Was the statement a journalist threw in the bin really that bad?

“Guff.”

That was the verdict of one journalist on a statement he was handed when a company refused to make a spokesperson available.

Not only that, but he screwed it up and lobbed it in the bin.

This attention-grabbing scene happened on LBC - radio studios often have cameras now - when presenter Iain Dale discussed the news that British Airways owner IAG is set to cut up to 12,000 jobs out of a total of 42,000 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Dale had wanted to interview someone from the company about the announcement and the protests outside its offices, where employees had been claiming they had been bullied into taking redundancy or reapply for jobs on reduced terms.

Although he did read the statement that was sent through, he described it being “not worth the paper it is written on” before chucking it away.

So, was the statement really that bad?

Well, here is what the airline said: “For more than 100 years British Airways has been flying millions of people around the world. Today that world remains largely closed.

"This is the biggest challenge the airline and our industry has ever faced. Sadly, the global pandemic has resulted in job losses across every industry. Many airlines have already made thousands of staff redundant.

"We are not immune to this crisis. We have to adapt to survive, so we will continue with the proper, lawful consultative process and we will keep inviting union representatives to discuss our proposals to the serious challenges we face. It is not too late to find solutions – as we have done with BALPA – and to protect jobs.”

What do you think?

For me, and this is something we discuss during our crisis communication training when we look at holding statements, it needed to start strongly by focusing on the people who are impacted by the news and show some humanity.

The fact that it has been flying around the world for nearly 100 years is irrelevant to this story. A much better approach would be to start by saying something “this is a worrying time for our people and we are looking to provide as much support as we can.”

Once it had shown it cared, then it could have gone on to explain how it had been impacted by the pandemic and discussions with trade unions.

But without a message like that, the statement sounds cold and indifferent – not ideal given the circumstances.

We don’t know why BA did not make a spokesperson available for interview.

But we do know journalists are increasingly willing to call out and criticise those organisations who send statements rather than agree to interviews.

Earlier this year in this media training blog, we highlighted how BBC Bristol journalist Emma Britton criticised the local authority on her programme for sending a statement.

She said: “An organisation or an authority sends a statement generally when they don’t want to front up. Let’s be really honest about this.

“I’m here on a public service broadcast to serve the public. Me reading out their words for them doesn’t serve the public and that is why I feel strongly about it.

“Let’s have a grown-up conversation rather than me reading out the words you have put on a bit of paper.”

There have also been plenty of journalists taking to social media during the pandemic to complain about thwarted attempts to interview members of the government.

And now we have an example of a statement being launched into a bin.

As a media training company, it is perhaps not surprising that we encourage organisations to accept interview bids.

I can understand that a statement may feel like a safe option when faced with difficult topics like redundancies.

But they may not be read or shown in their entirety and when they are used, they are typically left right to the end of the story.

A statement in place of an interview can also suggest the organisation is unwilling to open itself to scrutiny and can make them appear secretive and defensive.  

Putting a spokesperson forward, on the other hand, enables organisations to help shape stories, change the way they are presented and ensure messages are heard.  

There are few situations where we would recommend turning down an interview request. One of them is when you don't have anyone with the necessary skills and experience available. If that was the case here, it would just serve to highlight the importance of having several recently media-trained spokespeople who can discuss difficult subjects and face challenging questions.

Whether or not you think the BA statement was that bad and deserved to go in the bin, and whatever the reason it had for saying 'no' to this request, it is increasingly clear journalists are more willing to show their frustration at interviews being turned down.

And that can bring humiliation to an already challenging story. 

 

Do you want to find out more about preparing for a media interview? Download your copy of our free media interview preparation eBook.

 

Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 35 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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