Messaging during a political crisis

Scott Macleod | Account Manager Media, People, Politics

Was Government minister Meka Whaitiri stood down, or was she stood aside?

Most people would say that Whaitiri was stood down from her portfolios to – as you know – allow an investigation to be conducted into her alleged assault of a staff member.

However, most news outlets reported that she was stood aside.


The answer lies with the Government’s public relations team, which would have spent many hours fretting about ways to make the crisis sound less ugly than it clearly was.

The layman might call this ‘political spin-doctoring’.

In the world of PR, we’re more likely to use phrases like ‘crisis communications management’, ‘positive messaging’ and ‘damage mitigation’.

With regards to Whaitiri, the Government’s PR team clearly decided that stand down sounds too negative, and that stand aside is more neutral.


After all, isn’t it better to go sideways, rather than down?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern issued a press release using that phrase – and it was interesting to see how many news outlets ran with it.

The New Zealand Herald, Stuff, Newshub and Newstalk ZB all said she had been stood aside.

Newsroom and Radio New Zealand journalists saw through the spin and said she’d been stood down.


What can we learn from this?

As readers, we need to understand that much of the language we read in news reports has been carefully managed to influence our perceptions – often in very subtle ways.

As business professionals, we need to recognise the power of language and the importance of honing our messages to achieve maximum results.

After all, there is a good chance that our messages will run verbatim in even the largest media outlets.