First, it must be understood that it is the media who will shape the Prime Minister of this nation. It is to the media that he or she must answer. It will decide which of the contenders should be elected, and how the one so crowned should govern. If the public can understand that, everything else makes sense.
So it is appropriate that those who might aspire to that highest of high offices understand what attributes they must exhibit, what the media requires of them, and how they must behave – in other words their job specification. Go along compliantly and success is assured.
The media’s news’ specifications
As the controlling influence in matters of political discourse and action, the media’s news and current affairs requirements head the list of specifications.
The media insist on the following:
The Prime Minister must be available to the media whenever it demands. News and current affairs programmes need constant feeding. So doorstops, calls for interviews, and requests for press statements must be complied with immediately – the media has no time to waste.
Although the media has created the feeding frenzy of the daily media cycle and requires it to be satiated hour by hour, it reserves the right to lampoon the PM for complying with that cycle and will indict him for ‘obsession with the media cycle’, and if the PM actually seeks out the media, it will assume he is in ‘panic mode’.
The PM must be ready to answer any question, no matter how obstruce, no matter how rudely put, no matter how irrelevant to the matter in hand.
The PM must never ‘lose his cool’, refuse to answer a question, challenge the interviewer, answer back the interrogator or suggest that a question is stupid, even if it is. Otherwise the media will retaliate by accusing the PM of ‘a meltdown’, ‘losing it’, or ‘unable to take the heat’.
Questions that require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer must receive them without delay, without preamble, and without obfuscation.
‘Will you guarantee’ questions must be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without equivocation. The media needs these on record so they can be quoted back at the PM at any time.
No questions will be permitted to be ‘taken on notice’. The PM must be fully familiar with all matters at all times, no matter how trivial, no matter how complex, no matter how recent, and be able to deliver cogent answers immediately.
The answer to questions must be brief yet detailed enough for even the most ignorant to understand. On no account must the PM bore the audience with prolixity; repetitive phrases such as ‘working families’, ‘in the national interest’ and ‘for the future’ must be avoided no matter how relevant to the subject, and replies must fit into the media’s need for short grabs. However, snappy phrases such as ‘great big new tax’ are permissible provided they come from the Opposition.
Colloquialisms or phrases such as ‘you know something’, or ‘the overwhelming majority of mainstream voters’ or ‘I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t’, and obscure, antediluvian phrases such as ‘fair shake of the sauce bottle’, are such anathema to journalists they must be avoided. If repeated often enough they will result in extreme distress and annoyance to them, and for the obsessive among them, a counting frenzy. Journalists are under enough stress; they must not be subjected to such gross and unnecessary mental trauma.
If questions are not being answered to the satisfaction of the journalist, the answer will be interrupted, rudely if necessary, to get the answer the interviewer wants and needs for his media outlet. The interviewer’s ego has to be protected and his need for a scoop respected.
Should the PM refuse to answer as required by the media, the most uncomplimentary photos or video clips of him will be used to accompany any reportage of the event. With rapid-fire or video cameras it is easy to produce appalling images, which can be stored in perpetuity for later use, even if not actually taken at the event being reported.
Interviews should be held in conditions congenial to the media at a time suitable to journalists, be of a correct duration for the journalists, and concluding in good time for the media’s deadlines. Announcements after the close of play, such as on Friday evenings or at weekends are taboo and will be interpreted by the media as a cynical attempt to 'cover up' unpleasant news.
Interviews in front of churches or religious places must be avoided, but those in sporting precincts, on beaches or in cycling contests are permissible as they are in tune with this country’s sporting orientation, provided of course that the media does not categorize them as ‘flagrant photo opportunities’ seized by the PM for political purposes.
The PM must not repeat the same ‘message of the day’ on different outlets or for different audiences, as the media has the capacity to juxtapose these utterances into a collage that will be used to mock the PM for repetitiveness. Nor must ministers do likewise, or the media will castigate the Government for being in the thrall of its media advisers, otherwise known as ‘junior woodchucks’.
The PM has no right to challenge the accuracy of journalists’ reporting of media events – they are professionals who know how to get the story right. Such challenges will be ignored, and in the unlikely event they are valid, any apology, if considered appropriate at all, will be placed where few will see or hear it.
The media’s image building of the PM
The media require a certain type of person as PM.
He/she must comply with the following:
The PM must be acceptable in appearance: preferably a George Clooney or 007 clone, with the bearing of Clint Eastwood, or of Julie Andrews solidity or Angelina Jolie beauty. Resemblance to a dentist, wearing square glasses, a nerdy look, a cartoon character look-alike, bushy eyebrows or a protruding lower lip, a bald scalp or too much hair, while the delight of cartoonists, are not what is required of the leader of a rugged nation.
The PM must avoid any language that any citizen might find unpleasant, yet still portray the ‘where the bloody hell are you’ image. Any instance of bad language will be archived for repetitive use.
The PM must have an impeccable past history with no trace of misdemeanor, especially visiting undesirable places or associating with undesirable individuals. Any such instances will be raised as often as necessary to demean the PM, as is the media’s right.
The PM must paint a stunning vision of the nation’s future, express that in a compelling policy narrative, announce it with soaring oratory, and carry out all moves towards that vision with assurance, determination, meticulous planning and with careful use of scarce resources, and deliver it in full, on time and on budget, and with no administrative stuff-ups on the way, no matter what exigencies complicate the process. The PM must stick to policy; to do otherwise will properly evoke the accusation that it is another instance of him putting ‘politics ahead of policy’, although the media’s interest is really in the former. The media will always decide which is which.
The PM must express unequivocally ‘what he stands for’, but the media reserves the right to discount that, lambaste him should he abandon any of what he says he stands for, yet criticize him as stubborn or ill advised if he sticks determinedly to it. Any deviation from what he stands for will be attributed to defects in his ‘character’.
The PM must never make promises that cannot with utmost certainty be honoured. Even if stated only as intentions they will be interpreted by the media as promises since the media needs as many ‘broken promises’ as it can muster to flesh out its stories.
The PM must never change his mind about anything, no matter how much circumstances have changed. The media will label any change of mind or direction, no matter how justified by the prevailing situation, as a ‘back flip’ with or without double pike, a ‘turn-about’, an ‘about-face’, a ‘U-turn’, and of course a ‘broken promise’. Whatever the PM says will happen, must happen, and even in the event a change of mind or direction is the sensible thing to do, the media reserves the right to lambast the PM for not changing, for being stubborn, not listening to the public clamor, or being blind to reality.
The PM must tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth at all times – truth being defined as what the media deems to be true. No matter how important it may be to keep confidences of national importance or those arising from cabinet discussions or confidential documents, the PM must not avoid answers or deflect questions or tell a porkie. Be sure, the media keeps very careful records of every word uttered or written by a PM, and will quote them back at him when it suits its purpose. However, the media is under no obligation to verify the truth of anything it reports that emanates from third parties.
The PM must accept any and all criticism of his intentions, actions and achievements with equanimity, recognizing it is the media’s right, indeed responsibility to hold the PM to account at all times over all matters, and that any citizen, no matter how ill-informed, is entitled to criticize the one elected to hold the highest office in the nation and be quoted in the media.
The PM must accept that criticisms are warranted for any defect in policy implementation no matter how outstanding and worthy the accomplishments of the policy are. The media reserves the right to repeatedly apply to such defects descriptors such as ‘flawed’, ‘bungled’, ‘debacle’, and the like.
The PM must not overwork or sacrifice sleep– it should be possible to govern a country of 22 million people during regular working hours, with plenty of time for sport, relaxation and a cold beer.
A PM must never do his block at staff even when they stuff up. Anger and bad language is taboo, but copious quantities of political passion are essential.
He must never overwork his staff, who are entitled to a decent night’s sleep and seeing their kids occasionally, yet not employ too many and willfully waste the country’s money. The business of government should be achievable at a leisurely pace with minimal staff – what can’t be done today can wait until tomorrow. Nonetheless the PM must fulfill the expectations of all interest groups in the community, even if they are in conflict, and all citizens generally.
In meeting the diverse needs of the community, the PM must not show signs of populism or indulge in pork barreling; every move must be justifiable in the court of public opinion and of course to the media, which governs public opinion.
The PM, no matter how well endowed intellectually, must not exhibit this, as it will be seen as conceit. A ‘too-smart-by-far’ aura or ‘the smartest person in the room who can solve any problem’ air is particularly taboo. A knock-about sporting image is to be preferred.
As the media has journalists of great experience, unlimited wisdom and penetrating insight into all matters political, even among its junior contingent, it reserves the right to criticize any government initiative, point out its obvious flaws, suggest more appropriate alternatives and recommend to the PM how he should proceed on any matter. These opinions will be expressed with the assurance of always being right.
The PM must be careful when writing in the media not to express beliefs, attitudes, conclusions and intentions, as this is pretentious. It is particularly ostentatious to cite a role model, especially if that person comes from a religious background. Such writings will be subject to scrutiny, criticism and ridicule by the experts who write in the media, whose understandings surpass any understanding a PM might have. With a few notable exceptions, the media’s economics correspondents, despite their consistent inability to agree on almost anything, will make their assessments in condemnatory terms should the PM trespass onto their sacred turf.
The PM must be able to explain even the most complex matters with crystal clarity and searing simplicity that will inform and convince even the most ignorant, disinterested and biased members of the community.
The PM must be able to negotiate brilliantly and swiftly with any group in the community, no matter how self interested they are, no matter how well-heeled and able to throw vast resources into the negotiation, no matter how complicated the issue, and come up with solutions acceptable to all, so there are winners all round.
The PM must use existing media outlets to promulgate Government messages. The use of new-fangled social networks is to be deplored. Ads are the lifeblood of the print and electronic media and should be used liberally, no matter what spurious arguments are advanced by do-gooders to restrict Government advertising. Without ads, print media will die, all the editorial wisdom it offers will be lost, and media empires that gainfully employ so many will collapse – to use a common expression, ‘thousands of jobs will be lost’. Notwithstanding this, the media reserves the right to severely criticize Government attempts to inform the public about its policies at taxpayers’ expense, and will condemn such attempts as ‘flagrant advertising’.
The media’s right to determine the next Government
Since it is the media, so much better informed than the electorate, that determines who will be the next PM and the next Government, what it says must be addressed. The media, in its role of kingmaker, must be listened to carefully and followed without question.
It is the right of the media to dredge up any matter repeatedly, no matter how remote, no matter how inconsequential, to put down the person is does not want as PM and the right to foster the media-preferred candidate no matter how politically unsuitable or how poorly supported by political colleagues.
The media is entitled to mount any campaign, no matter how disingenuous, it deems necessary to denigrate, diminish and eventually dismiss the current PM in favour of a preferred successor. No limits will be imposed on the rhetoric, the evidence used, the past history raked up, to achieve this aim. Persistent leadership speculation, which is a tried and true media method for destabilizing a leader the media wishes to replace, will be used unremittingly.
The media will use polling data that its outlets generate to prosecute its case for dismissing a PM and installing another. Such data are powerful if used as a heavy weapon to diminish an incumbent, and will be used relentlessly until the desired outcome is achieved.
The media is entitled, indeed has the responsibility, to kill off politically any PM it deems no longer suitable for its purpose. By doing so the media knows it will have served the community well, while of course carefully looking after its own vested interests.
The media’s rights and responsibilities
All of the above is premised on the media’s unalienable right to determine who is best qualified to lead this nation, who is most likely to fulfill the media’s agenda, who is most likely to comply with the media’s requirements. It is based on the concept of the media and its journalists being the story rather than the events that the media report. Its purpose is to maintain its influence over the hearts and minds of the people.
The pen is mightier than the sword. The media reigns supreme!