Dealing with Media
Mainstream media in Australia, including newspapers and news programs on both television and radio, are considerably concentrated in the hands of a few multinational companies and incredibly rich people.
These companies have vested interests in making profits and therefore shape their stories based on what they perceive will attract most viewer attention and advertiser investment.
A Bond University report titled ‘Sources of News and Current Affairs’ states that the pressure of ratings and circulation is the dominant influence on the ‘newsworthiness’ of a story, indicating the “commercial imperative modern news production.”
These commercial interests mean that the producers of news will present the stories that people want to see.
The more dominant news sources and newspapers in particular, such as The Australian, have an agenda-setting influence on the rest of the mass media.
That is, the stories they choose to go with usually set the tone for the other news sources.
Talking to the media
Some activist groups see contacting and speaking to the media as a campaign tool or goal for spreading a message.
Other groups don’t trust media outlets and may decide that they don’t want to engage with the media at all.
We can all get flustered when approached by media, particularly when they have video cameras running. We can get confused or say things we didn’t mean or might later regret.
Being clear, accessible and concrete in your interactions with the media will give you the best results. This takes thought and planning.
Whether you want it or not, the media may contact you or approach you at an action looking for comments or an interview. So, it is a good idea to have an agreed strategy for dealing with the media. This can help keep you calm as well as avoid any future regrets.
In this section:
- If you do want to interact with media
- If you don’t want to interact with media
Negative media reporting
Whether you do or don’t engage with the media, your group or your action might be misrepresented or otherwise presented negatively by the media. Individual members of your group might also be singled out and criticised.
Negative media reporting can have a damaging effect on the morale of a group and can contribute to burn out. Something as simple as a group catch-up/picnic or individual check-in can help counteract negative media reporting.
DefamationPublication of false and derogatory statements about another person, without any justification recognised by law. See also: slander, libel.
When talking to the media it is important to be conscious about what you are saying and to avoid putting yourself or your group at risk of being sued for defamationPublication of false and derogatory statements about another person, without any justification recognised by law. See also: slander, libel..
You can learn more about defamationPublication of false and derogatory statements about another person, without any justification recognised by law. See also: slander, libel. and the risks for activist groups here.
If you do want to interact with media
If you are planning on actively seeking out engagement with media or responding to their requests it is a good idea to come up with a strategy for this.
Journalists are often working to tight deadlines and having a strategy in place for dealing with incoming requests can make things run quickly and smoothly and help your story get out there.
A ‘media strategy’ is your groups plan for how and when you will engage with the media, who will do the talking, what you will or won’t say, and what media outlets you will or won’t engage with.
Here are some questions that can help your group develop your strategy:
What you say to media could expose someone, or the whole group, to criminal charges – and if someone is in process of having a charge heard in court what you say could negatively impact their case. Consider discussing the following:
- How will we ensure that we don’t implicate ourselves or someone else for criminal charges?
- How will we get consentAgreement to an action or arrangement. See also: informed consent. from individuals to talk on their behalf?
- If someone has not have their matter finalised in court, do we have their permission and have we gotten legal advice about talking about their matter?
It is good idea to think about who should be speaking on behalf of the group. This might mean who is best within your group or, if you are engaging in ally/accomplice-activism, whether there is a another person or group better placed to make public comments.
- Who is best placed to make public statements?
- Will we have a media spokes-person/team or can everyone in the group talk to media?
- Do we want to disseminate prepared statements to everyone in the group in case they get approached by media?
Having an agreed understanding on why you are talking to media and what you are hoping to get out of it can inform other parts of your strategy as well as help keep whoever is speaking calm and on-track. Consider the following:
- What are the key messages we want to spread? What are our ‘talking points’?
- Do we have contacts with any trusted journalists?
- What words/phrases/messages do we want to avoid?
- What tricky/antagonistic questions can we expect from media? And how will we handle/respond to these?
- What is opposing view/negative critique of what we are doing? How can we challenge this through media interviews/statements?
How you engage and what you are comfortable saying might change depending on who you are talking to. You may also want to consider if there are particular outlets or journalists that you will or won’t engage with.
- Will we engage in one or all of radio/video/on the street/prepared written interviews?
- Will we talk to mainstream media outlets? Only independent/activist/ally outlets? Or a combination?
CrimethInc has a great article exploring why anarchist groups may want to have a strategy for talking to the media even when your group might be anti-corporate media – including advice from a sympathetic reporter.
If you don't want to interact with media
Deciding not to engage is a validLegally binding (q.v.) or effective. and common decision.
You might still be approached by media personnel or outlets regardless of whether or not your group wants to engage with them. And your action can, and often will, still be covered despite your non-engagement with reporters.
It can be helpful to discuss, even briefly, with your group about what you will do if you are approached.
You might decide that everyone will give no response to any questions the media ask. Or you might all decide to have a one-sentence response that you will use to respond to every question.
You might decide to have no parameters and individual group members are free to say as little or as much as they want to a media person. Or you might decide to use the opportunity to explain to them your views on mainstream media and how they are contributing to the reason why you are doing an action.