Tuesday, May 17, 2011

After the battle: PAPies conduct media relations after-action review

Votes are not the only things counted during the 2011 General Elections (GE) in Singapore.

Newspaper stories, pictures and editorials are being tallied and scrutinised by People's Action Party (PAP) cadres as the party conducts an after-action review of media coverage it received during the lead-up to GE 2011.

Opinions are already being formed of certain journalists from the mainstream media and editorial slants allegedly taken by certain newsrooms.

Whether this will eventually result in editors being summoned to Cavenagh Road for another one of those Istana briefings remains to be seen. But some of the initial findings on editorial calls are off-the-mark and betray an astonishing lack of awareness of the newsroom beat system and how pages are laid out, pictures selected.

In the bigger scheme of things, these blinkered views of the media are disturbing because they point to a lost opportunity for the party to transform itself afresh.

It is indeed interesting to hear that in wards that faced a close tussle, the MIW seem keen to identify and nail down newspaper stories with a pro-Opposition bias. The analysis for some wards goes back several months and encompasses stories that journalists wrote for PAP candidates and other political parties.

The amount of editorial space accorded to the MIW, the prominence of the article, writing style and choice of phrases used are among the items examined. The MIW also consider whether the pieces published were straight news reportage or whether the writer had tried to weave in commentary into a news story - which is something journalists should never do for news stories.

As MPs sift through their media clippings, they must not to jump to conclusions and blackball a journalist for simply doing his/her job. The spotlight has already been cast on some bylines...

It is only too easy to blame one's dip in vote share to poisonous penmanship or picture selections that capture your opponent's better side or crouch.(If only 90C journalists were so influential!)

MIW MPs should also be wary of what is whispered into their ears. They must judge for themselves why certain media opportunities did not turn out according to plan.(von Moltke's view that "No plan survives first contact with the Enemy" is a saying I hold dear and is worth mulling over.)

Especially in cases where the scribes being scrutinised have no right of reply, it is only too easy to allow guesswork, conjecture and character assassination to lead to half-baked theories that would collapse under more intellectual rigour.

The terms of reference for the media study must be crystal clear. What is the objective of the media forensics? Is it designed to find scapegoats? Is the party on a witch hunt for poison pens? Or is the party serious about reformasi transforming itself to right missteps in government policy formulation and execution?

A good media relations strategy cuts both ways.

This means journalists must be streetwise enough to realise what is being said behind their back and take proactive steps to correct misconceptions and build trust and goodwill. Journalists must value their beat and make that extra effort to win the trust of their newsmakers or, if empathy is impossible, at least win the respect of the newsmaker that the journalist - though damned for being hard-nosed - is at least a professional one who writes fairly and intelligently.

Whether or not the MIW succeed in pulling the mainstream media back onto the straight and narrow might prove irrelevant during the next GE. The social media will grow in reach and influence, giving voters more options five years from now to gather news and form their own opinions.

The funny thing about the MIW's concerns about editorial integrity (i.e. concerns over a pro-Opposition bias) is this: Speak to Opposition supporters and they will say exactly the opposite about coverage their favourite parties received from the MSM. Go figure.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

last para - PAP concerned over perceived pro-Opposition bias. voters see pro-PAP bias in SPH and Mediacorp.

well, PAP and voters cant both be right. but it certainly doesnt mean both are wrong. whatever ex-ST journos might think.