Lobbying Media & Letter Writing

How To Lobby The Media

There are four methods available to us that can make us effective lobbyists: email, letter writing, phone calls and meetings.  We will need to choose the method which best suites the legislative situation at hand.

E-mail

  • Excellent at any time
  • Very convenient
  • Instantaneous

Phone Calls

  • Best when time is short
  • Issue should be simple
  • High volume, easy to generate

Meetings

  • Conveys your message face to face
  • Establish or maintain relationship with your member of Parliament

Letter Writing

  • Most effective
  • Able to explain new or difficult issues
  • Needs sufficient time (at least two weeks)

#

How To Respond To A Positive Article/Programme:

Dear [editor’s name, Sir or Madam, To Whom It May Concern]

Regarding the article/programme by [name of author e.g. John Pilger] on [date] [name of article, e.g.: (‘Palestine is still an Issue’)], I feel it was an objective, accurate portrayal of events occurring [in the Middle East, in British Politics, Worldwide… etc].

I would like to express my gratitude to your [publication, the BBC, Radio Station, Channel] for such a balanced and informative [programme, article].

I look forward to seeing similar features in the future.[if you want you can talk more about what you liked, and why]Once again, I would like to extend my thanks for such a commendable [program\ article].

Yours Sincerely/Faithfully

[Name]
[Address]

#

How To Respond To A Negative Article/Programme:

Dear [editor’s name, Sir or Madam, To Whom It May Concern]

While [reading / watching] your [newspaper or channel name] on [date] my attention was drawn towards the [article (mention name and author) / statement (mention the speaker), programme].

I find it hard to believe that an editor could allow such [biased/ unbalanced/ racist / sectarian / insulting] remarks to be made in such a well known media organisation in these times. Remarks like this only cause more problems in communities. The most notable was [insert the worst part of the article or statement or programme].

I would appreciate a response explaining why such a/an [article, programme] was allowed to appear in/on your [publication, channel] and an assurance that there will be no further [articles/programmes] showing such a blatant disregard for respectable journalism.

A full apology and correction should be printed in your newspaper for such an inflammatory and Islamophobic attitude.

A complaint will be lodged with the [Press Complaints Commission/OFCOM] in one week if no reply is forthcoming.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours Sincerely

[Name]
[Address]

#

Tips on letter/email writing:

*Be quick. Respond while the issue is still fresh. Ideally, try to send your letter within 24 hours of publication of the article.

*Be clear. If you cannot summarize your message in one or two sentences, it’s not clear enough in your mind. Pinpoint in stark, unambiguous terms what you want to communicate.

*Be specific. Why was the article unfair? Did it show lack of context, imbalanced reporting, or omission of key facts? For example: “Your report inappropriately quoted only pro- (e.g. Israeli) sources, leaving the (e.g. Palestinian) position un-represented.”

*Be concise. Most publications will not print a letter to the editor longer than 250 words. And editors tend to publish letters they don’t have to spend time shortening.

*Be focused. While an article may contain numerous instances of bias, focus your critique on just one or two. It’s better to fully explain one point than to inadequately cover five.

*Know the goal. You want your letter to inspire the media to change. When possible, ask the media to issue a correction based on your points. A good way to end your letter is to ask: “Can I expect a rethinking of your editorial policy on this point?”

*Request a reply. Let the media know there is a consequence to biased reporting — even if the consequence is, having to answer hundreds of e-mails! You could end your letter with: “I would appreciate a response explaining why you have allowed such a biased article to appear in your fine publication.”

*Stick to the facts. Keep your comments clean and respectful. Hostile or overly emotional language is counter-productive. This is not the place to vent your frustration.

*Write as a concerned individual. Mentioning that you are part of an organised campaign may lessen the impact of your letter.

*Use the CC button. Maximize your efforts by sending a copy of your letter not just to the editor, but also to the reporter, foreign editor, publisher, and even advertisers and members of Parliament.

*Include contact info. Before publishing a letter, most papers will call to verify that you wrote it. Remember to include your full name, title, address and daytime phone number. Most newspapers will not accept anonymous letters and will not publish a letter without first attempting to check the identity of the author

*Follow up. When possible, follow up with a phone call to the comments editor to ask if your letter will be published. If the editor doesn’t remember your letter, offer to read it over the phone.

It is the involvement and active participation as we have seen that can influence people’s opinions.

Detailed Letter Writing Tips

(courtesy of Arab Media Watch)

Our experience

Media bias creates a huge amount of anger, and writing letters and emails can be a constructive way of relieving your frustration (so long as you do not send the first draft!).

· Published letters reach a wide audience, and there is a great sense of satisfaction from seeing your name in print.

· Although only a tiny percentage of letters are printed, unpublished letters are read and sent on to the journalist and can still have an effect.

· If a number of letters arrive on the same issue, it increases the chances that at least one or two will get published, and it gives the newspaper or journalist a sense of the strength of their readers’ opinions.

· Although it is not always possible to spend time perfecting a letter, the more care you take the more likely you are to make an impact.

· Letters are often edited and sometimes whole sections are removed. You will not always know about this until you see your letter in print.

· You should not underestimate the importance of writing to editors and journalists with no intention of getting your letter published. You will be surprised how often you get a reply.

General guidelines

1. When talking to the media, abide by the overall rule of remaining professional, calm and sincere.

2. Become an analyst. For every report you hear or read, ask: “Whose voices are included, whose are excluded? What would it take to make this report better?”

3. Praise what you can! Do not make blanket statements that you cannot support. If your local paper has 10 bad articles and one good one, do not tell them that all their coverage is bad. Rather, be prepared to praise the good piece, contrast it to the bad ones, and use it as a way to illustrate why more good reporting is needed.

4. Choose your speciality. None of us can read or listen to everything, but you can pick one or two sources and try to monitor them consistently. That way, you can become familiar with reporting patterns and the work of individual reporters over time, and have a much stronger case for your arguments. This knowledge will also provide you with a better basis to establish a dialogue with the people who you are trying to influence.

5. Know your facts. Use wire services. These are “unedited” and contain a lot of information that does not make it into the newspapers or news shows. Use the World Wide Web. The Internet offers ways of learning about and accessing alternative sources of information. Search engines such as www.google.com offer the opportunity to find facts from a variety of sources efficiently. Read foreign media. Become familiar with them and use them to contrast with UK coverage. Do your research. Be accurate and precise. Do not say something is a fact unless you are sure (be particularly careful with Internet sources). If you are not sure about a claim that you have read or heard, check different types of sources. You are always much more effective if you can show you command the facts.

6. Always be accurate. Quote people PRECISELY and ACCURATELY. Keep a pen and paper near the radio or TV. Cite your sources and the date, time and individuals responsible for reports if possible. Remember, your credibility is a valuable asset.

7. Communicate with your goal in mind. Before communicating with a journalist or media outlet, decide whether your purpose is to get a letter published or to educate the reporter or editor. If you represent a group, you can ask for a meeting with a newspaper’s editorial board. Before going to such a meeting, carefully research the newspaper’s editorial policy and reporting and be equipped to point to both positive and negative elements.

8. Communicate with your audience in mind. When communicating with journalists or editors, remember that many reporters feel harried and under pressure. They hear from a lot of people, and will easily dismiss you as just another crank unless you communicate effectively and professionally.

9. Use different strategies for different people. Introduce key information pertinently. When writing a letter, do not assume that the reader is as familiar with the subject as you are. Always include relevant information (date, name of reporter, subject), and briefly restate the subject of the report on which you are commenting.

10. If you are writing a letter for publication, you must be concise and to the point. If you are writing to a journalist and the letter is supposed to educate him or her, then you can afford to make it longer and include more information.

11. Be clear and argue your case calmly. Never give in to frustration or annoyance, even when you see a very hurtful or inaccurate report. Always address people as if they were colleagues. Often they will respect you and answer you, even if they still disagree with you. This will help to establish a dialogue between you and the editor or reporter. Journalists are suspicious of “advocates.” To avoid being dismissed as an advocate, you should be able to argue factually. You will not be taken seriously unless you can respond thoughtfully to other viewpoints. It is even better if you can anticipate and defuse opposing arguments.

12. Become a source. The vast majority of journalists are decent people. They may not be experts on the issue you are interested in, and they rely on the information their sources give them, so it pays to become a source of timely and reliable information and analysis. Provide information in moderate doses. If you bombard the journalist with lengthy e-mails of articles you find fascinating, he or she is unlikely to read them. Always inform reporters of local events that could educate them. Once you establish a record and some credibility, journalists will begin to turn to you to discuss ideas, or even ask for quotes and interviews. Now, you have become a source.

13. Develop networks. Share your letters with interested friends and fellow activists. This will encourage others to follow your example, and will help others to become more critical and astute consumers of news.

14. Be persistent. Media advocacy can be frustrating and hard, but it works and it gets easier. The more expertise you develop and information you gather, the easier it is to respond and to help shape debate constructively.

Writing letters for publication

When writing to the press, try to make sure your letters are:

1.    Accurate – make sure that your information is correct. We demand it of the journalists and should therefore demand it of ourselves. Where possible, support your arguments factually.

2.    Prompt – the speedier the response, the more chance it will get published.

3.    Brief – the shorter the better, as many newspapers receive hundreds of letters a day and journalists are very busy. It may help to focus on one major point. Also, make your main point as early on in the letter as possible, as editors will tend to cut the end of a letter if they are running short of space – make this easier for them.

4.    Clear – any letter must make sense. Also, remember that whilst you may know a great deal about a subject, maybe not all the newspaper readers will.

5.    Personal – often, letters are more likely to be published if they contain personal knowledge or experience.

6.    Constructive – praise coverage that you appreciate as well as criticise or correct that which you dislike.

7.    Polite – newspapers will not publish letters, and journalists will not reply to them, if they are offensive.

Some practical matters

1. If you are hoping to have your letter published, begin with “For Publication”. If you do not know exactly who to write to, address your letter to “The Editor”.

2. Include your full name, address, phone number and e-mail address. Include a note after your signature if you do not want the newspaper or media outlet to publish these details.

3. Refer EXPLICITLY to the reason that you wrote (the article/ letter/ column/ editorial) and the date. e.g. “In your editorial ‘Life Under Fire’ of 1 April 2001 …” If you are sending an e-mail, you may also want to give the link to the relevant article or area of the site at the end of your letter. Make journalists’ lives easier!

4. You may want to write to individual journalists to address specific concerns or to congratulate them. Personal e-mail addresses can be guessed from their organisation’s style: for example, Alan Philps at the Daily Telegraph can be contacted at alan.philps@telegraph.co.uk. It is usually a good idea to copy to the relevant editor in cases where you want to say “Thank You!”

5. Speak in your own name ONLY unless you really are a designated authority on behalf of others! Letters are most effective when made to express your own opinions and to correct the mistakes you have observed yourself. Editors do not take kindly to what may be seen as people hiding behind other groups, or effectively advertising on behalf of organisations. If you want to let friends or acquaintances know what you have written, forward them a “blind copy” (bcc) via e-mail or forward a copy of correspondence after the original has been sent.

About the Author

Leeds Palestine Solidarity Campaign