An interesting point made this morning here in Ottawa, is
that Canadian farmers need to be prepared to talk to the media.
Don’t hide, don’t be evasive, don’t say anymore than you
have to, but if you are faced by a reporter or a news camera looking for
comment or reaction on an industry, environmental or public health issue try to
stay calm, collected and express
your views and the facts as you know them.
That was they key message during an agriculture and the
media panel discussion at the Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers conference
being held for the first time this week in Canada’s capital.
Dave Bisenthal, a producer who lives and farms near the once
tainted water wells that served the community of Walkerton, Ontario, Kelly
Daynard formerly with Ontario Cattleman’s Association and now with the Ontario
Farm Animal Council, Derrick Rozdeba with Bayer Crop Science, and Tom Van
Deusen a long time journalist, ag reporter and former communications manager
for Don Mazinkowski, during his years as federal agriculture minister, formed
The panelist made the distinction between two basic types of
media – the farm media, which for the most part understands the industry and
the urban media, which generally doesn’t. Both types of media are after some
type of story, but the urban media can often be more aggressive, more
sensational, more invasive, and ultimately less interested in the facts and
more concerned about getting some sort of headline.
Most farmers going about their daily business or producing
crops or raising livestock likely won’t have extraordinary contact with the
urban media, however they may suddenly find themselves in the cross hairs
during major news events such as the Walkerton tainted water affair, the
outbreak of BSE, H1N1, or Avian flu. They could also be approached as urban
media reporters pursue hot-button stories on animal welfare, crop pesticides,
or genetically modified crops.
How do you handle that? Kelly Daynard described the Speak Up program available to
Ontario producers, which offers free training to farmers to help them be better
prepared in dealing with the media. Many producers who have completed the Speak
Up program also make themselves available to act as spokespersons on behalf of
their industry, if there are general questions from the media.
All panel members agreed, if a particularly thorny issue
comes along, hiding, evading, trying to dismiss the issue, or getting angry is
whether you help them or not, so you might as well supply the facts as best you
can. Be as upfront as possible, do
your best to educate the media about the issue, don’t necessarily offer any
more information than is asked, and if you don’t know something, say you don’t
know, and offer to find out, or refer the reporter to someone who should be
able to answer the question.
Also if something aired or printed is blatantly wrong take
steps to correct it with a call to the news director or a letter to the editor.