What is the first rule of media training?
Avoiding short answers? Not using jargon? Making sure you don’t get drawn into speculation?
These are all crucial ingredients, but on our courses the number one rule is that spokespeople cannot ignore the journalist’s question no matter how challenging they find it to answer.
Reporters are, after all, asking questions they think the audience wants answered.
And if they feel a spokesperson is trying to dodge a particular issue, they will ask the question over and over again.
And now we have a new example.
The Deputy Leader of the Green Party Amelia Womack came completely unstuck from the start of her interview on the Daily Politics show on Friday by struggling to answer, and at times simply ignoring altogether, questions about her party’s description of the Government pursing an ‘extreme’ Brexit. Click on the image below to view the interview (46 mins).
It caused presenter Andrew Neil to ask questions about the use of the phrase eight times and he struggled to hide his frustration with the answers.
After just the second response he said ‘how this works is I ask the question and try to get you to answer’ and he later added ‘every time I ask a question you answer one I haven’t asked’.
Here is an example of that:
Andrew Neil: “If any of what you have said is true why has the European Union reaction been so conciliatory?
Amelia Womack: “It is about the future of the UK. It is about making sure that when you have the Great Repeal Bill…
Mr Neil: “I’m not asking you about the Great Repeal Bill.”
Mr Neil has a reputation for being a pretty robust interviewer but any journalist would become frustrated with a spokesperson who continually ignores the question they have been asked and instead answers one they would prefer to face.
We can understand Ms Womack wanting to by-pass certain questions and move the conversation on. And of course it is important to try to assert yourself in an interview as just answering every question you are asked will lead spokespeople to some equally uncomfortable ground.
But trying to dodge questions is not the way to do this. It has the opposite effect, as these two infamous examples we mentioned earlier show.
The key is to briefly answer the question asked and then use media training techniques like bridging to try to steer the conversation.
The other key point here is preparation. Ms Womack did not seem prepared to face questions about the ‘extreme Brexit’ depiction despite it being incredibly topical and an obvious line of questioning.
This interview could have been a great opportunity for the Green Party to talk about its Spring Conference and raise awareness of some of its policies. But judging by my social media feed it will be recalled with notoriety as something of a ‘car crash’ interview.
This Green Party interview with @afneil on the Daily Politics is maximum, maximum car crash.— Luke Skipper (@LJ_Skipper) March 31, 2017
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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