Collins and Co need a fresh approach

NZ Police and their Minister Judith Collins have now had a peek of the international press pack in action and they don’t like it.

They won’t be able to change it, though. Unless of course they want to go the way of China, North Korea and Zimbabwe and start banning media or dictating which questions can and can’t be asked.

A far more constructive approach would be to learn how to deal more effectively with the global media scrum. And that’s not just a question of content, but also of presentation.

Superintendent Gary Knowles has been served very badly by Collins, Commissioner Broad and the NZ Police PR team

Superintendent Gary Knowles has been served very badly by Collins, Commissioner Broad and the NZ Police PR team. His personal style and demeanour made him an unfortunate choice as the public face of the Pike River rescue operation. They should have known better than to thrust him into the spotlight.

Gary Knowles is no bumbling “country cop”. He’s a senior and very fine New Zealand police commander equipped with all the skills necessary to lead an operation like Pike River. His judgement calls all the way through, informed by the various experts he had on his team, appear to have been absolutely spot-on. And he deserves a bloody medal for standing firm against the call from so many quarters – not just the media – to send more men headlong into that 2.5km pipe bomb.

But without wishing to be at all uncharitable he simply does not possess the warmth and charisma in front of the cameras so essential for an effective media spokesman. The warmth and charisma of Peter Whittall, for example.

And unfortunately it’s not something you can learn. You either have the X-factor or you don’t.

When the time comes to review the lessons learned from the Pike River communication exercise I hope Collins and Co will take a close look at the spokesman function and how it can be modified or adapted to take the sting out of the daily press conferences.

Let the policeman manage the issue. And let a suitable, senior media professional – speaking with the full authority and backing of the incident commander – handle the media.

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