Dealing with the Media
This “Focus on” guidance has been prepared by the BMA’s press office to help doctors deal with the media. It provides tips on talking to reporters, what to remember when being interviewed, and how to cope with radio and television broadcasting. It also tells doctors how to get expert advice when they need it.
While some doctors are completely at ease when talking to journalists, many others are less confident or are suspicious of what reporters will do with their words. Sometimes this is because of a bad experience in the past. Just as with the medical profession, there are good and bad journalists. The vast majority are ordinary hard-working people trying to do their job in a fair and balanced way.
On/Off the record
From the moment a reporter contacts you, identifies him or herself and confirms you are Dr…anything you say is officially on the record. Most reporters take notes as you speak, recording the more interesting (to them) things you say. When the conversation is over they select the most pertinent comments for their story and use them.
|TIP: If you have had quite a lengthy chat with a journalist, possibly covering a number of issues, at the close of your conversation suggest you “agree a quote”. This concentrates the reporter’s mind and gives you an opportunity to sort out any misunderstandings.|
Do not make off-the-record comments unless you know the reporter well and have confidence in them. Most GPs will not be in this position, so don’t go off the record.
Assume everything you say could be quoted and if you are not sure of your facts, don’t say it.
When talking about out-of-hours services it helps not to use the term “opt out” but to talk about GP practices “transferring (or handing over) responsibility for out of hours” instead.
|TIP: Use BMA Press Office as a resource. We will try to help you verify any facts you want to quote. Call on 020 7383 6254 anytime. If your call is after office hours a message will give you the home or mobile telephone numbers of press officers who can speak to you.|
Radio and TV Interviews
Before you agree to do an interview for broadcast check:
- Name of the programme, the station, and when it will be broadcast
- What the interview is about and what areas will be covered
- Is anyone else being interviewed and if so, whom
- Will it be live, or recorded in advance
- How long will the interview be (two or three minutes is a common length. Often a pre-recorded interview will be longer and will then be edited. Don’t over-record.)
- When is a decision needed (make sure you let them know within this deadline)
If you are not sure whether to agree to do an interview you can call BMA Press Office to talk things over. If you decide not to proceed, press office might be able to suggest an alternative doctor to fill the gap.
|TIP: You can get free media training in radio and television broadcasting techniques from BMA Press Office in London. Places are limited and courses last two and a half hours. Call 00020 7383 6254 to register an interest.|
Giving a good interview on air
Even if you think you can do the interview blindfold, it is worth preparing well for it. Invest some time to:
- Write down in order of importance three main points you want to make.
- Practice saying them as briefly as possible.
When you are giving your interview:
- Make the points as soon as you can and repeat them if time allows.
- Use simple terms. Don’t use jargon or initials (eg don’t say PCT, say Primary Care Trust and explain this is the local NHS body) The only initials your audience will understand are NHS and GPs. Forget the rest.
- Don’t use percentages. Say “one in four”, not “25%”.
- Talk about patients eg the impact on patients, what it means for patients, working with patients.
- Stay calm and never get into an argument on air. Even if you are in the right, you will upset your audience.
- If it’s a pre-record and you hesitate or stumble, ask to give the answer again. Usually, your interviewer will be very happy to do this.
- Use the full range of your voice – radio can have a flattening effect.
- Smile when you can, it comes over in your voice.
- Give short self-contained answers.
- Never respond to a question with a one word reply of “No” or “yes”. It gets you nowhere.
- Look at the interviewer not the camera.
- Don’t wear anything distracting. Leave the wild ties and chandelier ear-rings at home.
- Check your appearance before you go on camera – they don’t always do it for you these days.
- Sit upright in your chair without rocking or swivelling it.
- Smile and nod when introduced and again at the end if you can. It makes a difference to how people see you.
- Never say “no comment”.
- This isn’t a lecture so don’t enumerate the points you will make – you will run out of time or forget them.
- Don’t run down other health professionals.
|TIP: As you sit in the interviewee’s chair, facing the TV/radio journalist, ask what their first question will be. It will give you a few seconds extra to decide how to start off your answer.
Remember, this is your interview and you can afford to be positive and friendly. Talking to journalists, especially on air, gives you a wonderful opportunity to get your message across. It is worth preparing for to make the most of it.