Funder by the Department of Human Services Auspiced by Our Community

Help Sheet

Who speaks on the group's behalf

You've formed a group because you agree on things. Once you've sorted out what those things are - what your message is - make sure that everybody in the group knows that basic message and is passing it on to the people they meet.

If your group wants wider coverage, your group has to go wider than that and start speaking to other parties - the government, the media, or your working partners. In these situations it's important to work out who can commit the group to what, and who's allowed to say what on behalf of your group.

If your group is involved in mental health politics - if, for example, you're an advocacy group that sees itself representing consumers in a regional centre - sorting out who has authority to speak is extremely important.

A whole host of unwanted and undesirable things can happen if the group has too many public speakers all saying different things. Who can say what, when and to whom is something that needs to be discussed and defined in the very early formation activities of the group.

For representative groups, the following questions must be looked at early:

  1. How does the group decide who can speak on our behalf? Does the board elect a spokesperson (or spokespeople)?
  2. Does the person/s chosen to speak on behalf of the group have to check back with the group before public statements are made?
  3. What process is put in place for any occasion when the spokesperson says something that has not been agreed upon by the group (and which some people in the group may disagree with)?

Most well-established groups need to engage in some form of outreach. Local, state, national and international media are vital partners in achieving the goals of the group. In order to maximise the advantages of media presentation, however, and minimise the risks of media misrepresentation, it's necessary to establish guidelines for how media relations will be conducted.

You don't want to curb freedom of speech, but you do need to establish a framework for achieving an effective working relationship with the media.

Your group works with the media in order to

In order to ensure that these purposes can be fulfilled, you need procedures in place to regulate who can speak for the group.

Transparency is important. The media themselves have a vital role to play on behalf of the community in holding your group to account for its policies and actions. It's thus important that they have access to officers and members and to background information to assist them in this role. To balance this, your group must have the capacity to defend itself from any unfounded criticism, and to ensure that the public are properly informed of all the relevant facts.

In dealing with the media, staff, board members and other volunteers should be conscious that they may be seen as representatives of the group and should therefore avoid making comments or participating in photo opportunities that may damage the long-term reputation of the group.

In fact, staff, board members and other volunteers should speak to the media on any significant matter in the name of or on behalf of the group only if

Where any of these criteria don't apply, exercise extreme caution.

In practical terms, your group might want to consider putting in place a set of procedures to spell out who has responsibility for what when it comes to speaking on behalf of the group.

Our Community has a sample Media Relations policy posted in the PolicyBank at www.ourcommunity.com.au/policybank. You may wish to adapt this policy to your group's own needs and desires, or come up with your own list of procedures to suit your group's own circumstances and language.

 

 

An initiative of Department of Human Services, Developed & Managed by www.ourcommunity.com.au