Media training: Heated interview descends into chaos

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Heated interview descends into chaos

It was a heated interview which is continuing to get a lot of attention today.

And it is easy to understand why as the footage looks terrible.

It featured an aggressive tone from the start, a refusal to answer the question and an adviser trying to stop further filming.

It came when MP Tulip Siddiq faced questions from a Channel 4 reporter about whether she would be doing anything for the release of a British-trained barrister who vanished in Bangladesh last year.

It happened at an event in Hampstead where she was campaigning on behalf of British mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been jailed in Iran.

 

 

After answering questions about that specific case, the Hampstead & Kilburn MP seemed completely unprepared for the conversation moving on to a case with apparent similarities, even though her aunt is the prime minister in Bangladesh.

And at that point the interview descended into chaos.

Here is an exchange:

 

Ms Siddiq: Is he my constituent?

Reporter: He’s not your constituent but with one phone call you could make a huge difference.

Ms Siddiq: Is he a British citizen?

Reporter: He’s Bangladeshi.

Ms Siddiq: Are you aware I am a British MP?

Reporter: I am.

Ms Siddiq: And that I am born in London? Are you implying I am a Bangladeshi politician because I don’t think that is the right thing to imply. You need to be very careful.

 

And so, it continued until Ms Siddiq walked off and an adviser intervened saying ‘this is absolutely desperate’ put his hand over the camera and told the cameraman to ‘stop filming’.

 

 

Once a comms officer or other member of staff gets involved in an interview you can guarantee that's the clip which is going feature heavily in the story.

We saw this most dramatically last year in the US when an interview with former Baylor University President Ken Starr was interrupted by his PR adviser trying to give some media training advice.

That looked bad and so does any attempt to cover a camera with a hand or a shouted request to stop filming. The actions of the people around a spokesperson can be hugely damaging.

But the whole interview should have been handled differently. Ms Siddiq may well not have wanted to answer questions about the case of Ahmad bin Quasem, but she should surely have anticipated that they were likely to come up.

We always tell delegates on our media training courses about the importance of spending time preparing possible negative questions and wider issues that could be brought into the interview. And it seems from the Channel 4 report that it has previously posed questions to her about this very case.

But the other key point here, and again one that we regularly stress on our media training courses, is that spokespeople should not get rattled and show any anger or frustration at the questions that are being asked. The audience is always likely to be sympathetic when spokespeople remain calm and composed.

Getting into an argument with a journalist will not help you fight your corner and, as this footage shows, it always looks messy.

This interview though has ended more acrimoniously than most, with Channel 4 reporting that it had complained to the MP and the Labour party about a comment she made to a pregnant producer and the MP reporting that she had complained to Channel 4 News and the police.

The fall-out from this interview clearly looks set to continue, but there is still much that can be learnt from this attention-grabbing performance.

 

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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