Did Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson do the right thing when he responded repeatedly to Richard Madeley’s question about the language he used against Russian President Putin? Probably yes from a political point of view; disastrously no from a media handling perspective. The politics might have dictated that, some days after Williamson’s ill-advised comment that Putin should “Shut up”, there would be no point in admitting he regretted his language and give the media another headline. However playing a verbal dead bat in the form of simply reiterating government policy was ill advised. Firstly, the audience sees right through such prevarication and secondly, on this occasion it resulted in him being left hanging in the air at the end of a live link as Madeley abruptly terminated the interview.
In the unlikely event that Mr Williamson had come to us for crisis management advice, we would have strongly suggested he tackle the issue on day one and either say he stood by his words or regretted them. That way days later the story cannot come back to haunt him as he can say, “I have already dealt with that and have nothing more to say”.
Not that Madeley came out of the on screen crash that well himself. He became part of the story as he threw down his pen in frustration. Call me old fashioned but in my day we TV interviewers were there to facilitate not to grandstand; we left that to the politicians!
Khalid Aziz – Aziz Corporate Chairman and award-winning presenter. A guide to Managing Communication in a Crisis by Khalid Aziz and Peter Ruff.