Disarming a hostile media is never easy. Various methods have been tried recently – shouting abuse at reporters, throwing stones and cancelling advertising.
Rick Gorka, press secretary to US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, gave this on-air reply to reporters’ questions during a visit to Poland: “Kiss my ass. This is a Holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect.”
This phrase “Kiss my ass” does not appear in the list of recommended responses to media enquiries. It’s an insult, guaranteed to provoke long and excruciating retribution against both the press secretary and his boss.
Lawyers in Bangalore were so angry about the way a trial had been covered they threw stones at media crews and set a police car on fire. Apparently the media reciprocated.
This is the kind of bonkers story with which the Indian media have amused the rest of the world for years. Most sensible lawyers know exactly how to silence a stroppy journalist: serve him with a writ or a super-injunction.
In Carmarthenshire the county council tried a subtler approach when the South Wales Guardian carried a front page story it didn’t like: it cancelled its advertising. You might expect this approach to work: local newspapers are in financial difficulties and threatening to take away advertising hits them where it hurts.
But by publicising the ban (as reported by Hold the Front Page) the council exposed itself to accusations that it was threatening press freedom. It backed the newspaper into a corner where the only honourable response was defiance.
I would expect the South Wales Guardian to preserve its credibility by making its coverage more hostile, even at the risk of its own destruction. Thankfully, after protests from local politicians the council appeared this week to be backing down.
In all three examples the people who lost their rag with the media also lost face and their reputations were further damaged.
The moral is keep calm, however badly you think the media are behaving. I’m not saying give in to the media, but try to see things from the editor’s position and shape your responses accordingly. And for goodness sake, keep your sense of humour.
Success is not guaranteed, but if you have a reasonable case and present it courteously and respectfully you should eventually be able to win fairer treatment.
-GARETH WEEKES, Deep South Media Ltd.