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Key steps into common media training trap

11 April 2013
John Key’s response to a question about the likelihood of New Zealand coming to the aid of South Korea in any potential war with the north saw the PM fall into a common media training trap. When the question was put to him by TV3s Patrick Gower, Key said: "I wouldn't want to speculate, but obviously we have got a long and proud history of coming to the support of South Korea. Taken to the extreme, and without interventions and resolutions to the issues, that is of course possible." While that answer is totally honest, it didn’t work from a media training perspective. That’s because while he said at the beginning of the answer that he wouldn’t want to speculate, that’s exactly what he did. We always warn our media training clients against speculating on serious issues like this, even if they may be obvious. That’s because the media will use that part of the interview alone, and blow it into something it isn’t. That’s exactly what happened here. Key’s response should have been something like this: “I wouldn’t want to speculate on that. The important thing at the moment is to do our best to maintain peace in the region.” If pushed further, he could have said: “That’s a hypothetical question at this point. Our focus now is on maintaining peace. If things change, we’ll consider our options then.” By taking this approach, he would have given a genuine answer and not hit the headlines or criticised by so many people. This is an issue that gets lots of people into trouble. We always cover this in our media training sessions, because leaders are often ask to speculate in media interviews. Lots of them fall into the same trap Key did and hit the headlines for the wrong reasons.

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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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