Progressive Media Commentators – Time To Get Our Shit Together
March 4, 2012 § 3 Comments
I am sick of it – sick of progressives being punched and suckered on national broadcast debates.
I know that winning a media-battle is not how we’re going build a sustainable and just society – but to lose the debate so often on air surely undermines all the work we’re doing outside of the radio/TV studio.
I’m on the train to Oxford listening to ‘All Things Considered’, a BBC Wales talk-show about religion. This week, it’s a discussion about food banks and poverty – a perfect piece of proof for how serious the cuts and unemployment levels are. The first ten minutes features a sympathetic case study visit to a food bank in Bridgend followed by an interview with someone from the Trussell Trust (funders of community projects tacking poverty). Up next, a conversation between Neil Cooper from Church Action On Poverty and Colin Bloom from the Conservative Christian Fellowship, who gives a masterclass in how to win the debate. Some choice quotes with analysis below –
“We all have to work together (not those with most should help most) to make sure that the most vulnerable….(there are deserving and undeserving poor people – and if you don’t fit my criteria, you don’t get help) are helped (palliative, rather than dealing with root cause).”
“I work in Westminster (personal, open, friendly), I walk up Victoria Street every day (clear image that you can recognise), and for as long as I can remember (this problem has always existed and therefore we can’t do anything about it) we have had rough sleepers sleeping in the city centers. Whether it’s massively increasing or not I don’t know (sew doubt), I certainly know that there are problems there and working very hard to address those (I am perfectly reasonable and want the right thing to happen).
“And actually we’ve now got the opportunity, because of the Localism Bill, because of the work that’s being done in the Coalition (political message of support), that we are now seeing the opportunities are opening up for churches and faith groups to really get involved to do the things that they always were doing – but perhaps did less of in the last few years because government promised more than it could deliver (government fails, churches succeed).”
My favourite moment from the show has to be when he manages to say the following – and nobody challenges him.
“We have allowed compassion to become nationalised.”
SERIOUSLY?! We’re going to let that fly?
Another car-crash example is this debate on Woman’s Hour between a Daily Mail columnist and a spokesperson from Netmums on whether parents are going hungry to feed their children. Same story. Depressing listening.
How We Can Do It Better
Let’s start with some principles that we know and love.
- People do not connect with issues – people connect with people.
- People connect with other people by recognising their shared values.
- People share their values by telling stories that illustrate them (NB – NOT by saying ‘I have value X’, Mr Miliband.)
It is absolutely possible to be a powerful preogressive voice in the media. Some fantastic examples include Frances O’Grady from the TUC, Camila Batmanghelidjh from Kids Company and Shami Chakrabarti from Liberty. So what do they get right?
- Illustrative stories – what is happening?
- Clear analysis – why is this happening?
- Confident communication style – good humour, passion, gravitas, not allowing themselves to be interrupted/thrown off course by others
- Memorable memes and messages – nice turns of phrase, frames that resonate
Most NGO staff receive some sort of media training – but we need to up our game. How many simulated debates do we practice? How often do we use a real studio for this? How do we defend the strong media advocates when they get attached?
Request For Help
I’ve organised and hosted a couple of small attempts to build these skills in the past (media training + economics for activists workshop), but there is a lot more that we can do.
- Do you have access to radio/TV studios which could be used for training?
- Do you have contacts with emerging progressive leaders and spokespeople who will be stronger advocates because of some training?
- Are you, or do you know, someone who can give high-quality media training and simulate real-life situations?
- Do you have time and skills to manage and run something like this?
- Do you have some cash that could help make this all happen?
If the answer to any of those is yes – comment below or email me, caspertk[at]gmail.com.
It’s time to get our shit together.