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Expect the inquisition – journalists’ right to “demand evidence and think critically”

This post was first published by Duncan McKean on the CCgroup blog.

mircoscopeRegulation being what it is, Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, has made a number of statements in the recent past about how she would like to shake up the European mobile telecoms market. Championing consumer rights and calling on industry participants to be more altruistic, her arguments use a lot of data and statistics to make her points.

This post isn’t about whether she’s right or wrong. This post is about how those points are made and what we as communications professionals are prepared to accept prima facie.

It’s very easy to look at the law makers and assume that they know what they’re talking about. Often they do, of course. But sometimes they manipulate information to suit their personal agendas. Again, I’m not suggesting this is what Ms. Kroes is doing. But as elected representatives (sort of), it’s reasonable in a democracy to question the policies, motivations and justifications of those ‘in power’. Some of this is done through official channels and industry bodies, like the GSMA, though obviously this is another type of organisation that has an agenda of its own.

So how do you cut through the spin and the hype and get to the real bones of what matters? As the eyes, ears and voicebox of the industry, this is where journalists come in – good ones that are driven to report facts, free from undue influence, and prepared to call offenders to task. This is exactly what we saw last week when TelecomTV’s Ian Scales took issue with another of Neelie Kroes’ proclamations. In his piece “Why Kroes is dead wrong about European telecoms”, he questions her conclusions that a more homogenised, competition-free telecoms market would help drive down roaming prices and call charges in Europe. Piece by piece, Ian’s analysis is thorough and, though I don’t have the data to hand to judge for myself, appears to make perfect sense. Not only did he dismantle Kroes’ statements, he also took time to respond to her spokesman, Ryan Heath, in much the same manner.

I’ll say once more that I am not taking sides or making a judgement here on who is right or wrong. What matters is that, regardless of his personal opinion, Ian was exercising his right to “demand evidence and think critically,” something of a mantra of mine that I’ve written about before. Ian’s piece is a great example of why proclamations – no matter how high and mighty their source (or in fact, because of) – should not go unchallenged. It’s a great demonstration of the vital role that journalism plays in keeping us all honest.

When the world around us is moving so quickly and we have more and more information to read and absorb, it’s far too easy to accept ideas, statements and supposed “fact” at face value.

But think of this in PR terms: if journalists like Ian are quite prepared to take an EU commissioner to task, you can bet your life that they’re going to be more than willing to take apart client stories too, with their spurious claims of “innovation”, and histrionic declarations of doom or fortune. It is for precisely this reason that we take the “demand evidence and think critically” approach to our work at CCgroup. Sometimes it’s necessary to tell a dramatic story to grab attention, but don’t be surprised if that invites scrutiny – you’d better have some solid answers ready…

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