The term “no comment” is conventionally viewed among government communicators and media relations professionals as leaving a negative perception with the interviewer and the audience. This is because “no comment” often implies there’s something sinister going on – whether that’s true or not.
Why “No Comment”?
“It seems obvious after the fact, but ‘no comment’ is, in and of itself, a comment.” http://spinsucks.com/communication/why-%e2%80%9cno-comment%e2%80%9d-is-the-worst-thing-you-can-say/
“Offering no comment allows the press to fill in the blanks, diverts the focus of the publicity, and sacrifices an opportunity to communicate…” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_comment
“No comment” is: “the journalistic equivalent to ‘taking the fifth.’ You refuse to answer on the grounds that your answers may tend to incriminate you. Many people equate the phrase with an admission of guilt…Those two words [no comment] are deadly because they imply you have something to hide. There are other ways to convey the same message. Be creative.” http://www.crimewise.com/library/comment.html
Use these phrases instead
Rather than stating “no comment,” other language can and should be used. The following are some examples:
1) “We can’t rule anything in or out at this time.”
2) “The agency is prohibited by law from confirming or denying that information” (if applicable)
3) “We are assessing/studying/evaluating/investigating the situation/issue/policy/ruling and will have a complete response shortly once all the facts are learned.”
4) “Rather than commenting on that right now, let me first point out…”
5) “It’s premature to comment on that at this time, however…”
6) “That’s an interesting question, but what you should really be asking is…”
7) “Let’s look at this issue from a broader perspective…”
8) “There is an equally important concern…”
9) “Let’s not forget the underlying problem..”
10) “That point may have some validity, but…”
Also, see “Tip 8” in “Conducting Media Interviews: Ten Tips“
Don’t answer with “I don’t know the answer”
Answering a question with the phrase “I don’t know the answer” may be disingenuous at best, or foolhardy at worst. In fact, professional communicators may very well know the answer, but they have received specific instructions from top leadership not to convey that info to the media.
Further, if a government communicator really doesn’t know an answer (even “on background” or “off the record”), that may raise the question of whether that spokesperson is being cut out of the info loop inside their agency/organization. If so, this may damage one’s credibility, and/or that of the agency, with the press and public.
Thus, from the vantage point of govt communicators, saying “no comment” or “I don’t know the answer” is not the best response and will usually have unintended, detrimental consequences. While not answering a question directly or completely may in fact annoy a given media outlet or its audience, that’s often better than providing misinformation, incomplete information, damaging information, or no information at all.
As noted in prior posts, the govt communicator works for the government; the news media now work for Corporate America, which owns much of the “Fourth Estate” http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/fourth+estate
The reality of the 21st century information age is — more and more — old fashioned journalism is being replaced by modern day sensationalism and socalled “info-tainment” disguised as real news.
Anyone care to comment on that?
“Media Relations: Shaping the Story“
“Talking to Reporters: Ten Tips“
*** All views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only.