It's simple - tell the truth!

Watching the string of revelations emerging around the Downing Street parties during the Covid-19 lockdown period involving the Prime Minister and his staff I found hugely dispiriting. Seeing each explanation offered by staff and ministers unravel at alarming speed in the face of more evidence emerging, I found myself, along with many in the wider public, very disappointed and angry.

The explanations offered went beyond playing the situation down into expecting people to believe statements that were simply not credible. I felt insulted that I was expected to believe some of those explanations. And there is the answer to the question, “Why don’t people trust politicians?”

It is a piece of advice offered early in any media training session I run that whenever dealing with the media, always speak the truth. If a journalist comes to discover that you have been misleading, deceiving or at worst case deliberately offering something you knew was not correct at the point of delivery they will never print or broadcast anything good about you ever again. And nor should they.

It is a truism that the media are often most interested in you or your organisation when something has gone awry. Failure, incompetence, deceit, criminality, are all highly newsworthy, and there is an appetite for news stories that evidence when the public has been let down or when those in positions of responsibility fail to meet the standards expected of them. It is not saying that good news has no value, but this is the world in which we live.

The organisations and individuals who are responsible and accountable for performance should stand scrutiny. The regulatory framework does much of this but the journalist also represents a part of a system that holds them to account. The journalist has a legitimate interest in acting as the conduit for information to be shared with wider audiences.

I would be the first to say that the relationship between an organisation and its media is not always a marriage made in heaven, but it is an important one. It is also a two way street in that in taking on a journalistic challenge around accountability it provides an opportunity to offer insight and to give a first-hand explanation from an organisational perspective.  

Which brings me to the point; if you find yourself on the end of a media interview under difficult circumstances, however difficult the subject matter, however challenging the questions, don’t ever, for the sake of expediency, invent your way out. It might work in the short term, but at some point the truth will jump up and bite you. Playing fast and loose with the facts will inevitably land you in more trouble than sticking to what you believe to be the truth.

The tearful performance of Allegra Stratton announcing her resignation gained little sympathy and rightly so. I found her performance quite insulting. The impression, in my view, was that the regret was more about being found out to have had parties rather than having had lockdown parties in the first place.

Push back, deliver your side of the argument and present your case as strongly as you can, but always stick to the truth when dealing with the media.

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