The political conferences this year were, once again, filled with many gags, gaffes and delights (at least for those looking at them from a communications perspective!).
One of the many clips to come out of the Labour party conference was this interview between Sky News journalist Adam Boulton and Prime Minister Gordon Brown. See it here on YouTube:
Never has there been a clearer example of how an interviewer and interviewee can have very different agendas to communicate via the media.
As you would expect from a politician under fire; Brown makes a not so subtle effort to bridge away from Boulton’s questions but he rarely makes a decent effort to actually acknowledge it (our media trainees will remember Acknowledge the question, Bridge to your message, Communicate your message). This makes him look defensive and makes it very clear to the audience that he wants to avoid the journalist’s agenda altogether.
Brown had been having a fairly tough time of it, The Sun had just dumped them in favour of the Tories and Boulton wouldn’t take the ‘hint’ that he just didn’t want to make a decision on the ‘Leaders’ Debate’ that Sky News have been pushing so hard to bring about. It also doesn’t help that Brown calls Boulton a ‘political propagandist’, when the journalist is simply trying to push the same question again (although admittedly it’s in the interest of Sky News that the debate goes ahead, at the very least for the ratings).
So we see a rather struggling PM, not very elegantly, ducking and diving the questions being fired at him and relying on his ‘I have a job to do and that’s the job I’m going to get on with’ answer to all tricky questions. In his defence, Brown doesn’t have the public speaking skills of an Obama or the interview skills of a Hague but we know this, and some may even find his clumsy way down to earth and perhaps endearing. What we cannot forgive is what happens at the end of the interview; Boulton asks the same question one last time, gets the same non-answer from Brown and does a fairly polite and chirpy ‘…back to the studio’ style sign-off. Then Brown leaps out of his seat, still with the clip-on mike attached, and starts to charge off. Boulton tries to point out, politely, that he needs to stay on site, and Brown gruffly announces that he won’t. And so the PM stomps off, dragging the recording equipment with him, in what can only be described as a big strop!
Everyone is entitled to get annoyed with a journalist, and everyone is entitled to lose their temper when under pressure, however, if you’ve been a government minister for over 12 years, you should have probably learnt to keep your cool in front of the media. Furthermore, as we say in all our broadcast media training sessions, never leave your seat until your mike has been removed, and in this case, you should probably make sure the cameras are off before making a spectacle of yourself at the end of an interview!
Written by Will Edwards – www.bluewoodtraining.com – October 2009.