Amith Prabhu: Why our politicians must undertake media training

10 Sep,2013

By Amith Prabhu

 

Lately, my columns have been focusing on political themes. Indian politics is my pet passion but I promise after this one will stay away from politics until something major happens in the intersection of politics and Public Relations that merits a column. The last couple of weeks have seen an increase in the number of unusual remarks by certain key politicians who talk and they were a mix of prepared statements and of the cuff statements. Either way they came across as utterances that much thought had not gone into. We will take two or three and then examine why media training is paramount to political public relations as much as it is to the world of business and other disciplines.

 

First, let’s look at the statement the Defence Minister made in Parliament soon after an attack on soldiers near the border led to loss of precious lives. A K Antony said something to the effect that terrorists dressed in army uniforms carried out the ambush. This may or may not have been true. But the error was in saying it so confidently as if he were at the scene of crime. He was going by the advice given to him by top army officials but the tonality and style could have been more tentative and the choice of words could have been smarter. Had he said that ‘initial reports’ coming in are that a few Indian soldiers have been killed. However the nature of the killings indicate that this could be either an attack by the state machinery or by terrorists dressed in army fatigue. And this limits the exposure one has to taunt and triviality. While reports later confirmed that this was the information he was fed by those on the line of duty who survived.

 

A few days later, the Indian Energy Minister made a comment at a press conference that there are various austerity ideas being floated. Shutting petrol pumps during the night is one of them. But nothing has been decided. It is just a proposal, urging people to save fuel by using their vehicles sparingly. This was the most stupid statement to make in a nation of 1.3 billion people where 12% own a registered motor vehicle and makes a sizable number that can panic. Was getting into the details with an idea however bright necessary? The gentleman is known to be a lose canon at times. And all this can change with media training.

 

Political parties have spokesperson training programmes but do these grown up men and women care to learn? The days of having just print journalists are gone. The media fraternity includes those who write, broadcast, telecast and blog. Moreover several international media outlets are also present to cover newsworthy items of the day. Given this scenario it should be mandatory to get the political leadership undergo an intense training in talking to the media because it is not the same as talking to voters at an insipid rally. That makes the market for media training companies lucrative because the time is not far when political parties will have no option but to invest in professional media trainers. Because a large part of Public Relations is built on the bedrock of media training.

 

Amith Prabhu is founder of The PRomise Foundation which organises PRAXIS – the annual summit for PR & Corp Comm professionals in India. During the day he is a full-time employee at a leading public relations firm in their Chicago office. The views expressed here are the author’s own and don’t represent those of his past, present, future employer or of MxMIndia. You can connect with him on Twitter @amithpr

 

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