When you are organizing a demonstration or similar public event, it is of crucial importance that you have some basic skills in dealing with the media.
First, one or two official spokespersons should be appointed to be the primary representatives of the organization to address the media. These people should have in-depth knowledge of the matter that is being defended in the demonstration and get intensive media training. Furthermore, the other people on the organizing committee should at least receive basic media training.
The training can be provided either by an official media training institution, or (Muslim) journalists or media personalities can be approached to provide the training.
Below are some basic points that should be covered in any good media training:
• Ask yourself if you want to be interviewed during the demonstration or not. It is important to be prepared to be addressed by the media and to make a confident impression. If you do not want to be interviewed, always refer the journalist to the official spokesperson.
• If you do want to be interviewed, take your time to think about each question. You will regret it later if you rush your answers.
• Always stick to the topic you are being asked about. Don’t elaborate on side issues that are not immediately relevant for the demonstration.
• Make sure you know the central demands or claims of the action group inside out and be ready to list them instantly at any point, for example.
o Against curtailing individual liberties such as the right of freedom of expression and the right to practice one’s religion
o Against forced homogenization of society.
o For an open society with respect for lifestyles that are different from the mainstream.
o For a just and consistent implementation of the constitution (if the constitution of the particular country or region sufficiently safeguards freedom of religion)
• Remember that your freedom to express yourself implies responsibility. You are personally responsible for everything you say and can be held accountable for it.
• Don’t be defensive. They are wrong, we are not. We are simply demanding our lawful rights as civilians.
• Remember that you cannot be held responsible for what other Muslims do in the name of Islam, you only speak for yourself (for example, you do not have to answer questions about terrorism perpetrated by Muslims in Bali or Saudi Arabia).
• Do not answer if you do not know enough about the matter you are being asked about. Simply say, “I do not know enough about this matter so I cannot answer your question.” It is better to remain silent than to say something stupid or inaccurate.
• Stay cool and do not react in an emotional manner because the viewer, reader, or listener will not understand your emotions. Emotions distract from the issue that is really at stake.
• Speak in clear one-liners for television and radio. Usually only snippets of the interview will be broadcast, so be sure to only mention essential matters.
• For interviews with the written press, longer answers and arguments may be given.
• Always let someone else stand next to you when you give an interview. If necessary the second person can later corroborate what you said and can add to your answers if you forget something important.
• Make a list of expected (trick) questions the media will pose and go through the answers. For example
Q: “Why do you demonstrate?”
A: “To support French Muslim women whose freedom of choice is being curtailed.”
Q: “Isn’t the headscarf a symbol of oppression? Why do you wear it?”
A: “Prohibiting women to wear the headscarf is oppression!!” Emphasize the personal choice to wear the headscarf by emancipated, young, and educated Muslim women.
Q: “What about all those Muslim women who seek refuge from domestic violence in shelters?”
A: “This is not relevant for the demonstration.” Immediately cut off these kind of provocative questions.
Q: “Why do I see only Muslims in the demonstration? Is the prohibition of religious symbols not important for members of other faiths?”
A: “You should ask them, not me.”
If this is so, always emphasize the illegality of the measures you are demonstrating against in the context of the constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
• Address your public’s sense of justice by making the idea of the measures seem unimaginable, even though you know that many will agree with them. For example, say, “We cannot imagine that a free and democratic country such as Britain/Germany …” in answer to a question such as “The hijab is already prohibited in Turkey, so why should we allow it here?”
• Make it very clear that this is your country, especially when confronted with questions such as “But in your country/some Islamic countries the headscarf is prohibited, too …”
o Determine the central points you want to transmit to your audience and discuss and practice them.
o Give short and clear answers.
o Don’t be emotional.
o First aid professionals
o Refuse to answer irrelevant questions.