Brian Edwards Media

Brian Edwards and Judy Callingham offer professional and effective media training for people in both the private and public sectors.
Find out more

Search Site

I offer my humble opinion on Eleanor Catton’s treason

Photo: Robert Catto

Photo: Robert Catto

I arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand in mid-September 1964 to take up a lecturing position at Canterbury University. My wife, infant son and I had been airborne for around 36 hours with a two-hour break in Los Angeles to have a shower and freshen up. We were greeted at Christchurch airport by the head of the German Department, not yet a professor, who escorted us to his Volkswagen Beetle into which we poured ourselves, our child and our luggage with some difficulty.

We were, it transpired, to be billeted in a motel until we found permanent accommodation. The motel was in somewhere called Riccarton where the yet-to-be-professor said he would deposit us while we ‘settled in’.

As we were shoe-horning ourselves out of the V-Dub I twisted my ankle on the unexpectedly deep culvert that is a feature of some New Zealand cities, but unknown in Northern Ireland and Scotland.  A twisted ankle is extremely painful and I made a comment along the lines “stupid bloody gutters”. My new boss responded that if I wasn’t going to like it here, perhaps I ought not to have come.

I would later discover that it was a prerequisite of acceptance to New Zealand society that you should “like it here” and fulsomely express that liking from the moment your plane touched down and certainly no later than the second  when your feet met the tarmac at the bottom of the gangway. Jetlagged heads of state, visiting politicians, Hollywood stars, the famous and semi-famous were greeted by anxious media with variants of the same question: “What do you think of New Zealand?” occasionally more directly expressed as “How do you like it here?”    Read the rest of this entry »

45 Comments ,

On the uncanny resemblance between John Key and Sergeant Schultz

images (1)

In the 30-odd years that Judy and I have been providing media advice and training to prime ministers, prostitutes and pretty well every profession in-between, our teaching mantra has remained the same: “Be straightforward, tell the truth, admit your mistakes”. It’s a practical rather than a necessarily moral slogan. Being straightforward with the media, telling the truth and admitting your mistakes is quite simply the only strategy that works. Everything else will get you into trouble or more trouble than you’re already in.

Our experience of our elected representatives – left, right and centre – has led us to the conclusion that most are reasonably honest and that the lying politician is a much rarer creature than the general population appears to think. Persuading MPs, Cabinet Ministers and the men and women who held the top job to be straightforward and tell the truth has not been a difficult or even a necessary task.

But will the buggers admit their mistakes? No way. To avoid the usual accusations of left-wing bias on my part, I’ll cite two examples from my side of the house. Helen Clark and the painting which she signed but didn’t paint; Helen Clark and the police car speeding her to Eden Park to watch the rugby.

Neither of these were hanging offences and reasonable explanations (or excuses if you prefer) could have been offered for both: PMs put their moniker on all sorts of things with charitable intent; the New Zealand Prime Minister arriving late for an international footie match isn’t a good look. And anyway, these cops are brilliant and safe drivers.

But Helen, who had been brought up in a family where lying was just about a capital offence, was unwilling to own responsibility for either of these relatively minor transgressions. She was reluctant to admit that she’d made a mistake or even that she’d failed to prevent others making mistakes on her behalf.

The outcome in terms of public and press reaction was extremely negative in both cases. Simple concessions, perhaps with a touch of humour, could have avoided all the fuss: “Well, I sign a lot of things for charity; but maybe I didn’t make it clear that I hadn’t actually painted the picture. I couldn’t paint like that to save my life; Yes, not a good look, I’ll admit, and not a good example to other drivers. Guilty as charged, I’m afraid.”

The problem with denial when you’ve done something wrong is that far from making the issue go away, it amplifies and protracts it. Admitting your mistakes tends to have the opposite effect. Your opponents may have a field day of self congratulation, but it will at least be brief.    Read the rest of this entry »

113 Comments , , , , , , , ,

Andrew Little: A Man for the Time?

In an ideal world good men and good women would be elected to government; the best would achieve high office and a few the highest office in the land. New Zealand, still one of the least politically corrupt nations in the world, may well have come closer to that ideal in the past than many other developed countries.

In the sixties the arrival of television in New Zealand complicated this simple equation.  The largely impersonal relationship between voter and politician, limited mainly to town hall election meetings and radio broadcasts, was gradually displaced  by the intimacy of the television close-up and the advent of the increasingly personal and probing political television interview.

In one sense this was for the public good. Television had the potential to reveal the cracks not only in the politicians’ policies and claims but in the facade of personal virtue which they hoped to project. The small screen was and remains a more effective lie-detector than radio or the town-hall meeting. It exemplifies the dictum that a picture is worth a thousand words.

But television in the 21st century is also first and foremost an entertainment medium. Those who appear on it are required to engage their audience, to hold their attention, to perform. As my colleague Ian Fraser once put it, “to act themselves”. If indeed it ever was, being a good person is no longer enough. You have to look good as well.

Whether being good and looking good, whether being yourself and acting yourself are entirely compatible is not something I want to canvass here. But I do know that if you don’t “come across” on television, your chances of political success are greatly and quite possibly fatally reduced.    Read the rest of this entry »

38 Comments , , ,