That’s just a PR embargo


Embargoes! Ever a thorny topic.

It’s no longer a tussle between print and broadcast as to who breaks the news first. For some time now the battle has been between online news sites – regardless of who operates them or which form of ‘traditional’ media these sites are owned by or aligned with.

On the subject of breaking today’s 6pm embargo on the news about the blueprint for the rebuild of Christchurch, the NBR told me: “Budget, RBNZ embargoes have economic consequences; the blueprint embargo was stage managed for TV.”’s Bernard Hickey appears to think differently: “If the NBR has deliberately broken the official … embargo then it should be shut out of Budget and RBNZ lockups. Fair’s fair,” he tweeted.

A little later, perhaps conscious that his initial, instinctive reaction required a slight adjustment (the ‘clarification’ we PR types sometimes have to make and which hacks love to mock), NBR’s Chris Keall indulged in a little spinning of his own. ”I don’t know what basis the info was accept (sic) on – not my story/dept, but moot after Prime TV’s 5.30pm report anyway.”

He was responding to the point made by PSA national secretary Brenda Pilott that “if you accept info on the basis of an embargo you need to adhere to it.”

So – should journos respect embargoes, even if they feel the embargoes have been put in place to obtain greatest impact in competing media?

Are public relations practitioners entitled or, perhaps more appropriately, wise to impose embargoes?

Is an embargo timed to coincide with the evening television news really such a disadvantage to print media with an online presence as strong as the NBR’s? Or is such a complaint really a great excuse to ignore the embargo and be seen to be breaking the news first?

Are public relations practitioners at fault for having abused media patience with way too many trivial  embargoes put in place flippantly for opportunistic reasons?

And, importantly, has the NBR put us on notice? Do they, will they, simply ignore any embargo they consider unnecessary?

Personally, I dislike embargoes intensely. Partly because they’re so difficult to enforce and so easily broken. But also because they smack of heavy-handedness on the part of the organisation issuing them. However, if I use one it will be with the specific agreement of all the media I’ve chosen to work with. I’ll move heaven and earth to honour my side of the bargain. And I try to ensure it’s only under exceptional circumstances.


UPDATE: 28 August 2013 – the debate was covered at a PRINZ event in Auckland today. Blogged here by Brendan Boughen. 


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