Was advice for doctors to avoid the media the right call?

9 January 2014
Advice this week from the Medical Protection Society (MPS) for doctors to divert all media calls to the society comes with its risks. Doctor on phoneMPS has made the call because “media scrutiny of you and your practice of medicine could put your personal and professional reputation at risk.” I understand their reasoning. Doctors who are unaware of how a conversation with a journalist is different from any other type of conversation could get into trouble. They could be taken out of context, look guilty on camera, or fall into other traps that affect their reputations. But this is only if they don’t understand how to conduct a media interview. By preparing for such situations through media training workshops, they would know how to handle the media. By doing this they would not only know how to avoid a loss of reputation, but actually improve it. By communicating empathy with victims, whatever the situation, along with a few other concise messages, such interviews can be easily dealt with. These other messages could be a willingness to cooperate with any investigation or a statement highlighting you intention to rigorously defend any charges. It would totally depend on the situation. By referring back to these points and avoiding speculation, doctors can come out of these situations well. They need to know how to influence what the reporter uses from the interview. This should be a major part of any media training course. There are two major problems with deflecting any media enquiries to the society. Firstly, time is vital. A story will be written, so you need to be in it. While you should always delay the reporter, if you delay too long the story will run without your input. That would make it completely one-sided against you. This can also make you look guilty. Secondly, with any crisis, people are more concerned about how you handle the aftermath than the issue itself. That’s even if you’ve done nothing wrong. So my advice to doctors would be to undertake a media training course. This would prepare them well for any potential issue. Call it an insurance policy. It will be too late once something happens. Then by all means take advice from the society and anyone else for input into your messages. But do it quickly and front the issue yourself. Your clients or patients will expect it and you  will be respected for fronting up. For more on our media training and presentation training courses, contact

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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