Rachel Smalley gaffe highlights media training lesson

3 April 2014
Radio Presenter Rachel Smalley’s comment calling New Zealand women 'heifers' and 'a bunch of lardos' when she thought her microphone had been switched off illustrates an important lesson for anyone being interviewed by the news media. SmalleyWe always tell our media training clients to assume that the microphone is always on. Remember everything is on the record, so don’t relax after you think the ‘official interview’ is over. While this was the presenter who made the mistake, it shows how easy it is to make. The other point that Smalley made herself when apologising was that the comment was taken totally out of context by other media. In other words, an off-the-cuff remark that didn’t represent her views was made into something far bigger than it was. This is a justifiable fear for anyone being interviewed by a reporter or presenter. Those who don’t understand that anything from a recorded media interview can be used by itself without context (regardless of whether the mic is on or off) can get into all sorts of trouble. And unlike Smalley, they may not get the opportunity to apologise. Smalley is clearly a talented broadcaster, but that only makes the point more significant. If someone like her can make this mistake, anyone can. There are countless examples of this happening. Former PM Jenny Shipley fell into this trap in 1999 after a TV interview when she told the presenter she had made up a figure that had supposedly been paid out to TVNZ Presenter John Hawkesby. A few years ago, former British PM Gordon Brown called someone he had just spoken to in a crowd a ‘bigoted old women’, forgetting he still had a radio microphone attached to his jacket. My advice. Be careful and remember everything is on the record until you have parted company with the interviewer. Don’t suddenly relax when you think the interview has ended, or when the microphone or TV camera have been switched off. For more on our media training, contact

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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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