Media Language – Drowning in your own words

By Doug Weller

Image Source: The Age

Image Source: The Age

Media players, listen up. You can learn a lot about media language from the Eddie McGuire/Caroline Wilson ‘drowning’ saga.

Eddie McGuire is a media guru. A high profile Australian TV presenter, radio commentator, Collingwood Football Club President and former TV network CEO.

With that much media experience, Eddie should understand the influence and effect of his media words and know what is clearly inappropriate.

But Eddie McGuire has a history of media gaffes.

Yet again he has made media headlines, this time for his ill-considered comments about drowning female journalist, Caroline Wilson.

So what can we all learn from this episode?

For many people, the more media experience you have, the more relaxed you become.

When you’re comfortable being surrounded by microphones, you become less aware of them – they become part of the furniture.

There’s a long list of high profile people who’ve been recorded making private, flippant or highly inappropriate comments when they thought their mics were off.

President Obama was recorded during private exchanges with world leaders including Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev  and French President, Nicolas Sarkozy 

Australian Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton, was caught joking about climate change with then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott when they failed to notice a boom microphone.

But Eddie McGuire wasn’t unknowingly recorded by a live mic. His blunders resulted from intentional comments during public broadcasts.

McGuire’s inappropriate comments about Caroline Wilson sparked national outrage and the fallout was substantial.

Female journalists were insulted, social media erupted and politicians weighed in.

Journalist and national convenor of Women in the Media, Tracey Spicer, found McGuire’s comments “reprehensible” and called for sanctions and penalties.

Australian Social Services Minister, Christian Porter, said “…it is no longer an excuse to say the language was meant to be flippant because it has an effect.”

McGuire’s comments even rippled out to the federal election campaign trail.

Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, cancelled a scheduled radio interview with McGuire and said “I just wish people would think about what they say before they say it”.

Major Collingwood Football Club Sponsor, Holden, reviewed it’s relationship with the club.

Richmond Football Club boycotted Triple M radio station which aired McGuire’s ill-considered comments about Caroline Wilson.

Eddie McGuire’s handling of the media uproar in the aftermath of his comments was also scrutinised and his initial apologies were deemed insincere.

In a further attempt to redeem himself McGuire made a video apology via the Collingwood Football Club’s website.

It would seem from Eddie’s repeated media gaffes that he doesn’t consider his media messages and their fallout.

Whether you’re a media commentator or a media spokesperson, what you say in the media and the language you use, matters – a lot.

Media commentators have the power to influence public opinion on many issues

Combatting violence against women is an important and high profile media topic. Organisations including the Australian Football League (AFL) are actively raising awareness of that issue.

Eddie McGuire is an AFL club President and the AFL itself supports White Ribbon, Australia’s national campaign to stop men’s violence against women.

McGuire’s inappropriate comments about drowning Caroline Wilson were made during the AFL’s White Ribbon round. His words were completely incompatible with White Ribbon’s message of preventing violence against women.

White ribbon released a statement saying the comments were “examples of language that demean women and reinforce violence-supporting attitudes.”

Female co-host of Channel 9’s AFL Footy Show, Rebbeca Maddern, put it eloquently when she said, “I think in the media, we have to be reminded that we are in a very privileged position. We have a voice. That voice is listened to by many people, and people absorb what we say. And in turn, because of that, we have a power to change the conversation and shape the public perception about certain issues.”

Treat media interactions with respect

If world leaders and media industry veterans can make outrageous media mistakes, so can spokespeople, even if they’re very experienced.

All media interactions should be treated with respect regardless of how casual the media moment.

Making inappropriate comments, or using offensive language in the media can result in extreme personal, professional, financial and reputational damage.

Even worse, your choice of words could harm others.

In the media, no matter who you are, think before you speak!

Information Only

Any information presented on our website is of a general nature only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.


Eddie McGuire’s gaffes file – when the Magpies chief and Channel Nine star’s mouth got him in trouble

Barack Obama microphone gaffe: ‘I’ll have more flexibility after election’

Nicolas Sarkozy complained to Barack Obama of liar Benjamin Netanyahu

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton caught joking about the effect of climate change on Pacific islands

‘These guys live in a bubble’: The AFL’s big blokey problem

Eddie McGuire’s comments ‘incredibly disappointing’, Cabinet ministers say

Eddie McGuire and Caroline Wilson: Bill Shorten snubs McGuire after ice pool remarks

Eddie McGuire: Magpies president to front board meeting as sponsor reviews links with club

Tigers boycott Triple M over Eddie McGuire, Caroline Wilson controversy

Eddie McGuire likely forced to apologise for drowning comments, Caroline Wilson says

McGuire’s Apology

Violence Against Women Is No Laughing Matter

Sam Newman blasts Caroline Wilson over Eddie McGuire ‘joke’ furore

Blog image by Ron Tandberg

Further Assistance

If you want to know more about engaging with the media, contact Corporate Media Services for more information about our media training programs and services. Make an email enquiry now… or call 1300 737 913

Sir Joh

Answer the Question!

By Doug Weller

There have been some subtle changes in media message delivery over the years – subtle but important.

Back in the days of the former Queensland Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Sir Joh Mediathere were many media players who refused to answer the question, but Joh turned ignoring questions into an art form. Comedians got great mileage out of it, “Don’t you worry about that”.

Then, the easy way out of a tight spot during media interviews was often to ignore the questions and punch away at the key messages. In fact many people still think that is the way to go.

I was shocked when I was asked to speak to some media students about media communications.

During the intro the host said “Now Doug will tell you how to refuse to answer questions during media interviews”. I had to do some fancy footwork to make sure I didn’t embarrass the host because that is not the way to conduct media interviews.

Journalists, and in my view the community, are sick of people refusing to answer media interview questions. The ‘ignore the question’ days are over.

You need to be believable and convincing in media interviews – this means responding to journalist’s questions.

Yes, it’s absolutely crucial that you go into your media interviews with clear, concise, jargon free messages. But those messages need to be delivered credibly.

It’s easy to respond to questions and also go to your message.

At the end of the day journalists want to leave any discussion or interview with a clear understanding of what you’re saying about a particular issue.

Responding to journalists or commentators questions is absolutely crucial in live radio, or TV interviews.

In some cases interviewers will simply repeat the question if you refuse to answer it. I’ve heard entire interviews where the journalist asks the same question again and again because it hasn’t been answered.

This doesn’t reflect badly on the journalist, it reflects badly on the interviewee.

Politicians are under increasing pressure to get it right.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Julie Bishop, is normally an excellent media performer.

But when she was asked during a radio interview to explain the nuts and bolts of new ‘transition to retirement’ rules, she attempted to give a vague answer and return to her message – it didn’t work.

Image Source: 3AW693 News Talk

Image Source: 3AW693 News Talk

Sometimes it’s OK to ignore the odd question and go straight to the message, especially in a heated interview. But not during an election campaign and not when you’ve upset the hell out of a stack of retirees.

Politicians, or anyone for that matter, need to be very good at explaining the detail when they’ve delivered painful change.

If you’re in the head space of ‘don’t answer the question, just deliver the message’, stop it. Those days are gone.

The other lesson from the Bishop interview is that giving vague answers and then going to the message no longer cut it, especially with interviewers like Neil Mitchell.

If you want to be credible in the media, send a clear message to journalists and audiences that you are willing to answer questions put to you.

Always deliver appropriate messages that are of value to you and that answer the question.

 Information Only

Any information presented on our website is of a general nature only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.

Further Assistance

If you want to know more about engaging with the media, contact Corporate Media Services for more information about our media training programs and services. Make an email enquiry now… or call 1300 737 913

Obama speaking

Tan Suit Gets In Way Of What Obama Has To Say

By Corporate Media Services

Obama’s ‘suitgate’ scandal rocked the world! Well, it got a good run in the media anyway.obama tan suit

In a shocking back flip on his policy of only wearing navy, grey and black suits, President Obama had the nerve to wear a tan suit…the cheek of him.

Some people were horrified, a social media storm erupted and his media messages paled beyond a shade of beige as they were lost in the controversy over his outfit.

Reasons for the outrage over Obama’s tan suit varied.

Timing was a key factor as its casualness was considered inappropriate for delivering serious, hard hitting foreign policy messages.

Some thought it was too informal and disrespectful to victims of recent serious incidents and terror related atrocities.

It generated a gender equality debate about the fashion criticism of women  compared with men in the media.

Obama’s famous election rally cry “Yes We Can” morphed into “Yes We Tan”.

Then comedians got in on the act.

Bad day for tan suit

obama seinfeld suit

In all of the noise about the tan suit Obama’s important messages were overshadowed.

Huffpost tan suit tweet

Obama is a top class media performer. He delivers his messages like a pro and whether in a suit or an open neck shirt, he usually looks sharp.

You wouldn’t think a change of suit colour would be a big deal. It’s just a different colour.

When you’re high profile the reaction to what you wear can be a very big deal. Just ask Former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who copped endless criticism for her outfit choices.

You’re entitled to wear what you want during media interviews but if you present in a different or unusual way there may be a major reaction that eclipses your message.

Media audiences have expectations and get used to you looking a certain way. It becomes part of your personal brand.

Think carefully before you make major changes, especially prior to making major announcements.

You don’t want attention taken away from your messages because of a new look.

As superficial as it seems, it needs to be taken into account.

It says a lot about how ridiculous we’ve become about presentation but it’s something you need to be conscious of if you want your media messages to hit the mark.

Information Only

Any information presented on our website is of a general nature only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.

Further Assistance

If you want to know more about engaging with the media, contact Corporate Media Services for more information about our media training programs and services. Make an email enquiry now… or call 1300 737 913

Abbott Wink Image

Abbott’s wink – Body language in the media

Abbott Wink Image
By Corporate Media Services

A wink of the eye can say so many things. You can give a reassuring wink, a flirty wink, or even a conspiratorial wink.

This small and simple physical gesture can send many different non-verbal signals.

Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, was reminded of what a wink can mean as he took calls during a filmed radio interview.

A 67 year old female caller, unhappy with the 2014 federal budget, said that to make ends meet she worked on an adult phone sex line to subsidise her pension.

As he listened, the Prime Minister winked and smiled when he heard her occupation, and the footage went viral.

Was his wink mocking the caller in amusement? Or, as his press secretary suggested, was he simply winking his approval to continue on with the call?

Whatever the Prime Minister’s wink meant, it was open to interpretation and sent a mixed message. Did the Prime Minister care about the budget concerns of this person or not?

Body language is a crucial part of the media process, especially when TV cameras are involved and although Mr Abbott later admitted he shouldn’t have done it, the damage was already done.

Verbal and visual media messages must match

What you say in the media isn’t the only message the audience hears loud and clear. Your body language can sometimes deliver a major message and if it doesn’t match what you’re saying, beware!

As with any message, the more it personally resonates, the more the audience will take notice.The worse the news is the more attentive and critical the audience will be.

The Australian public had their ears peeled and their eyes wide open as they watched Australian Treasurer, Joe Hockey’s, 2014 federal budget speech.

His speech was an ultimate showcase on how mismatched body language can damage a spoken message.

The budget address is a carefully staged event. The House of Representatives cameras are strategically placed to ensure they get a good shot of the Treasurer speaking, with the Prime Minister and a range of backbenchers sitting behind him.

The job for everybody behind the Treasurer is to nod, look concerned and interested at all of the appropriate times.

In this example, the body language of relevant people should convey the message that the government is standing solidly behind the Treasurer as the Australian public hears the harsh budget news.

For some unexplained reason, Prime Minister Tony Abbott decided to have a chat to those sitting next to him during Joe Hockey’s speech. He was even seen having a giggle and covering his mouth with his hand.

This was an appalling look when the Treasurer was delivering bad news to millions of Australians.

The audience could interpret the Prime Minister’s amusement as flippant disregard for how the budget would affect them, even if his laughter was completely unrelated.

Treasurer, Joe Hockey, also left himself wide open by dancing in his parliamentary office in Canberra to the strains of ‘This is the Best Day of My Life’, before delivering the budget. His excuse – the song is one of his son’s favourites and his son was with him at the time…but that’s not the point.

His body language and media messages didn’t align. He was inappropriate and his behaviour left him open to scrutiny.

The first question veteran Australian journalist, Laurie Oakes, asked Joe Hockey on budget night was why he danced before delivering the speech. That interview question pretty much derailed the Treasurer’s budget message.

Dancing when you’re about to deliver a budget that will negatively impact millions of Australians just isn’t a good look for the country’s Treasurer.

A photograph is as powerful as video

Body language sends just as strong a message in print and online media as it does on TV. A picture paints a thousand words as the old saying goes.

Only days before the budget speech, Treasurer Joe Hockey was feeling the heat after being snapped smoking a cigar with the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann.

Both men were probably just relaxing after the gruelling process of pulling together such a tough budget. The problem is that cigar smoking is often associated with celebration.

Unfortunately the Treasurer’s audience, mainly the Australian voting public, had little cause to celebrate the federal budget.

Joe Hockey’s body language should have supported his verbal message that times were tough. All of his media exposure during budget time should have been sending a message of empathy and understanding to his audience.

Instead he was doing a jig a stone’s throw from the National Press Gallery and puffing on a cigar.

Media examples like this exist on all sides of politics right across the globe. Politicians are accountable to the public so they are constantly scrutinised by the media.

When big news is breaking in the media you should always be conscious that there are cameras and journalists everywhere ready to catch all appropriate and inappropriate moments.


  • In the media, your visual and verbal messages must be in sync
  • Body language is powerful and speaks volumes to your audience
  • An inappropriate photo or video can derail your message
  • If your body language and verbal messages don’t match you might find a different message has reached your audience

    Further Information

    Outrage over Abbott’s wink


Information Only

Any information presented on our website is of a general nature only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.

Further Assistance

If you want assistance regarding engaging with the media , contact Corporate Media Services for more information or training about  traditional media or social media. Make an email enquiry now… or call 1300 737 913