A live microphone can be as dangerous weapon – in the wrong hands anyway. As we explain to people on our media training courses, always assume that any mic is on. Even those with considerable media experience and a coterie of media advisors around them can get caught out. Here are five toe-curling examples:
1. Prince Charles reveals his true feelings about BBC royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell.
His son and daughter-in-law are currently the darlings of the media but Prince Charles has not had such an easy relationship with reporters. During a photocall at the start of a ski trip in 2005 the Prince was asked about his then forthcoming wedding to Camilla by the BBC’s royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell. Having given a terse reply he then matters under his breath: “Bloody people! I can’t stand that man. He’s so rude.” This might be a photo opp and the assembled hacks were some distance away from him but the microphones still picked up his comments.
2. Barack Obama is heard saying some less than complimentary things about Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
At the G20 summit in Cannes in November 2011 Barack Obama thought that he was having a confidential chat with French President Nicolas Sarkozy about Netanyahu. “I cannot stand him. He’s a liar,” Sarkozy told Obama. The US president responded with the comment: “You're fed up with him? I have to deal with him every day.” Obama might be one of the slickest and most successful media operators in politics but even he can get caught out with an unguarded microphone left in the “on” position.
Obama might be one of the slickest and most successful media operators in politics but even he can get caught out with an unguarded microphone left in the “on” position
3. Foul! Sky Sports presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys are sacked following sexist remarks captured on an open mic.
You’d think that broadcast professionals would know better but Sky sports presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys were sacked after derogatory comments about a female assistant were picked up by open microphones. “Somebody had better get down there and explain offside to her,” says Richard Keys, referring to the offside rule, to which Andy Gray agrees. Later Keys refers to Karen Brady, former MD of Birmingham City, complaining about sexism in the game. “Do me a favour, love,” he mutters. Well, his comments certainly didn’t do him any favours.
4. Gordon Brown let’s fly following an encounter with a “bigoted woman.”
His election campaign was already something of a slow motion car crash when Gordon Brown allowed a mic clipped to his lapel to reveal to the world his thought about a recent meeting with the voter. Gillian Duffy, a pensioner, berated Brown, explaining why, despite having backed the Labour party all her life, she was now “ashamed” to admit her political allegiance. Having smiled politely and apparently listened Brown got into his car. Once inside though, he complained to advisers: “That was a disaster. They should never have put me with that woman...just ridiculous...just a bigoted woman.”
The then Prime Minister had to return to apologise to Ms Duffy – but it was too little too late for his campaign.
5. Coming to you live – a visit to the loo.
Which makes for more interesting listening – an address by former President George Bush or a woman chatting to her friend in the loo? During a live speech by President Bush CNN anchor Kyra Phillips nipped into the ladies – leaving her microphone attached and switched on.
Luckily things didn’t get too lavatorial but millions of viewers were allowed to hear her thoughts on men, which she spelt out in no uncertain terms and, luckily for him, some very complimentary comments about her husband. Were her comments more important and enlightening than those of the President? That’s for viewers to decide.
So the message is pretty clear to anyone preparing to do a radio, TV – or even a Skype interview. Don’t say anything that you wouldn’t want your audience to hear. You’re “on” as soon as you enter the studio or approach the reporter – and be especially wary if you have a microphone attached to you.
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