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Bethlehem College saga highlights media training point

1 February 2013
The Bethlehem College story this week highlights an important media training consideration when it comes to multiple people being interviewed on the same issue. The conflicting views of who decided to hide the fact that a former Bethlehem College student was driving the vehicle, rather than a Kenyan, has become the story, rather than the unfortunate crash that killed three people. From a media training perspective, it’s always good to have a sole spokesperson to avoid conflicting accounts, but this was clearly not possible here. Journalists were always likely to contact the Kenyan tour leader about the so called cover-up. That means Bethlehem College should have been in touch with him to make sure everyone was communicating a consistent message. This clearly didn’t happen. But to be fair, I’m sure the school was more concerned about comforting those affected. However, from a media training standpoint, all parties should have come together early on to organise a consistent message. This is because conflicting stories are always loved by the media, and TV3 took this angle after the Kenyan tour leader disputed that he was the one that organised the ‘cover-up’. Now no-one knows whose idea it was. Do we believe the Kenyan leader, or the Bethlehem principal? It didn’t help that no-one from the school would comment on the tour leader’s revelations. They needed to be available to put their side of the story and clarify what happened. Failing to do so only fuels speculation. In this case it led to a TV3 reporter knocking on the door of the Bethlehem College driver’s home. Perhaps the Kenyan tour leader has changed his story for fear of prosecution. If that is true, that could be why the school won’t comment. But from a media training perspective, the school should have been in touch with the tour leader as soon as they heard of the cover-up to overcome any confusion and organise a consistant story. Or if it was someone else’s idea, perhaps that should have been told from the beginning. After all, I can’t see that many people would be concerned, if the whole idea was to shield the actual driver from the Kenyan legal system. Having said all this, I'm sure there is no scandal here and the school has done a wonderful job comforting the family and friends of the crash victims.

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Pete is a leading New Zealand media trainer and regular blogger for his company, Media Training NZ . He has helped leaders from all sectors of society communicate with the media and other stakeholders. Pete is a former daily newspaper reporter and press secretary in the New Zealand government. From these roles, he understands the media process from both sides of the camera.

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