Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Cabinet members of President Benigno Aquino III are reported to undergo training on how to properly deal with the media. This announcement by no less than the president himself came after his spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, had a heated exchange with some Palace reporters over the delayed conduct of press briefing. In another incident, Education Secretary Armin Luistro told the media not to ask too many questions on the controversial sex education issue.
First, a disclaimer from me. I have never been a media relation officer for a particular organization or a spokesperson for a certain public figure. Aside from answering some queries from my friends from the national media, I’ve never been into a lengthy and important appearance as a resource person on a radio or television show. I have never been ambush-interviewed ever. All I am sure is I watch a lot of ambush interviews over CNN, BBC, ANC and GMA-7, to name a few TV network. To reiterate, I am not an expert on dealings with the media. But I have read some materials on the subject and the most helpful, as far as this blog entry is concerned, is the book written by Archbishop Emeritus Oscar V. Cruz, JCD, DD entitled “Media in our Midst”. My other writing tool for this one is my childhood memory of a television series called “Combat!” starring Vic Morrow and Rick Jason. Specially the scenes how my favorite G.I.s survived ambuscades.
There are three general ways for a public official to land into the news : through pre-arranged interviews like press conferences; written statements or press statements, and,- the kind that we are about to discuss : ambush interviews.
Just like the real “ambush” in military parlance, ambush interview is a game or war of quick decision. The potential target of such tactical offensive have to decide as fast as a piercing bullet if you want to be ambushed or not. And if your answer is on the positive, learn to “fire back”. Meaning make the most of it (the interview). The two things to remember is, one, public office is a public trust and a public figure is a public property. Second, the people has the right to know or the basic right to information. But everybody, including you, the resource person or the interviewee, have also the right not to accept the invitation for an interview under certain circumstances. We will discuss it later.
This is the fundamental rule of the thumb : “No one can force or coerce us to be interviewed.” It lies in out own creative way how to convey this to your perceived interviewer if you turn her/him down. On the other hand, if we want to be ambushed and willingly be part of the information-giving process, it is but important to know (his/her company and personal) and understand your “ambusher” and be patient with her or him. Keep in mind that all journalists are trained to have a “nose for the news” and they are out in the field look for stories (or preys!). That’s their job and reason for existence. In “firing back” and in saying that we must make the most of it, I just would like to emphasize that there is no substitute for objective and healthy exchanges that are aimed to unearth a news story together. The story or the truth that been denied and buried by powerful individual newsmakers or groups for their vested personal interests and survival. Including unscrupulous media practitioners or extortionists.
Speaking of such misdeeds of erring media people with checkered personal and professional background, try also to be patient and understanding. Including those who have unshakable ideological, religious or personal biases. Just answer their questions in direct, candid and brief manner.
To both the good and the bad media practitioner, show them respect. After your first interview with the good ones, try be a true friend to him or her but stay away from the bad people of the media. The unscrupulous and the extortionists.
In whatever circumstances, be clear as your canteen water on the messages you wish to convey because the moment when the news come out, you are figuratively out of the picture already. You can do nothing about it like a rocket-propelled grenade going to you direction. The saddest this is this : any rejoinder or disclaimer or correction is discretionary to the same media outlet where the interview came out.
There are at least three valid reasons to turn down a request for a interview : One, if you may put yourself in difficult or losing end or adverse position. Or be led into the landmine of embarrassment and/or imminent danger; Second, if you are not at the liberty to discuss matters that would put in danger other people’s (read : whistle blowers’ and witnesses’) life and limb or if you are tied to the promise to confidentiality or to a classified or top secret information; Third, common sense dictates that if you do not have the grasp of the nature and consequences of the subject matter, simply keep your mouth shut.
Allow me to add these. You are a dead meat if you engaged in an ambush if you carry a heavy mental or physical backpack or any baggage. In such encounter, you had a great chance of being riddled with bullets for you cannot move carrying that burden! Instead of a backpack, wear a bulletproof vest.
During the ambush, make sure that your visions are clear to have at least a view where the enemies and the booby traps are. Be precise in hitting your target. Clarity and precision require counter clarification on issues that are not clear to you when you are being interviewed. Let your interviewer define particulars and details that are unclear to you.
Do not ever use the much used and abused usual “No comment” reply to any ambush interview question, including facial expressions like a smile or a frown, for like your “No comment” they are all subject to millions of interpretation and may backfire on you! The easier and safest way to survive an ambush is to lower or bow your head down, cover it with you helmet or any hard material and move away from the site.
Just like those scenes from “Combat!”…
(Photo softlinked from Crazyabouttv.com)