Media training: Arrogant interview leads to social media mocking

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Arrogant interview leads to social media mocking

It wasn’t the longest interview, but it was certainly eventful.

During his appearance on Newsnight Anthony Travers, chairman of the Cayman Islands Stock Exchange, managed to dismiss the so called ‘Paradise Papers’ leak as ‘fake news’ and claim the journalists who broke the story should be in jail.

He also accused presenter Kirsty Wark of ‘not listening’ and of not understanding what the term ‘tax haven’ means – pretty good going for an interview which lasted around seven minutes and included contributions from two other spokespeople.

This was an interview performance with an aggressive stance from the start and it led to him being widely mocked on social media. Much of it contains language too offensive for this media training blog, but here are a few examples:

 

 

Of course, it was always likely to be a challenging interview as Mr Travers appeared on the programme to discuss the leak of 13.4m documents which claim to show how the wealthy have secretly invested vast sums in offshore tax havens.

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But by taking such a belligerent approach to the questions he was asked he ensured he came across as arrogant, evasive and dismissive.

Mr Travers described claims those caught up in the story were guilty of tax evasion as ‘complete heresy’ and then dismissed the idea there was any secrecy, surrounding the tax arrangements in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.

He said: “No, you do not have secrecy whatsoever, you haven’t listened to what the Premier of Bermuda said.

“There is secrecy insofar as journalists are concerned, but there is no secrecy insofar as tax authorities, or law enforcement are concerned.

"They can ascertain the precise position in regard to any company in any overseas territory - Bermuda and Cayman included.”

He then went on to dismiss the Paradise Papers with the ‘fake news’ term which has become so popular with those responding to things they don’t want to hear.

He said: “The Panama papers are fake news and this new leak from Bermuda is fake news, saved to the extent that it is a criminal endeavour to hack people’s computers and these journalists should be in prison.”

And he finished the interview by suggesting that neither he, nor Ms Wark, knew what a tax haven was. He said: “I have no idea what tax haven means and nor do you. What we are talking about is offshore financial centres that have complete transparency, the highest global standards and, incidentally, higher than the United States of America.”

In many ways this was a dream interview for the journalist, because Mr Travers responses were heavily laced with the element of ‘trouble’ or controversy we tell delegates on our media training courses that reporters look for in a story. But by being so dismissive and antagonistic in his interview it will be remembered as a personal PR disaster.

The key with hostile interviews – not that this was particularly hostile – or questions that you simply don’t like, is to ensure that you do not show any frustration or anger. The audience is more likely to be sympathetic – even in a tax avoidance story – if you remain calm and composed. Dismissing questions, or getting in to an argument with the journalist will not lead to a successful outcome.

Much has been made on social media channels of the way Mr Travers appeared to conduct the majority of the interview with his eyes closed. This was clearly very noticeable but is not something I particularly want to focus on as it is unclear whether he has a medical condition. However, generally in media interviews, a lack of eye contact and not knowing where to look during a down-the-line appearance can add to the impression the spokesperson is shifty and evasive.

 

Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

 

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