Little should not antagonise media

Posted February 19, 2015

There’s an old saying that says: “Never do battle with anyone who buys ink by the barrel.” In other words, don’t pick fights with journalists because they have the ability to spin stories in their favour. This doesn’t mean they will always write negative stories about someone they don’t like, but good relationships with journalists are important for political leaders and can affect the nature of some coverage. This is something Andrew Little needs to think about.

Firstly, his failure to pay a freelance reporter for work he did during Little’s leadership bid came back to bite him. While he may not have known the invoice was outstanding for four months, he did know three weeks before it was paid. He is also responsible because the buck stops with him as leader.

A normal citizen may have just kept sending reminder emails. But this freelance reporter had access to the NBR as a columnist. This allowed him to embarrass Little in his column. While anyone should be paid for the work they do, this is particularly vital when it’s a reporter with access to a major newspaper. This is not even media training 101, its common sense.

Little broke this rule a second time yesterday. When being interviewed by TV3s Patrick Gower, he said: “Paddy, please listen to the answers I give. Don’t make stuff up.” He also complained to Gower that the reporter in question was a contractor, not a worker. When he realised his chief of staff had used the word ‘worker’, he agreed it was acceptable.

This brings up another important point. There are times when reporters and media organisations need to be challenged. If someone is clearly misquoted and that could affect their reputation, action should be taken. But with the media, you need to pick your battles. In this case, the distinction between a worker and contractor was minor. He should have left it alone.

So what should Little have done after all this? His best approach would have been to apologise publicly to the freelance reporter. Voters understand that politicians make mistakes. What they don’t like is their failure to take responsibility and apologise. In his defence, Little is not alone in his failure to do this.

For more on my media training workshops, contact [email protected] or 029 200 8555.

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