Media training: Was the PM right to snub these interview requests?

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Was the PM right to snub these interview requests?

It is a decision which has not gone down well with the nation’s broadcasters.

And it is one that on the face of it goes against the natural instincts of a media training company.  

Theresa May’s snub of interview requests from Channel 4 News and 5 News, during the Conservative Party Conference, resulted in a letter of complaint to her top PR man.

Signed by representatives of every national news broadcaster, it criticised Mrs May’s lack of availability for one-to-one broadcast interviews.

It said that holding politicians to account was vital for a ‘functioning democracy’.

It also compared the snub to the somewhat toxic relationship Donald Trump has with the media in the US, where he excludes certain news organisations from events.

It said: "We have already seen attempts to exclude some journalistic organisations in America from press conferences, attempts which were resisted by the solidarity of the broadcasters who refused to allow it.

“We hope you will take this into consideration and make the prime minister available for interview with all the UK’s national broadcasters.”

Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow additionally branded the refusal ‘unprecedented and disappointing’ on Twitter and listed the prime ministers he had interviewed at party conferences.

In another Tweet he was pictured next to an empty chair - one of the slightly mischievous ploys used by journalists to embarrass organisations who have not put a spokesperson forward.



And Andy Bell, the political editor at 5 News, also tweeted his frustration.



Robbie Gibb, the Prime Minister’s director of communications, responded by saying it was ‘not possible’ to accept every interview bid and he reported that Mrs May had carried out 36 interviews during the conference - albeit that 55 per cent of them were with the BBC.

He said: “Could you let me know how many interviews Jeremy Corbyn carried out during the Labour conference last week and whether you have written a similar joint letter?”

It has been suggested on Twitter that dodging interviews may be better for Mrs May’s survival and that ‘no interview is better than a bad interview’.

Although she has a pretty extensive back catalogue of uncomfortable interviews, the number of times she has faced the media does not suggest her advisers are really trying to hide her away.

Perhaps then they are trying to pick and choose who can interview her. One argument put forward on social media was that the government may be keen to avoid Mr Snow after he was reprimanded ‘and reminded of his responsibilities’ for chanting ‘f***the Tories’ at Glastonbury.

But that was well over a year ago and in any case would not explain the 5 News rejection.

So maybe, it was simply a case of logistics and too many requests. But then you would think her communications teams are well accustomed to managing high demand.

The reality is that we are unlikely to ever know the full story. But what is clear is that it has created headlines which suggest the government is far from open and transparent.


Broadcasters complain of Therese May’s ‘unprecedented’ refusal to be interviewed at Tory Conference I News

BBC warn Theresa May not to act like Donald Trump after accusing her of avoiding interviews at Conservative Party Conference Daily Mirror

Dodging interviews is bad for democracy Joe


What can other media spokespeople learn from this?

The clear lesson from this is that turning down interview requests can cause organisations to appear defensive and secretive and can damage relationships with both the media and the target audience.



It also means organisations lose the opportunity to shape the debate, have their say and showcase their expertise.

Now, the rules are a little different for elected officials, particularly those in high office. But for other spokespeople there are some situations where it is ok to turn down media interviews.


So when is it ok to turn down media interviews? 


When your spokesperson isn’t up to the task

Sometimes you may not have the right spokesperson available for the interview. For example, an interview with a big personality journalist, such as Nick Ferrari, demands someone with vast experience and a high level of skill. Someone with little experience, or recent media training, would be on a hiding to nothing and could cause harm.

For example, when Dr Alan Billings, the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, was recently interviewed by Mr Ferrari and on Talk Radio by Julia Hartley-Brewer, he seemed woefully under-prepared for the tough type of interview those journalists typically provide. And the result was pretty disastrous.


When there is a possibility of bad association

If someone in your sector is in the news for the wrong reasons you could be asked to give your views. For example, the boss of a rival airline could have been asked to comment on the recent BA data breach. But would it really be a good idea for you to go on television or radio to talk about this? You could inadvertently be linked to the negative incident in the public's eyes.


When the subject isn’t relevant

In the world of rolling 24-hour news channels, journalists sometimes just need a spokesperson to talk about an issue. And the link can occasionally be a bit tenuous. If the topic is not relevant to your organisation, there is nothing to be gained from doing the interview. Your spokesperson could find themselves in a position where they are discussing something they have no real expertise in or become embroiled in speculation, both of which could be damaging.


When you have had a bad experience with the journalist

If your organisation has had bad experiences with a particular reporter, such as spokespeople being repeatedly misquoted or treated unfairly, it could be a good option to decline the request.


When you don’t have a media trained spokesperson available

Saying the wrong thing during a media interview has the potential to cause huge reputation damage.

And in the digital age, it is no longer the case that what people say in an interview will be tomorrow‘s fish and chips wrapper. Bad interviews now seem to live forever online. For example, you’ll still find someone on Twitter sharing links to the infamous interview Diane Abbott gave during the last general election.

It is crucial organisations have many experienced spokespeople with recent media training available to talk to journalists. But if you can’t get one ahead of the reporter’s deadline, the request should be turned down.

Interviews cannot be winged and a spokesperson without media training would be exposed.


In our view, organisations shouldn’t turn down an interview unless they absolutely have to. But there are a few occasions where less can be more.



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.


Click here to find out more about our bespoke journalist-led media training courses. Or book a place on our next media training open course



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