Quick Post: Should Ministers provide a transcript of their press conferences?

Some things are beyond doubt.  The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison, is actually a terrible human being.  I don’t know how he convinces himself each day that he’s not a terrible human being.  If I had his job and I was implementing the policy that he advocates, I would do little else but sob.  I really would.

Part of his policy is to block the media from doing its job.  It’s a stupid policy because it’s abandoning the public debate to the megaphones and outrage-stirrers.  If you don’t have the Government giving an authoritative account of what’s going on, the public is left with rumours, whispers, and innuendo.  Worse, the Minister appears to take delight in frustrating the media.

Being such a toxic guy, it’s difficult not to believe him guilty of every conspiracy.  The Guardian‘s Oliver Laughland has drawn attention to the transcript provided by the Minister’s office of the weekly Operation Sovereign Borders Press Event:

[tweet https://twitter.com/oliverlaughland/status/415341371742900225]

The criticism that is emerging from this is that quite a number of the questions asked by journalists aren’t being recorded.

A similar complaint was lodged against Jenny Macklin, then Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, and Minister for Disability Reform, when an embarrassing comment of hers was described as ‘inaudible’ in the transcript.  ‘But everybody in the room heard the comment,’ said the journalists.  ‘It’s clearly audible in the video footage!’

As far as conspiracies go, it actually doesn’t make a lot of sense.  By the time the transcript was released, it was already fairly big news.  If you’re trying to hide the embarrassing comments, simply omitting it from the transcript won’t help.

The reason for the omission is much more innocent: while the story was generating heat, the junior ministerial staffer had already transcribed the audio captured by an iPhone.

The same explanation applies to Minister Scott Morrison.  The recording is captured through the Minister’s microphones.  Practically everything else is inaudible.

But what if the journalists try to provide a recording to the Minister’s office?  In this case, The Guardian tried to give their recording to the Minister’s office four times.  They even include an ‘enhanced’ version of the recording on their website.

The question is really what the purpose of the transcript is: it’s to provide a record of what the Minister said.  If journalists report that the Minister said X, it should be verifiable in the transcript.  This shows what a failure Macklin’s recording strategy was: she had inadequately captured her own information.

Journalists, on the other hand, are responsible for capturing their own information.  If they want a comprehensive transcript of events, they can provide the resources to make it happen.  Providing a full account of the event is a supererogatory act for the Minister’s office.

Would a competent and morally excellent Government try to capture the whole event and transcribe it perfectly?  Yes, but failing to do so doesn’t point to a conspiracy or incompetence on behalf of the Minister’s staff.

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Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based blogger and policy wonk who writes about conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

4 thoughts on “Quick Post: Should Ministers provide a transcript of their press conferences?”

  1. I make my living as a transcriber, and I strongly agree with you. It’s incredibly annoying when questions aren’t picked up by microphones, and if I had my way, there’d be a system to avoid that happening. But where things are inaudible, it’s generally less a conspiracy, and more of a frustrated office drone pulling her hair out and messing with channels in a vain attempt to get the slightest bit of sound.

    1. Cheers! One thing I was going to discuss in this post (but chickened out) was whether the format itself was outdated. With 24-hour news channels, it’s extremely frustrating as a viewer when we can’t hear the questions either. Listening to Morrison say ‘I’m not going to answer that’ over and over again isn’t fulfilling. It wouldn’t be difficult to change the rooms to be more conducive to audience satisfaction.

      1. Rooms with better acoustics and a staffer with a roving mike. It’s not hard, or even hugely expensive, comparatively, but I really don’t see Morrison making any changes to a more open format.

      2. A simple tool I was taught when giving presentations and demonstrations is to repeat (or at least paraphrase) the question before answering it. That way it appears clearly on any recording/video of my speaking, and also allows other people in the room who couldn’t hear the question to know what the answer I am providing is in relation to.

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