Police and Heather du Plessis-Allan

Posted December 4, 2015

There’s an old Mark Twain quote that says, “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel”. This is relevant in Heather du Plessis-Allan’s gun saga with Police. The saying basically says ‘don’t pick a fight with the media because you’ll lose’.

I must qualify this. I’m not saying Police shouldn’t investigate a case involving the media. But what I am saying is that if they do, they must be ready to respond immediately and defend their position. They may argue there should be no need for this, but they must for the sake of their reputation.

This is where Police missed the mark on Tuesday. The search warrant of du Plessis-Allan’s apartment was always going to be a big story. Police must have known this. They must also have known they would be criticised by many for it.

Knowing this, they should have had a statement ready to go to explain the reason for the warrant. But it wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon that Police responded. By then the story had largely been and gone from social media, an ex-Judge had hammered them, and the news media had moved on. In other words, it was too late to convince people of the need for the search and their reputation would have taken a hit.

When they did respond, the message seemed reasonable. They said they must apply the law equally and the search was only carried out because attempts to talk to Mediaworks staff to get the information needed were unsuccessful.

This would have balanced up all the stories and comments on the issue. But by refusing to comment and not issuing a statement early enough, this message would have been missed by most. Even those who did see it would have already made up their minds about where they stood. It’s far harder to change people’s minds once they're made up than it is to get your point of view across to them before they've formed an opinion.

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

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