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Maureen Pugh and personal opinion in media

16 June 2016

National MP Maureen Pugh’s change of position on the vaccination of children raises an important point for media spokespeople when it comes to offering personal opinions.

In an interview last week Ms Pugh said the decision to vaccinate should be a personal choice of parents, but soon after issued a statement encouraging all parents to vaccinate against potentially life-threatening diseases.

The initial comment got Ms Pugh into trouble because the government want all 8-month-olds fully vaccinated.

So what should you do if asked for a personal opinion and you disagree with the company line or party policy?

Often you have to avoid giving one at all. Ms Pugh found that out the hard way. You just have to say you are speaking as a representative of the company or party, and your personal opinion is irrelevant. Then communicate the official line.

There’s also a good reason to avoid personal opinion on controversial issues you may not totally agree with, even if the specific question seems safe enough to answer that way.

Here’s an example

You are the spokesperson for a tobacco company.

Reporter: Do you personally agree with your company’s decision not to market tobacco to children.

You: Yes I do.

Reporter: Do you agree with your company’s recent decision to increase its marketing in lower socio-economic areas of the country.

You: I’m speaking on behalf of the company, so my opinion is irrelevant.

Reporter: But when you answered the last question, you gave me your personal opinion, so what makes this question any different?

Where do you go then? This shows that personal opinions can be dangerous. Clearly there are many exceptions to this. For example, a conscience vote in Parliament. But this is food for thought. It’s what I call a ‘media interview landmine’ that can trap you without warning.

Check out www.mediatrainingacademy.com for online practical media training, or contact pete@mediatrainingnz.co.nz for more on your training options to protect and grow that reputation.

Filed under Media Training

Written by

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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