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Parata makes media training mistake by not apologising

2 June 2012
Education Minister Hekia Parata made a fundamental media training error this week by failing to apologise when it became clear that Intermediate Schools could lose up to seven teachers under the new class size modeling. The policy was intended to see schools lose no more than two teachers, but it soon became clear that intermediate and middle schools could lose far more. This was clearly a mistake and not what the Government intended. When approached about the issue by media, Ms Parata dodged questions and appeared quite uncomfortable. She talked about contingency provisions as if this was expected. From a media training perspective, she could have dealt with the issue differently. If she just admitted there had been a mistake and she would fix it as soon as possible, the public would have been quite satisfied. People are forgiving of mistakes, but only if they are admitted. To her credit, she did apologise for any anxiety the issue created, but this was after it had been bubbling for a few days. It was also not a full apology. Most media training experts advise their clients to admit mistakes. This is something politicians find difficult, although there are good examples. Gerry Brownlee recently apologised to a group of Christchurch residents he had promised something he couldn’t deliver. Once he did this, everyone moved on. While Ms Parata may have taken flack from her political opponents, this would be no worse than the criticism she has received without apologising. The story would go away faster also. People who attend media training courses learn that the best way to get your points out in a media interview is to create a three point media message. Ms Parata’s message could have been: • A mistake has been made and for that I apologise • We will fix the problem as soon as possible so no school will lose more than two teachers • Our one and only focus here is to improve the education of our children From a media training point of view, if she had fronted up with this message, the media may not have consistently taken negative angles to the story. It could also have allowed National to gain more publicity about their other policy areas that were not as controversial.

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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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