey, not a destination. The day you stop learning one will cease to progress. For this reason, politicians must be media trained to be media-savvy.
As part of Malaysiakini’s corporate social responsibility (CSR), it has several media relations workshops and it charges only RM288 per person. The market rate for such a one-day course is about 10 times more, and it is about RM2,500.
Leaders can improve their knowledge by attending workshops to improve themselves.
We must have an open mind and heart to learn from a media coach what makes news or how a press statement should be written.
So, what will keep a leader relevant to the media? He or she will have to be truthfully newsworthy.
What makes a story newsworthy?
During the MH370 crisis, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s honest comments made news.
Here is one example which the international media picked up, when he said: “But we didn’t get everything right. In the first few days after the plane disappeared, we were so focused on trying to find the aircraft that we did not prioritise our communications.”
The prime minister did not lie but pointedly told the truth on the weakness in communication.
There are three newsworthy elements here: human interest, oddity and conflict.
Almost every type of media will emphasise the human angles to any story and this was especially the case with MH370 flight missing.
Human interest because it was an infuriating report of incompetence on the part of the government and Malaysia Airlines in its communication. It’s in the public’s interest to know the weaknesses, and the Prime Minister is humbly admitting it.
Oddity, because it is unusual, strange, shocking or bizarre, as the leader said: “We did not get everything right...”
The newsworthy element of conflict is because readers are always interested in disagreements, arguments and rivalries. Here, Najib’s disagreement with the way communication was managed was seen as newsworthy.
The other newsworthy elements are - proximity of the event; prominence; timeliness; consequence; scandal and extreme situations.
Moving on to how to speak, connect and engage with the media, a politician can speak and connect with the media through interviews, press conferences or press statements.
During the MH17 crisis, the press conferences held by the Malaysian government and by Malaysia Airlines, jointly and sometimes separately, progressively improved in speaking, connecting and engaging with the media.
If a politician is confident and well trained in facing the media and spoke well, he can make an impact with the media.
If the leader is not trained, confusion and flip-flops will prevail.
For this reason, it is essential that politicians are properly trained in the techniques for interviews and press conferences. Danger lurks when the not-so-well-trained appear before a battery of cameras.
Preparation is the key
Preparation. Preparation. Preparation is the key to succeed in media relations.
Therefore, anticipate the worst kind of questions and prepare answers to those you don’t want to be asked.
If a political party leader was asked a “what if” question about the some corrupt practices of an official in the party? What do you say if you don’t know the answer?
“We don’t know and I am reluctant to speculate or answer hypothetical questions.”
However, at some point, be willing to address the “what if?” questions.
These are questions that every person is thinking about and for which they want expert answers. If the “what if?” could happen, then people need to be emotionally prepared for it.
If you do not answer the “what if?” questions, you may lose credibility and the opportunity to frame the “what if?” questions with reason and valid recommendations. Be cautious and do not speculate. Speak the truth.
The two most important pieces of advice in preparing for a press conference are, firstly, building credibility by creating relevant, trustworthy and sincere key messages.
Secondly, by staying focused on your own agenda, whilst being sensitive to the media’s agendas.
Clicking YouTube, we can learn more about MH370 press conferences weaknesses and how this can be done more successfully.
So, leaders if you are not getting good media coverage, it’s time you got trained to make your statements newsworthy.
Yesterday: Get it right with 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.