Most politicians have a love hate relationship with the media. We need the good publicity to help get us re-elected and we need to get our message out so people understand our position and can engage with us. But in courting the media there is always the danger we say something out of turn or something is taken out of context. And once any media outlet has been kind enough to carry good stories it’s very hard to take umbrage if they carry a not so good story. So we dance around each other in what is neither courtship nor war dance. It’s a bit like pilot fish following a shark in a mutually beneficial relationship. It starts off as the media being the shark but as the politician becomes bigger and more powerful then somewhere the relationship changes and one morphs into the other.
At Westminster 150 people have media passes. This allows them access to the estate and into many areas, mixing freely with elected members and member’s staff. Some elected members have a very friendly relationship and meet up socially on a regular basis with journalists and broadcasters. All the big media outlets lobby parliament on a regular basis. This is an opportunity for them to talk and for us to listen. It’s really up to each one of us as individuals to decide how much we engage with the media. I am, to be honest, maybe still too reticent. After years of expressing my political opinions to friends and family and them paying little or no attention, I am still adjusting to journalists taking an interest, writing it down and then seeing it in print. That takes a bit of getting used to.
I enjoy radio. It’s a medium I feel comfortable with and I have to thank David Faller and Willie Stewart of Inverclyde Radio who graciously allowed me air time during the referendum campaign and then again during my own Westminster campaign. I learned a tremendous amount in those first interviews. I don’t have a poker face so radio is ideal for me. I can squint and furrow my brow, shake my head and look skyward, adjust my spectacles and lick my lips without looking like a mime artist with an itch. I always fancied being the early morning disc jockey, playing tunes in the wee small hours of the morning, broadcasting to shift workers and the early birds. A bit like Clint Eastwood in the movie ‘Play Misty for Me’ but without the stalker.
Of course these days we also have social media and that’s an entirely different kettle of fish. Instead of one journalist picking apart what I say there are thousands of folk, mostly strangers willing to take on that role. Social media brings with it a range of opportunities and potential pitfalls. Having a conversation in 140 characters is no way to converse with constituents and tracking conversations on multiple Facebook threads is inefficient and time consuming. Social media for me is primarily a way of highlighting events and opportunities, while keeping people informed of current issues and the business of the day.
We now have more media platforms than we have ever had before and as a result we have more bloggers and posters than you can shake a stick at. Used badly we are exposed to bullies and bores. Used wisely we can all communicate and exchange views, gain a better understanding and be more collaborative.
The above article will appear in June/July edition of Clyde Life Magazine.