18 August 2011

Thinking Paper # 60: A brief study of political interviews‏

By Ron Ford-Golightly


Listening to the Home Secretary on the radio the other day, the IIPBA was reminded of just how frustrating it is to listen to Ministers answer (is this the right word?) questions from journalists. In response, we've drawn up the following action plan often employed by Ministers ahead of media appearances. Please try to bear this in mind when faced with the prospect of listening to one of them answer questions. It may help you cope with the rather depressing manner in which they feel like they have to talk.

Action plan

1. An issue emerges and civil servants and special advisors (SPADS) run around flapping slightly and demanding "lines to take (LTT)" by "close of play" or "urgently". Someone draws this together into a script of bullet points for the Minister in question to learn. Sometimes the Minister learns these LLT, and other times they read something that they want to read instead such as the new James Bond novel. Or they go home and reflect on their life to date.

2. The Minister arrives at the radio station, TV studio etc and has a nice cup of tea.

3. A question is asked and the Minister begins his/her answer with any of the following: "Look..."; "Let me be clear..."; "As the Prime Minister said just yesterday...". They will then reel off the relevant or irrelevant bullet point that comes to mind, regardless of the question.

5. If pushed on a question they will repeat a bullet point and then another, and then say things like "But I am answering your question..." or "It was right and appropriate..." or "If you'll let me finish..."

6. They repeat this process until the interviewer is either a bit frustrated, they run out of time or the Minister feels sad because he/she can't say what they actually feel or forget what this is anyway.

7. Everyone goes home and watches a DVD boxset and drinks a bottle of wine which is on offer from Tescos.

Concluding Remarks

For a truly post bureaucratic approach to media interviews, sack the civil servants and special advisors whose job it is to run around flapping. To the minister we say, think back to when you were allowed freedom of thought and let the words flow.

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