Asset Sales issue highlights important media training lesson

Posted November 21, 2013

The term 'Asset Sales' has been used by opposition political parties and the media ever since the government proposed selling a minority shareholding in a few SOEs before the last Election. But the current government has not sold a single asset, or even suggested doing so. It still owns the SOEs. It has just sold some shares in them. Therefore, to say they are selling assets is totally incorrect. Asset SalesThis leads me to an important media training lesson.  If a journalist or presenter asks you a question that is based on a false premise, you need to challenge it before you answer. For example, if a journalist asks a Minister why the government is going ahead with Asset Sales when polls say New Zealanders don't want them to, the first thing out of his or her mouth must be: "We are not selling assets. We are only selling a minority shareholding in them." To their credit, John Key and other Ministers have often done this. But they don't do it every time. I've often heard Ministers react to questions like this by saying things like, "We have a mandate from our Election victory." That's fear enough, but that must always be prefaced by a rejection of the question's premise. As we focus on in our media training courses, this can be difficult in non-live interviews. That's because journalists can select what parts of the answer they use. But it has become quite common in live interviews for Ministers to avoid challenging the premise of the question. This means they are validating the assumption that the assets are being sold. More and more people at home will then lose the distinction between Asset Sales, and selling a minority shareholding. This could be significant when it comes to the referendum on the issue. This can happen to anyone in any industry. For example, a school principal could fall into this trap. If a reporter asked: "Since you don't expel students for bullying, how will you punish this boy?" If that principal doesn't immediately say that expulsion is possible, but as a last resort, he or she has just validated the journalist's assumption that the school doesn't expel anyone. This is one of many traps spokespeople can fall into. We cover all of these in our media training courses.
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