Media training: are you being recorded?

recorder, recorded

Many journalists use voice recorders rather than take notes nowadays. So what are your rights as an interviewee if you find you’ve been recorded without your knowledge?

Personally I take a pragmatic view. Although in the UK, where I’m based, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) has all sorts of provisions for not telling someone you’re recording them, it’s not really about journalism. Here’s an article on how Australian journalists probably break their equivalents of those laws every day.

When I’m media training I’m a little cautious about the law and that’s because of the increased importance of untrained people doing the reporting. Only yesterday I was coaching a guy who’s involved in an area that attracts a lot of bloggers.

Unlike some older journalists I’m not anti-blogger at all. Many are excellent and have more influence than journalists because they know what they’re talking about, are the recipient of the service they’re discussing, and soforth. My client’s area attracts a lot of high quality bloggers.

The thing is, they’re not trained. They have log-in details for something like WordPress, perhaps like the one I’m using now; they have enthusiasm, they have knowledge, but it can’t be taken for granted that they know anything about RIPA or its predecessors, or any libel laws or other issues journalists take for granted.

Recorded and accurate?

This can lead to the odd difficulty. A few years ago a family member was involved in a voluntary organisation, as chair. She decided she wanted her time back so after four years she stepped down. I was surprised when, a year later and two chairpeople later, a local blogger suggested she’d been deposed in favour of the current incumbent overnight. I pointed out his error and his response was that the organisation hadn’t told him of the changes so it was therefore their fault. That would have been an interesting one to defend in court.

The problem was that the blogger had no real conception of it being his responsibility, not that of an outside body, to ensure that his words were true and accurate.

So we get to recording. Many bloggers and a number of self-taught journalists will be unaware of their obligations as regards recording an interview. Personally I tell people in advance and offer the interviewee a copy of the recording afterwards so that they can check their quotes for accuracy in the event of a dispute.

If I’m interviewing you, though, you need to assume I’m keeping some sort of record. It may be a written note or it may be a literal recording, but if I’m not keeping a record I’m not doing my job.

A side note is that journalists’ notes, like recordings, will stand up as evidence in the event of a court dispute. So it was bizarre when once I asked a psychologist if I could record our interview and he said he was happy with my taking notes but a recording might enable his clients to identify themselves and he had to be careful about this. About a decade later I’m still trying to work out why he thought this would be any more of a risk with an audible record than with a written one, as long as it was accurate. It makes no sense at all.

The main point, though, is that you have rights of course, and if you feel strongly I’m not going to suggest you don’t act upon them. But if a journalist or blogger isn’t going to keep some sort of record in order to quote or represent your view accurately, why would you be talking to them?

This Wikipedia page is informative and has many links to the laws concerned internationally.

Do you need help talking to the media? I can coach you or your client if you’re in PR – fill in the brief form below and we’ll talk.

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