Politicians advised to not rely on sound bites after Ed Miliband gaffe

Experts advise politicians to reconsider interview technique after Ed Miliband gaffe.

Ed Miliband: interview went viral
Ed Miliband: interview went viral

Politicians have been advised they can no longer rely on sound bites to get their message out following Ed Miliband's 'robotic' TV interview on public sector strikes.

The Labour Party leader trotted out a series of identical answers when he was interviewed about last week's strikes. He then faced ridicule when the footage went viral and the interviewer blogged about the episode.

In an exclusive article for prweek.com (digested below), former Labour special adviser Paul Richards says the significance of the episode should not be underestimated.

Richards - who is credited with crafting Hazel Blears' 'YouTube if you want to' attack on Gordon Brown - praises Miliband for sticking to the line. But with the footage unexpectedly going viral, he argues that politicians will now have to adapt their interview technique or risk the humiliation of a viral YouTube hit.

The Sun's former political editor George Pascoe-Watson told PRWeek the sound bite could still be employed in the course of TV interviews - but that politicians and their comms handlers must be 'absolutely sure' what they have signed up to.

PRWeek understands that Miliband was asked by all TV news programmes to provide a 20-second clip for the lunchtime bulletins. The Labour leader's office were reluctant as Miliband was heading to the LGA conference and had planned to put out a message at that. However, they did what was asked.

One insider claimed: 'They agreed to two questions - three maximum.' But the reporter, not a Westminster figure, tried to conduct a longer interview with numerous questions.'

The source added: 'Ed had only been prepared to do one or two, but no-one from Labour stepped in to take charge. This would have gone away had it not been for the reporter going on to blog about it and pretty unethically make something out of it.'

ITV news correspondent Damon Green vented his anger at the Labour leader and his entourage in a 1,300 word blog. He said he felt ashamed at the 'professional discourtesy' in being used as a 'recording device for a scripted sound bite'.

Green's interview was a pooled story that also went to the BBC and Sky News.


'British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband has become a hot tabloid topic once again after giving a bizarre "robot-like" TV interview.' Huffington Post

'I've had politicians from every party try a variation of the loop on me ... Ed Miliband's crime was to deploy the technique to such a perfected degree that he looked like a robot.' Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Channel 4 News

'It sounds like an interview with a satnav stuck on a roundabout. Or a novelty talking keyring with its most boring button held down.' Charlie Brooker, The Guardian

Ed Miliband gaffe in numbers

5 Number of times Ed Miliband said that strikes were 'wrong'

5 Number of times he said 'the Government has acted in a reckless and provocative manner'

12 Number of times Michael Howard gave same answer in 1997 interview with Jeremy Paxman


HOW I SEE IT: Does Miliband's video signal the end of the sound bite?


Paul Richards, Ex-Labour special adviser

What happened to Ed Miliband breaks all of the unspoken rules of the game. A lot of training companies will have to redesign their courses. The old world just clashed with the new world.

It is entirely possible that Ed Miliband will be the last senior politician ever to use such a technique. None will now risk the humiliation of a viral YouTube hit. Politicians and their advisers will have to dream up cannier ways of making their points. 'Lines to take' will have to sound natural, fluent, colloquial and conversational. Answers will have to sound like they are addressing the actual question, not parroting a pre-arranged script.

Interviewers will long for a viral hit to make their name. Politicians will work even harder to avoid the much-feared 'car crash' interview. In the digital age, speaking human is back in fashion.

Click here for the full version


George Pascoe-Watson, Partner, Portland

Politicians and their comms handlers must be absolutely sure all parties involved know exactly what is expected. That is what should be delivered. Then they need to make sure there is a grip on the interview so nothing more is expected or pushed for.

It is sad if we are moving to a state where politicians and the media cannot work professionally together. Lots goes on behind the scenes in logistical terms and MPs don't expect to see them played back in full.

Sound bites are an essential part of the political/media game. Don't forget they came about because of the demands of the media. They are the ones who wanted quick clips for the news bulletins. That demand won't die. Speeches are rarely written by those who deliver them. But no one is saying you can't have speech-writers.

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