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CDC journalism 2

By Claire Doole, Claire Doole Communications

My colleague, Jean Milligan, and myself, have just come back from Bangladesh where we were handling the local media for an event organised by one of Geneva’s international organisations.

For the organisation’s President, who is himself from Bangladesh, it was an opportunity to show that his country was open for business, able to successfully organise an international conference attended by more than 1200 people from 126 countries.

As this was the first international conference in Bangladesh for decades, there was a massive local press corps following the proceedings in great detail. Several national TV channels even broadcast the press conferences live.

I realised during my stint there that it is not easy to parachute into a complex local media environment, and manage the challenges and opportunities that arise. Looking back on my experience in Bangladesh and in numerous other places, I have come up with some tips on managing local media in an unfamiliar context.

The first thing to keep in mind is that many local media work to the highest professional standards. You may find that doing an interview with them requires much more knowledge than with the international media. However, do be aware of the constraints that some of them work under.

National media can be politicised. In some place, “just the facts” is not the modus operandi of the media. Governments can exercise little to extensive control on the media. As we all know, freedom of the press is sadly not a universally agreed principle. So if you are responding to media questions as a spokesperson or giving an interview while on a business trip, remember to take into account the reason for your organisation being there and the relation between the press and the government.

I lived an extreme version of this situation.  I once did an "interview" on Turkmen TV that consisted of two questions: What did I think of Turkmenistan? What did I think of the Turkmen President? Unfortunately they wanted me to speak for 3 minutes and I quickly ran dry. I talked about the health TV programme I was producing for BBC Media Action, but avoided answering directly their question. I have no idea whether the interview was broadcast. News, I was told, is never live in Turkmenistan and usually broadcast 3 days after the event - no doubt after heavy editing from the censors.

Being a journalist can be life threatening. In many countries it is far too dangerous for local media to ask critical questions. I once made a film on domestic violence in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. A reporter in the town where six women had been killed told me she regularly received death threats as a result of her articles.  Her option was to seek protection from the authorities or the drug cartels. She chose the drug cartels, which were claiming that the authorities were complicit in the deaths of the women.

Fear transcends borders. Last month I was running some media training for humanitarian professionals at the Geneva Centre for Education and Research in Humanitarian Action (CERAH). They were asked to be spokespeople for MSF after the Nigerian military had bombed a refugee camp. The press release clearly said that Nigerian military was to blame. But a student, from a South Asian country controlled by the military, completely failed the exercise. She was culturally totally unable to criticise the military and as a result tied herself up in knots. I am sure if you are interviewed by the media in this country, you should prepare yourself for questions which are very pro-government.

CDC journalism 1

Talk to everyone, but target critical media for you. Do some media scanning before you go to know who you must speak with and who it is desirable but not essential to speak with. This will help you prioritize in those countries where there are large numbers of digital, print and broadcast outlets.

Know whom you are talking to.  Make sure you do your homework and assess any media requesting an interview. Find out what they have written on the subject before and prepare for their likely angles. They may be critical of international organisations and companies, which they feel treat their country unfairly and only have a western perspective.

Ask for translation. If you are running a press conference make sure you have translation for those on the panel who don't speak the local language. In Bangladesh most of the questions were in Bengali and so were the replies of the IPU President and Speaker of the Bangladeshi Parliament. We learnt what they had said by reading the English language newspapers the next day!

Author's bio

clairedooleportrait 200Claire is a former BBC correspondent and international spokeswoman who is passionate about helping people communicate with confidence. Since 2006, she has successfully trained hundreds of professionals in the art of presenting and public speaking, talking to the media, managing communications in a crisis, and writing for the web. In addition, she has coached C-level executives and public figures to give powerful TEDx and TED style talks in Europe and the Middle East. A Swiss and UK national, Claire trains and coaches in French and English.

Claire is also a highly experienced moderator having facilitated panel discussions with government ministers, NGO activists, humanitarians and human rights specialists at major events.