3 The News Media
3 The News Media
3.1 Response to news media interest must be positive, professional, and coordinated with that of other responders.
3.2 In this context it is sometimes said that one should "feed the beast – or it will eat you". It is not a good idea to regard the news media as a 'beast' – they are almost always professional people simply trying to do their job – but the point of the saying is that it is no good refusing to provide information. The reporter must have information, and will find it somewhere – possibly from a less reliable source.
3.3 This does not mean that everyone a reporter contacts must give a statement! It means that there should be an agreed and reliable source of information, known to everyone in the organisation, to whom the news media should be directed. Those directly involved in the response to the incident must not be distracted from their work – but this alone does not prevent the news media and others from contacting them in search of information. They need to know who to refer the reporter to. So do other people in the organisation, even if they themselves have no response role. Just because you are in Accounts does not mean that a reporter will not ask you for a quote! Anyone not involved in the public relations response should quickly and politely refer the reporter to the correct contact point.
3.4 Every organisation should have a public relations office of some sort (even if only a single officer) to whom news media enquiries should be referred. If such an office is established as the sole point in the organisation at which information will be provided – and, crucially, if it gives information quickly and accurately – the great majority of the news media will use it and not trouble the people responding to the emergency itself. The 'beast' will go where it knows it will be fed!
3.5 All responding organisations should coordinate their statements to the news media. This does not mean that all will say the same thing, for different organisations will lead on different aspects of the response. But the basic confirmed facts of the case must be shared among the responders expeditiously – the name of the casualty vessel, for example, the number of people at risk, the units responding, where people will be taken to, and so on. Agreed news releases can be quickly circulated, or centrally coordinated, prior to publication. Later, coordinated news conferences will also be required.
3.6 Which organisations will comment on which parts of the operation should be agreed at the planning stage. For example, the maritime rescue coordination service's public relations office can lead on the at-sea SAR operations, while the agency coordinating the response on land can lead on that aspect. Individual organisations may comment on their own role in the operation, but should pass wider questions to the coordinating offices.
3.7 Details of the people in distress, rescued etc (other than the overall numbers) should only be released by one officially recognised coordinating body, working in close cooperation with the casualty unit's parent organisation – the ferry company, for example, in a ferry accident – and hospitals etc. No other responding organisation should give personal information to the news media.
3.8 The need to coordinate means that responding organisations' public relations offices must be notified of an MRO as soon as possible. In the earliest stages it may be necessary to issue a holding statement in answer to enquiries, to the effect that, yes, an incident has occurred, a response is under way, and the organisation will provide further information, through its public relations office, as soon as possible. The public relations office should then be kept fully up-to-date on developments.
3.9 It should be clear to all responders that speculation in public must be avoided. Information given, whether to the news media or the general public, must be purely factual, and as factually correct as possible at the time. If a question is asked to which the answer is not yet known, simply say so. If it transpires that information given in good faith earlier was incorrect, issue a correction. Never, ever lie or mislead. If some information is considered sensitive or uncertain, simply do not comment on it.
3.10 It is common for reporters to ask questions too soon. "What caused the collision?" is an appropriate question to ask – but not when the rescue operation is still under way. "I am not going to speculate" and "It is far too early to comment on that" are perfectly legitimate answers to such enquiries – and the reporter must be made to understand that no other answer will be given no matter how many times the question is put!
3.11 Information given should also be clear. Avoid jargon, acronyms etc. The reporter is unlikely to be a marine expert; less likely to be a SAR expert; and least likely of all to know all the details of mass rescue operations planning and procedures. 'Simple, clear and factual' are the watch words.
3.12 Public relations officers may not be experts themselves. It is good practice to have designated spokespeople ('talking heads') available to the public relations team: officers who have the necessary knowledge but are not otherwise involved in the operation. A selection of suitable people can be on call for this work, and should be trained for it. They can then become the authoritative face and voice of the organisation, and have a key role to play in reassuring the public that the organisation is responding effectively.
3.13 Reporters will want their own 'angle' on the story; something that distinguishes their report from others. This can be catered for by providing the opportunity for individual interviews with the 'talking heads' – but it should be noted that this approach can be resource-intensive. 'Talking heads' are as prone to fatigue as everyone else!
3.14 All news media require pictures, video or still, and interviews. People actually involved in the incident will place pictures and video clips on social networks or send them direct to media organisations, and may choose to talk to the news media themselves. However, unrestricted access by news media representatives to the incident scene, reception centres etc, should not be permitted, as this would be intrusive and may be hazardous and/or impede rescue operations.
3.15 One solution to the demand for pictures from the scene is for the news media to agree to 'pool' them: one unit is allowed into the area, under the direction of the coordinating authorities, with a number of cameramen aboard, and they share the results with their colleagues on their return. Footage collected by the SAR units themselves may also be suitable; and opportunities should be given to the news media to acquire 'library' images beforehand.
3.16 Public relations offices should seek to establish local representation as soon as possible. The news media will head for the scene of the incident, or as close as they can get to it, or for other focal points such as landing sites and reception centres. A media centre should be established for their use, with power, cellphone coverage, refreshments, etc, and used for briefings and news conferences. (See also guidance paper 4.8.)
3.17 The overall aim is to work with the news media so far as possible. This has considerable benefits for the organisations responding to the incident. It reduces the volume of calls from the public as well as misplaced contacts by the media themselves. It helps the responders to broadcast information: contact telephone numbers for concerned friends and families, for example. And material gathered by the news media – pictures in particular – can be a valuable information source.