Refuse to answer a question on air

How to refuse to answer a question on air

What do you do in a media interview if you get a really uncomfortable question?

The answer is remarkably simple: tell the journalist you are choosing not to answer.

Daniel Radcliffe demonstrated this on GMB when asked about the Will Smith slapping incident at the Oscars ceremony.

Radcliffe did not hesitate: he said he was so dramatically bored by hearing other people’s opinions on the incident, that he wasn’t going to give one.

There are lots of ways to tell a journalist that you are declining a question. My advice is, where you can, give a short clear reason but the reason is not essential. Here are a few suggestions for close down phrases:

‘I’m sorry that is commercially confidential.’

‘I don’t have that number to hand.’

‘This is not a question for me’

‘I think I’ll leave that for others to comment on.’

‘That’s a question for the regulator or the politicians.’

It sounds so obvious. And it is liberating to realise that you have a choice.

However, having these lines to hand is not the whole answer.

The real challenge is to be in the right mindset during any interview. You should know what you are there to say, and be clear where your red lines are. Journalists are allowed to ask anything…that is the deal. It doesn’t mean you have to answer them.

When I suggest this close down strategy, I get push back:

‘Am I allowed to say that?’

‘Won’t the journalist think I’m rude?’

‘I don’t want to sound like a politician not answering questions.’

First of all, there are no external rules about what you say to a journalist, only internal ones – from your employer perhaps. I don’t think they will ever include a ban on declining a question.

Second, journalists are hard to offend and declining or ‘closing down’ a question would barely register. They hear such responses all the time.

Finally, I believe politicians rarely say ‘I am not answering that because it would be speculation’ or ‘I haven’t looked at it this week’. Interviews would be much less annoying if they did.  Politicians, for reasons I do not fully understand, normally try to ignore the question and answer something else. That is what is so irritating.

It’s much better to be upfront and say ‘that’s not a question for me’.

Practising how to deliver a close down is just one of the many techniques we cover in our media training courses, which can be delivered in person or via video link.



1 reply
  1. Eric Dixon
    Eric Dixon says:

    Lindsay’s right: realising that you don’t HAVE to answer every question can be very liberating. But typically, in the vast majority of interviews, the times when you feel you will have to do so will be few and far between. On most occasions, directly answering their question – or bridging from it to a key message – will be the order of the day.


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