This is a copy of the Australian Antarctic Division’s policy on dealing
with the media, which was circulated to all staff in October last year.
It raises some interesting points about media policies and we’d love
other organisations to send their’s through to [email protected] so we can fire up a debate.

Media Protocols

The
AAD encourages media coverage and in part relies on the media to
promote our work. However, there are strict procedures for dealing with
the media.

The first general rule is, DON’T – unless you have first been through the formal clearance process.

Any
political inquiry, policy announcement or sensitive issue would
normally be handled by the Minister or Parliamentary Secretary,
depending on the portfolio issue, or their offices.

For
background on programs or policies an officer might be cleared at
Branch Head or Director level or as an ‘expert’ to give a media
interview or provide a background briefing. When an AAD officer is
involved in contact with the media it is important that the AAD’s Media
Liaison Officer (MLO) is promptly advised so the Minister/Parliamentary
Secretary can be advised ahead of the item/interview appearing.

Public
Service Guidelines support the right of public servants as members of
the community to make public comment on political and social issues,
but also point out that under the Public Service Act public servants
may not disclose official information without authority. “Public
comment” covers anything said or written which it is reasonable to
assume may flow to the community at large, including comments or
letters to the news media and public speaking.

It
would be inappropriate for AAD staff to make public comment on
Government policy relating to the AAD’s responsibilities without prior
authorisation.

MEDIA RELEASES AND EVENTS

Media
releases and media alerts about activities or issues concerning the AAD
can be issued by the Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary, or by the
AAD.

Most media releases will be issued in the Parliamentary Secretary’s name.

Preparation of media releases

All
media releases must be planned and drafted in consultation with
Information Services Section (ISS). The first point of contact is the
Media Liaison Officer or the Communications Manager.

All
staff should be aware of the FIVE-DAY RULE – i.e. draft media releases
should be with the Minister/Parliamentary Secretary’s office at least
five days before they are to be released unless the media release is in
response to a ‘hot’ issue.

The normal process for media releases is:

* Line area and Media Liaison Officer agree on the need to draft a media release.

*
If the issue is sensitive or highly political the Branch Head and
General Manager Policy Coordination should be consulted and issues
considered such as:

Does the Minister/Parliamentary Secretary need to be briefed on the issue?

Do other stakeholders need to be consulted?

What are the risks involved?

Are there issues surrounding the timing of the media release?

* Line area prepares a first draft or some dot points.

*
Line area emails draft/dot points to the Media Liaison Officer (MLO)
where it is edited into a format designed to give it the best possible
appeal to the media.

* MLO returns the release to line area for checking then gets clearance through the Branch Head.

*
After being cleared by the Branch Head the release is cleared by the
Director for discussion by the MLO with the Minister/Parliamentary
Secretary’s office.

Tips on writing media releases

*
Keep the text to one typed page. If a release is too long, it will not
be read by news journalists/news editors. Also, a two-page release
costs twice as much to distribute. Background details can be attached
for more detailed information.

* Lead the release
with the most important information. The first three paragraphs should
cover the three issues of what is being announced (the program, event,
new funding etc), by whom and where and what the outcome of the
announcement will be. Use plain English and avoid technical terms or
jargon.

* Illustrate the issue with examples and relate it to concepts the average person understands.

* Report on outcomes. The success of the policy or program to date.

* Put the issue into context. Provide some background. Relate the issue to broader government policy if appropriate.

* Include some quotes.

*
Think about how the story can be illustrated – images or graphics that
could be released with the story. Often it’s the pictures that
determine whether the media release will be run.

Joint media releases

The Minister and Parliamentary Secretary often issue media releases jointly with their Federal colleagues.

The
process for drafting these releases is the same as for other releases,
except that it will involve liaison with other departments at the
drafting stage. Ministerial media advisers will negotiate with their
counterparts in other Minister’s offices on the final text of the
release. Information Services can provide or create joint Ministerial
media release templates.

WHEN CONTACTED BY A JOURNALIST

Media inquiries should generally be directed to the Media Liaison Officer to ensure:

* We have a consistent and coordinated response;

*  We are timely in our response;

* We can keep the Minister/Parliamentary Secretary’s office fully informed;

* We are aware of what issues are running in the media and can anticipate future developments;

*
AAD staff are not exposed should there be inaccurate reporting, or
media coverage of which the Minister/Parliamentary Secretary’s office
is unaware.

Division staff should not discuss matters
of policy or any significant new development or politically sensitive
issue without first getting approval through the Media Liaison Officer.
The MLO will be responsible for arranging the required clearances.

Where
a media query is just a simple request for information that is publicly
available or for factual information from an acknowledged expert, staff
can respond without seeking prior approval but must inform the Media
Liaison Officer or Communications Manager as soon as possible.

For
example, staff could refer journalists to information that it readily
available on the AAD internet site. Journalists often contact the AAD
seeking background factual information from our experts on the
characteristics of Antarctic plants, animals or ecosystems.

Station
Leaders often get media calls asking about the weather and how
expeditioners are celebrating a particular occasion. Such information
can be provided as long as comments are confined to areas for which you
are responsible or within your particular area of technical expertise
and do not deal with policy or sensitive issues. If in any doubt, check
first with the Media Liaison Officer. The MLO must be advised of any
media contact.

It is acceptable to say no to a
journalist. Simply inform them that our protocols require such calls to
be referred to the Media Liaison Officer.

When a media contact is referred to the MLO, the MLO will ask:

What information is sought – are they seeking an interview or are they looking for background?

Where they are from and what they plan to do with the information?

What
prompted the query, and who else they may have approached for comment
(e.g. the Minister’s Office, NGOs, other government agencies etc?)

What is their deadline?

The
MLO will then come back to the line area with a request for proposed
responses to the journalist’s questions, and an indication of the
urgency of the request.

The response needs to be clear, simple talking points that as far as possible directly answer the question.

The Media Liaison Officer or Communications Manager will:

*
If a sensitive or policy issue, seek advice on whether the
Minister/Parliamentary Secretary’s office will handle the query, or
whether it should be handled by the AAD.

* Advise the Minister/Parliamentary Secretary’s office of the inquiry and the proposed response.

* Inform the line area of the outcome, and oversee the delivery of the response.

When
the media query is just a request to be directed to existing
information or for an expert to make a comment within their area of
technical expertise, the MLO will simply inform the Parliamentary
Secretary/Minister’s office of the media contact and report on the
outcome.

Never go into a media interview unprepared.
Before committing to an interview find out the subject area to be
discussed, the line of questioning, then take the time to note the key
message that you would like to get across to ensure we make the most of
these opportunities. The MLO/Communications Manager can help with this.

When off duty …

The
procedures for media liaison apply as much when you are off duty as
they do when you are at work. If socialising with journalists, remember
that just because you are off duty, what you say is not necessarily off
the record. If asked for information, suggest that the journalist
contacts the Media Liaison Officer during business hours.

Peter Fray

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