Questions For Oxfam

This morning I have put the questions below to OXFAM’s media team and I shall publish their response here when I receive it.

1) OXFAM is a member of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC). What if anything did the other members of that organisation know about the allegations concerning the work of some members of OXFAM’s team in Haiti, and allegations concerning the wider OXFAM operation, such as the shops in the UK as reported today?

2) OXFAM says it issued a press statement in September 2011 concerning the original Haiti allegations. Where is this statement and what did it say?

RESPONSE: Link to 2011 press statement.

3) OXFAM says it was given advice in 2011 that it would be counterproductive given the situation in Haiti at the time to report the allegations to the police. With the passage of time, the situation in Haiti has improved and OXFAM has apologised for what went on. Therefor, what steps have they taken to report these historical allegations to the police now?

4) OXFAM has apologised several times and its Deputy Chief Executive has resigned, stating that she takes ‘full responsibility’ for what happened. What, specifically, are they apologising for? What, specific responsibility is she taking? The organisation has apologised ‘to supporters, and the people of Britain and Haiti’ for a ‘moral failure’ ‘appalling behaviour of some staff’ and the organisation’s failure to deal with it properly. You can’t go to the police and accuse someone of ‘behaving appallingly’, they need to know specifically what you think happened. When you’re 7 years old, you can’t go to your parents and say ‘I’ve been really bad’ and expect to make amends, you have to tell them exactly what you did. And I’m still waiting for this detail from Oxfam.

5) Answering these questions would in no way compromise the investigation organised by the UK charity regulator. It is more than capable of finding and evaluating evidence and reaching conclusions on its own and OXFAM answering the questions above, to the public, now, will have no impact on that investigation and I would not accept OXFAM using this situation as a reason not to answer the questions.

6) These allegations involve a very small number of OXFAM staff and workers world-wide. It is a tragedy that so much hard work and commitment and so many people are now distressed and let down because of a tiny proportion of colleagues. Not to mention those on the receiving end of this behaviour. It’s easy to dismiss this (as was the case at the BBC, News of the World, Catholic Church and other organisations where things have gone wrong) as the actions of ‘a few bad people’. In my view, things like this are more likely to happen where these is a pervading sense of entitlement and there is evidence of that throughout the wider organisation and in other areas of the sector in general. Anytime where you have individuals, or in this case a charity, considering itself to be ‘a brand’ you are in dangerous territory in my opinion.

7) OXFAM should consider outsourcing its existing work to other charity partners and concentrating on getting its own house in order. They cannot and should not even attempt to ‘control’ or ‘manage’ this crisis. New procedures are all very well but they had existing procedures which clearly haven’t worked. It’s not for OXFAM to decide what happens next with this. They need to stop what they’re doing and fix things. That should probably begin with a meeting with the relevant authorities in Britain and Haiti. OXFAM does and has done some tremendous work but it has no divine right to exist. The world would carry on just fine without OXFAM and the leadership of the organisation need to understand that and take what steps are necessary to involve other organisations in their work, while they deal with this situation.

8) When someone resigns, taking full responsibility for what happened, why are they being thanked on their way out the door? Are they being thanked for their service, or thanked for taking responsibility? And if they’re being thanked for ‘taking’ responsibility, then with whom did the responsibility lie originally? It doesn’t automatically follow that the individual who ‘takes’ responsibility was ultimately responsible. OXFAM needs to provide some clarity around this.

Politicians Learning To Be Nice

It’s true.

As this Tweet from Kate Forbes MSP explains, the Scottish Parliament recently held an event titled ‘Respectful Dialogue In Politics’.
















And I think all those who attended deserve credit. The truth is, despite the easy jokes about what a shock it is that MSPs would even contemplate treating each other with respect – this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Our parliament at Holyrood is the envy of countries all over the world because of its openness and atmosphere. And we’re lucky – so many of our elected representatives believe passionately in equality, fairness, trust and, of course, respect.

What we see on television and read about in newspapers is only a fraction of what goes on in the building at the bottom of the Royal Mile, and an even smaller slice of what the people involved get up to across the rest of their working lives.

So why does politics sometimes get a reputation as being ‘nasty’? And why, sometimes, do good people who know better find themselves drawn into situations where they resort to…well, let’s just call it ‘less respectful dialogue’?

I believe it all comes down to stress. It’s easy to speak in a respectful manner when you’ve got all the time you need. It’s tougher when you have to be extremely succinct. Tougher still when before you’ve even explained yourself someone else is going to argue. And nigh impossible when you might get heckled and interrupted. And remember before MSPs get to stand in the chamber and have those exchanges with their political opponents, they’ve probably had years climbing the ranks and dealing with competitors within their own party. It’s easy to see how some bad habits and ‘siege tactics’ might develop.

Then we have the media. Much of what the Scottish Parliament does is deathly boring. It might be important, in the long run, but for a media which has put resources into covering the parliament that’s no use. It needs stories and action every single day. And the easiest way to get that? Rows.

And politicians fall into the trap of giving them that, even when there’s no need.

A classic example came in the summer when former SNP leader, former First Minister and former MP Alex Salmond announced the launch of his show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Newspapers and TV news outlets sought comment from Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives. And of course, they gave the newspapers the comment and the criticism they wanted.

Why? There’s no need. The guy is no longer involved in politics. I’m sure he’ll be back but right now, politically, he’s nowhere. There’s no reason to comment and no reason to say anything other than ‘we wish him well’. What difference does it make to those parties whether a guy that used to represent the other lot does a comedy show at the Fringe? Slagging him off, as they did, just smacks of bitterness.

I don’t blame the media for asking for a quote, of course. But they should have asked an arts critic for comment and left it at that.

But what we have of course is ‘politics as entertainment’ and characters and caricatures built up as versions of themselves to be taken apart.

Spend some time at the Scottish Parliament and you’ll be amazed at the unity within the place. The amount on which all parties agree. The work they do and matters discussed that never make the headlines. The gentle, quiet, chipping away at old laws and bureaucracy and new legislation that goes in its place.

Of course, they don’t always get it right and it’s right that passionate, fierce, angry debate is encouraged and reported on.

But you can do all that and still remain respectful. And the majority of our parliamentarians do.

Maybe it’s time the media recognised that and gave them some space to get on with it.



When leaders are let down

Ruth Davidson’s quite rightly getting a lot of criticism for her decision to allow 2 Conservative Party councillors suspended after offensive comments on social media to remain in her party.

You can read the full story here.

What interests me most is the justification Ruth gives for allowing them back in to their positions.

She talks about ‘giving them the opportunity to change’, about their determination to change and how they have undergone some diversity training and signed up for some further personal development work to ensure they build a genuine, better understanding of the people their original remarks were aimed at.

All very admirable and who am I to doubt any of their intentions – I do not know these people.

However, I know politics and the media and how these things will play out and be interpreted. I know leadership.

And leadership is about much more than how you deal with these 2 individuals who’ve screwed up. It’s about the message you send to everyone else, about what you will and will not stand for and about the real and serious consequences when you are let down. It’s about your own personal values and people are judging Ruth right now on how she’s dealing with this pair. It tells us something about her. Or at least about her approach to leadership in this role.

There is almost always a way back..and so there should be. Forgiveness, and second – and sometimes third – chances are important.

But there has to be change first. Sometimes punishment too. There needs to be a spell in the wilderness, there should be loss of status, time for reflection, maybe even a degree of suffering. Particularly, when you are only in that position in the first place because a party has put its weight behind you, and the electorate have put their faith in you at the ballot box.

It’s very admirable that the 2 individuals involved in this situation have expressed a genuine desire to change. They should be given that chance and left to get on with it.

But they should have been kicked right out of their positions and the party that put them there.

And when they feel ready to come back, they should be welcome to apply through the proper channels. Apply for membership, stand for selection, stand as candidates and, as ever, let the people decide.

Having read her quote in the article above, it seems to me that in her treatment of these 2 councillors, Ruth Davidson has simply followed a process.

Personal Space

The DJ David Mueller who sued Taylor Swift claiming she got him the sack had his case thrown out last week.

And now a jury has found in favour of Swift’s countersuit that the radio host subjected her to a sexual assault, grabbing her bum while she posed for photos with fans at a meet and greet.

Amidst the discussion and coverage, much of which has been accurate and helpful and some of which hasn’t, an interesting piece of evidence from Taylor’s mother Andrea has perhaps been overlooked.

Here’s part of what she said during her testimony:

‘One of the things I think that stuck with me [about that night] was that [Taylor] couldn’t believe that after the incident, after he grabbed her, that she thanked him for being there.
She said thank you. It was destroying her that she said that after someone did that to her. It made me question why I taught her to be so polite in that moment.’

Here’s a woman, at work, behaving like the professional she is, appreciating the fans and industry representatives who’ve helped her achieve the success she has enjoyed, the complete antithesis of the stereotypical ‘pop star diva’ throwing a strop over the mineral water not being the correct temperature, suffering a gross invasion of her personal space, a sexual assault and still ending up fighting that instinct that she owes him something.

And then Taylor and her mother had the issue of how to deal with the matter. In testimony, Andrea said they didn’t want publicity. Taylor didn’t want this issue to define her and predicted a myriad of internet memes about ‘Taylor Swift’s Ass’ – you only need to look at Google Trends and a glance through Twitter to see their fears were well founded.

This should not be framed by anyone as an entertainment story and it’s only due to the vagaries of the US legal system (and the actions of Mueller, the perpetrator who had the gall to raise the original action) that this entire case was heard in a civil court rather than a criminal one.

I’ve heard it said that men who commit these sorts of offences towards women do so out of a sense of entitlement. And this – doing it and then trying to violate her again by suing when his actions led to the loss of his job – seems a powerful example of exactly what they mean.

But maybe it also gives those of us who need it some further insight into how it must feel for women on the receiving end of this. From being grabbed, to wolf whistles, revenge porn, inappropriate comments on Linkedin and all the rest…if someone of Taylor Swift’s stature has to fight an instinct that says ‘thank you’ for attending the meet and greet…how much harder and more confusing must it be for others? And maybe we should all be more supportive of those who do call this behaviour out for what it is.

Live Interviews Are Getting Tougher

What the usual pundits forgot to mention in their rush to slag off Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn for failing to remember the facts in those horrendous election campaign interviews they gave, was what this tells us about live interviews in the digital age.

Radio presenters and producers like the folk you’ll encounter at LBC, talkSport, BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Scotland and so on are now being judged on how they perform on social media.

It might not be a formal ‘more hits = more pay’ but it’s a metric that’s given serious consideration.

All those clips of James O’Brien on Facebook will have an influence on his ratings and his position at the station. He wants success on the radio and he also wants success on social media.

And so when programme teams are preparing for interviews, I believe they are now going looking for the social media ‘moment’.

It’s routine now that the majority of radio interviews will be filmed. The cameras will be recording as soon as you enter the studio and they’ll keep going during any breaks in the programme. Mics down and red light off? Everything you say as you begin to relax in the presenter’s company is still being recorded and can be used against you!

Live radio interviews now require you to contend with a presenter who has set out from the beginning to break you. To find the moment you’re going to fall apart. Where you’ll go off message (or fail to communicate ANY message) and deliver that viral social media sensation they want so much.

Of course, Abbott and Corbyn deserved all they got for failing to put forward even the basic numbers. The questions they were asked weren’t even challenging. But it’s important you understand that live radio presenters are going out looking for those moments.

Don’t become a victim. The best approach is to practice. Practice with someone who truly understands the modern media environment and if you are more experienced at giving broadcast interviews recognise that the environment has changed. ‘Busking it’ is a dangerous game these days.

As well as our media training workshops and on demand training videos, we offer private 1-1 interview practice sessions in person, on the phone or via Skype. We can go through the questions you’re likely to be asked, I’ll help you craft answers and show you where all the pitfalls are. To find out more call 0808 133 1353 or use the ‘Contact‘ page.

It’s easy to laugh when others mess up. It’s much smarter to learn from what’s happened to them.


When To Sack The Boss

Lots of discussion this week about Sunderland FC manager David Moyes and his appalling comments towards a journalist doing her job in a post match interview.

And the same old ‘experts’ popping up on the phone-ins and social media with their take on what should happen as a result.

In my opinion, it’s perfectly straightforward and for me, it’s got little to do with what’s ‘sexism’ and what’s ‘banter’ and what ‘goes with the territory’ and everything to do with the law of the land and basic human decency.

I would sack David Moyes for what he said the other day because it’s a completely unacceptable way to behave.

He’s done the right thing by apologising and I don’t doubt his sincerity.

But the organisation has to move to protect its reputation and to send a signal to everyone else. It has to be seen to do the right thing, particularly given its position in the community and importance of those relationships.

Moyes made a terrible mistake and comments like that hint at a particular attitude which takes time to change. He shouldn’t be condemned or ostracised for good but in my opinion should be sacked for gross misconduct and take some time out of football to reflect and change.

Media relations, PR, crisis management…call it what you want all has its place but deciding what you stand for and acting upon it is far more important.


Teaching Digital

You’ll have seen the usual suspects yakking about Skyscanner getting sold to China and ‘where’s Scotland’s next billion pound tech company going to come from?’

If we’ve to have any chance of achieving our country’s digital ambitions…how about we stop schools from teaching children that digital is bad?

That’s right…not only are some schools failing to teach the essential digital skills for the 21st century workplace, they’re actively giving young people the impression that digital is bad.

Our Scottish Schools Radio project aims to give every school in Scotland access to their own live streaming internet radio channel and a package of digital journalism resources to help them find the balance between fun and self expression and reflecting the work that goes on in schools and the community around them.

Already we’ve heard some brilliant examples of work from the pupils, as they produce their programmes with just the right amount of support and encouragement from enthusiastic teachers who, like so many of us, passionately believe in the relevance and importance of digital skills in the classroom.

Where it causes extreme frustration is when teachers are, for example, unable to upload the MP3 audio files to our Dropbox folder because DROPBOX IS BLOCKED. They then turn to their email and attempt to send the files that way but can’t because…SENDING AN MP3 VIA EMAIL IS BLOCKED.



You and I know these networks aren’t really blocked.

You and I know that by ‘blocked’, what they mean is ‘come and ask permission and we’ll set it up for you.’


Make it clear to local authority staff that they can make use of those channels, they just need permission, and then give the IT folks a rocket up the backside so they start giving that permission.

There’s a world of difference between ‘this site can’t be accessed right now, dial 412 and we’ll sort it out’ and ‘this site is blocked’.

Stop treating teachers like criminals because they want to use technology in education.

Stop putting education professionals with the best intentions of the pupils at heart in positions where they look like fools because they can’t get a bloody email to work.

And stop pupils leaving at the end of the day thinking that this so called ‘place of education’ is hopelessly irrelevant.

‘But why would a teacher want to send an MP3 via email?’ some will no doubt ask.

‘Why would a teacher want to use Dropbox in a classroom, show something on YouTube, or bring up Skyscanner?’

If you have to ask, you shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a school as far as I’m concerned.

It’s perfectly possible to be safe, secure, compliant and still use essential digital technologies.

And if you can’t figure that out, you shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near an IT Department.

Facebook Instant Articles

More and more businesses like to see themselves as ‘content creators’.

Few act like it.

If you’re serious about your content business, you’ll set things up to publish material as Facebook Instant Articles and Google’s AMP service.

Why? Because your audience will appreciate getting the content they want, on the platform they enjoy it the most, at lightning fast speeds.

Once you’ve experienced Instant Articles as a user, you become frustrated and intolerant at businesses not using it, because their stuff takes longer to load. The experience just isn’t so good.

After a period where Instant Articles were only available to select partners, Facebook has now rolled out Instant Articles to everyone with a business page. There’s a step by step process which it walks you through. If you want to keep things simple with basic design you can, but if you want to fully customise and brand it all up you can do that too.

Setting my blog up to auto post Instant Articles and AMP took almost a full day, but I had very little knowledge of what I was doing. There was a lot of trial and error and a lot of false starts before I realised that my WordPress blog could use the handy plug-in which makes things very simple.

I reckon now I could set it up from scratch in a little over an hour.

The point is, if me on my own can set it all up, and I know other very small business owners who’ve done the same, then what is stopping some of these bigger businesses?

If you’re serious about the content creation business, prove it.

And if you need help setting up your site to public Facebook Instant Articles, please get in touch by sending a message on Facebook or by visiting the contact form on my website and I’ll see what I can do.

Words We Shouldn’t Use

There’s been a thought provoking debate this week following the Linkedin exchange between Charlotte Proudman and Alexander Carter-Silk.

It’s disappointing to see – again –  the hassle and abuse people get when they express an opinion on social media, as a quick look at Ms Proudman’s Twitter mentions will make clear. No need for that.

The Guardian article I’ve linked to above sets out some simple suggestions to help us all relate to each other a bit better in this, hopefully, more equal environment, that we live in now.

Deliberately upsetting or offending someone might be the furthest thing from our minds, but we should all be aware of the subconscious conditioning we have, which could cause irritation (or worse), even when we didn’t intend it to.

Examining our own attitudes every now and again and vowing to do better is no bad thing.

What I really object to is the use of the term ‘Feminazi’, (as used by the Daily Mail today) which manages both to belittle women and play down the impact of an incredibly evil regime all in one, horrible word.

Whatever you think of the folks involved in this week’s debate, please could we all agree never to use that word?

Why Has Google Changed Its Name To Alphabet?

Why has Google changed its name to Alphabet?

It hasn’t.

Google is the same as it was yesterday and will continue unaffected by last night’s news.

What’s happened is that the founders of Google – Larry Page and Sergey Brin – have made Google part of a holding company, called Alphabet which includes and will include several different companies operating in a wide variety of sectors.

The reason they’ve done that is because it makes sense for investors.

Google/Alphabet is a publicly traded company, with shareholders, and the management of the company need to act in their best interests.

The reason it makes sense for investors is because they’re now investing in much more than simply the well known Google products, like mobile advertising and YouTube.

What it means for you and I is that Alphabet is serious about driverless cars, drone delivery, healthcare and much much more.

It means they’re attracting and expect to attract huge sums of money into their products and experiments in those areas, and they want to develop and launch new ideas without it impacting on the business of Google search.

If a driverless car malfunctions and is involved in an accident, there’s no need for the Google brand to be associated with it. Now, thanks to this change, it won’t be.

If mobile advertising takes a seasonal dip it won’t necessarily frighten investors to the point where the launch of a groundbreaking drone delivery project has to be postponed.

The creation of Alphabet makes perfect sense and it means lots of exciting, life changing innovations are closer than ever.