There’s a question that comes up on almost every crisis management training course we run.
Should we tell the truth when speaking with the media?
That’s like asking how honest should we be when playing golf.
If we mislead our opponents about the shots we’ve taken, our reputation is ruined.
So if Buckingham Palace officials mislead reporters, the same is true.
You could see the anger in BBC Royal Correspondent Nick Witchell’s face.
Forced into correcting the information he had broadcast about the Queen’s whereabouts and her health.
Which turned out to be wrong.
Why was Nick so angry?
Because when you mislead the media, you mislead their audience.
Mr Witchell was unhappy.
He began his report:
“We were led to believe on Wednesday by Buckingham Palace that The Queen was resting at Buckingham Palace.
“And as we were being told that by Buckingham Palace, and relaying that to our listeners and viewers…
“And newspapers to their readers…
“In point of fact, she was in hospital undergoing preliminary investigations.”
More than ever before, I hear accusations of fake news being broadcast and printed by our media
But how can they operate in the interest of truth if they are being told lies by people in power?
Nick Witchell is someone I know.
I co-presented with him for several years on the set of BBC Breakfast News in the mid-1990s.
He was serious about his job.
Keen to get things right.
Friendly and helpful to me.
And supportive of our Glasgow charity.
His job is to bring his audience truthful information.
However uncomfortable it may be for some people.
Nick told viewers:
“The problem is that rumour and misinformation always thrives…
“… in the absence of proper, accurate and trustworthy information.”
So on the media training courses we run, we ask the questions:
How truthful can we be with the media?
How open and honest can we be with the media?
And our answers?
Be as open and honest as you can be.
Give detailed information where you can.
And always, always tell the truth.
It’s as simple as that.
Now by contrast in the same week, the Civil Aviation Authority launched a charm offensive with drone owners.
Of which I’m one.
The CAA asked owners to submit their best aerial shots to compete for the Drone Photograph of the Year.
But wait a minute.
Drones brought Gatwick Airport to a standstill.
Critics rightly raise concerns about invasion of privacy by people misusing the devices.
So why did the CAA take this route?
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Jonathan Nicholson of the CAA said:
“We’ve always taken the view that the way to educate people is to be pro something.
“And get them to do it – but do it properly.”
The BBC Breakfast presenter asked him:
“So are you pro-drone or anti-drone?”
Then came the instant reply:
“One of my colleagues refers to it as a 400-foot tripod…
“… which is the maximum height you can fly drones.”
Throughout the highly positive interview, Mr Nicholson dropped in facts drone-owners need to know:
“With big drones flying in towns and cities, you need extra permissions.”
Positive, factual, friendly, honest and helpful.
He ticked all the boxes.
The next time the CAA speaks, I’ll trust what they say.
The next time Buckingham Palace tells us how (or even where) The Queen is…
Well, I’ll have to decide if I can trust the information.
Bill McFarlan is co-founder and Executive Chairman of Pink Elephant Communications.
You can read more about him here.
Photos in Tell the truth to the media blog from BBC Breakfast / Darrel Und from Pexels / Jorge Franganillo from Foter and Pink Elephant Communications.
Tell the truth to the media blog edited by Colin Stone.
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