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How to Refuse to Speak to the Media
There are many instances when you may be placed in a position of having media presence seeking to talk to you. If it's a positive thing, this can be fun and even fame-making. But there are plenty of situations where media is an intrusion into your privacy, an invasion into your need for space after witnessing or surviving a terrible incident, or when you're going through something harrowing such as a court trial of a loved one, or muck-raking over things you've done. Not speaking to the media is perfectly acceptable but it's important to have some tactics in place to shore up your strength. Here are some suggestions.
Put yourself first.If you don't want to speak to the media, never feel obliged to do so. If you're concerned that you might be judged for not speaking to the media, there are better ways of counteracting this allegation or rumor than giving a doorstop byte when you're feeling harassed and upset, such as making a written statement later, etc. Make up your mind from the outset that you don't want to discuss anything with the media as your base point.
- Take some time now to think about how you'd respond to media if you were ever involved in a crisis incident and media came at you. While you don't know how you'd react to the incident itself, you can at least have some notion in your mind about such issues as privacy, safety, and dignity for yourself and others around you.
Have some standard stock phrases ready to push aside media queries.You don't need to answer anything, no matter how pushy the media representative is, and some of the journalists will be very pushy – it's their job. Some phrases to keep in mind include:
- No comment.
- I don't wish to talk to the media at present. Thank you.
- Thank you.
- I wish to get to [hospital, car, work, school, etc.] right away. I don't have the time to talk now.
- When I feel better/am across all the facts/have had a chance to recover, etc., I may consider giving an interview. Until then, I am not able to talk about it.
Point out the realities.In some cases, it may be beneficial to point out that the situation is an inappropriate one for media coverage. For example, if you've just survived or helped save someone from a shark attack or a train wreck, you might point out that you or someone else is injured and that it's far more important to deal with the injuries and shock before talking about the incident. You might say something like: "I just did what needed to be done and I only care about the injured person right now. I don't want to talk about it thanks."
Be polite.Avoid getting into skirmishes because they turn into the news, instantly. Keep your cool and simply ask repeatedly that the media and camera crews step aside to allow you through.
- Use polite body language as well. Keep a neutral face (neither smiling nor scowling). Avoid using obscene hand, facial, or other gestures; the camera will have it caught in an instant.
Avoid falling into the trap of "half talking" with the media and then clamming up.The more you do say, the more the journalist has to translate into something of a news or investigative item. Remember that every single word you do say will be reported in some way of other because the journalist has to make a story.
Have support.If you know that media is about to descend upon you, have a neutral or strong-willed person stand up for you to walk you through the scrum. Allow this person to do all of the talking and to shield you as you pass through. This could be a lawyer, a therapist, a doctor, a family member, a friend, etc., whoever is willing and able to take on this role. Again, maintain a neutral appearance and stance so as not to provide any source of commentary about your attitude.
Consider how you might talk to the media if you want to.If you're not completely against talking to the media but you're not ready, you might wish to say so to the media representative. For example, "I don't wish to speak on camera but if you'd email me the questions, I'd be happy to respond in writing." Or, "I'm not ready to talk to the media right now but when I am, I'll call you for an exclusive".
Have a plan in place for leaving with dignity where possible.It's probably impossible to leave an accident site lying on a stretcher with dignity but you can ask medics to shield you. But for most other situations, the manner in which you leave can leave a lasting impression, so don't lose your bottle but remain pleasant in your uncooperative retreat.
- Have escape routes planned, such a waiting car, a friend's house you can run into, a private place that the media cannot enter, etc.
- Have a recovery system in place. Although you might manage to do your best to remain stoic in front of media glare, the after-effects can have you reeling in shock and anger. Take the time out to sit down, catch your breath, and debrief on the situation with someone you trust. Then get on with your day and don't let the media hounding get to you. You'll soon be yesterday's news.
- Realize that the media has a job to do. While determined, they're human too. Try to connect at that level and reach their sensitivities. It won't always succeed but the more personable you are as you brush them off, the less dogged they'll want to be about "getting the scoop".
- Cry, a lot. It's impossible to interview someone who does nothing other than cry. Realize that some footage of crying will probably end up being shown but you won't be saying a thing! It's harder to make crying seem mean-spirited, uncaring, or unmoved, so it's handy in the case where people will be unfairly critical of your "lack of emotions" for not talking. Obviously, crying is easier where it comes naturally because of the circumstances and it's not a solution for everyone.
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