THE EDITOR: My first entrepreneurial venture was inspired by a lackluster presentation made by former commissioner of police Jules Bernard. The presentation was so bad that I decided to form a company called Professional Presentations Ltd to coach leaders to become more engaging presenters. That company failed spectacularly and I had to pivot to providing public relations services.
Thirty years later, it is still an exception to experience an engaging presentation from a public official and they often create excitement by resorting to insults, aggression and folk tales.
Simultaneously, the media environment has transformed from a space exemplified as a beacon of acceptable behaviour and appropriate language to a wild space where media practitioners and professional hobbyists feel that everyone and every topic is fair game and bad grammar the norm. One wonders if today’s media practitioners are guided by a philosophy that exemplifies truth, appropriateness and incisive questioning.
I looked at a recent social media interview and reflected on the intention of the interviewer when she posed the question: “Have you ever accepted a bribe for a firearm” to Gary Griffith, who is a former commissioner of police, former minister of government, former senator, former captain in the Defence Force and now husband, father and private citizen. She would hardly have anticipated the response to be: “…Have you been involved in prostitution?”
There are ways to handle difficult questions and trying to insult and embarrass the interviewer is not one of them. Reviewing the portfolios Griffith has held, I expected that he would have resorted to any number of tools to keep the discussion positive, fruitful and solutions-oriented.
He should have learned to use the technique of “acknowledge, bridge, and go to your key message,” but instead he asked about experience with prostitution. And we wonder why gender-based violence is so rampant in our country. There is a level of disrespect and abuse that is simply unacceptable and women are often on the receiving end of this toxicity.
Some would be tempted to normalise this question by saying, “Well that is Gary” but I beg to differ. He had an opportunity to reduce the aggression of the interviewer’s question but instead he opted to take it to a lower level. This response is indicative of the systemic decline we are experiencing throughout our society.
Traditional and social media spaces provide an opportunity to collectively change the conversation from its current base level and create a more aspirational discussion. Media owners have to become intolerant of talk show hosts who routinely insult callers by telling them to “go ask your mother” or make slapping sounds on-air while eating and talking or who seriously ask the question, “So what are we doing this morning,” or in the case of one television presenter, accept a personal telephone call on live television…and the list goes on.
Thirty years later, maybe I should reopen the company but this time focus on how do we show mutual respect and kindness to each other.