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Is your keynote speaker worth a media gagging clause?

Would you accept a media blackout clause issued by your keynote speaker?

If you’re the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) and your star turn is former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, then the answer is clearly ‘yes’.

PCMA wrote to media outlets registered for their Convening Leaders conference, in San Francisco, stating that, ‘the recording, publishing and sharing of any content presented specifically during her main-stage session is STRICTLY PROHIBITED by members of the media. This includes all audio, photo, video and written content…Failure to agree will result in you being prohibited from attending.”

We don’t know if PCMA put up any resistance, but ultimately the association calculated that having someone of Rice’s gravitas on stage compensated for the drawback of limited media exposure.

I say ‘limited’ media exposure.

For the gagging order prompts two obvious questions: one, what about delegates who aren’t members of the media, and, two, did the people representing Rice not hear about social media?

When ‘the news’ is ‘that thing that was trending on Twitter twenty minutes ago’, posted by some random with a smartphone, the power of such gagging clauses clearly lies in the gesture.

Which begs the question: what does the gesture mean?

Perhaps the ‘established’ media should take it as a compliment. Looked at askance, the speaker’s agents are essentially saying: ‘we don’t care what gets repeated, so long as it’s not by a trusted source’.

If that sounds like something translated from the minutes of the East European Communist Party Congress in 1987, this probably gets closer to the heart of the matter: ‘we don’t trust the professional media to report proceedings in a way that doesn’t compromise our client’.

Either way, associations who agree to gagging clauses of this kind need to consider what it says about their own attitude to freedom of speech and how that will play with members.

They must consider their ongoing relationship with the media, too, and how imposing restrictions of this kind could impact coverage of their wider activities in the future.

In this instance, PCMA clearly thought the pros outweighed the cons.