Archive for February, 2007

How can we assess the impact of Blair's withdrawal from Basra…

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…when we have so little context in which to place it? Most newspapers and broadcasters have covered Blair’s announcement in breadth – particularly given the subsequent political repercussions it has had in the US – but very few in depth. By this I mean that there is precious little reporting from the ground in Basra. We know the view from Baghdad, from London, and from Washington, but not, sadly, from the place from which the troops are leaving. We understand from Blair that British troops are constantly under fire, and, from Cameron, that there has been a ‘bleak deterioration in Basra over the last three years’ (via Steve Richards), but we’ve got no picture to compare this against.
The situation across Iraq is catastrophic and this hampers both the movement of journalists and their ability to stay somewhere like Basra long term. And there are already many journalists putting themselves at great risk reporting from inside and around Baghdad – Peter Beaumont in Buquba, Patrick Cockburn, David Loyn, Stephen Farrell, Ned Parker and others.
But it is unfortunate that there don’t seem to be any UK reporters, even embedded, in Basra (please tell me if I’ve missed them).
I suppose we should be grateful that most news reports focused on the withdrawal rather than the news that Prince Harry would serve in Iraq, although The Sun managed both, ’1,600 out, one’s in’ (their focus, online at least, has since shifted)
And talking of news values, after the news about Basra why on earth did The Times decide to lead (its print edition) on a report charting the continuing decline of the institution of marriage (‘Britons fall out of love with marriage’)?

Written by Martin Moore

February 22nd, 2007 at 1:31 pm

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PR does not have a duty to tell the truth…

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…according to an audience of over 260 public relations executives (and me). 138 voted against the motion in last night’s PR Week sponsored debate that ‘PR has a duty to tell the truth‘, vs 124 for.
Should we be surprised or is this simply a (rare) truthful confession? Well it helped that Max Clifford was arguing against the motion. In a low-key, frank and absorbingly anecdotal performance he told the audience how his first duty was always to his client and that he had been “telling lies on behalf of my clients for 40 years”. He chose to lie in certain instances because the “price of telling that truth would be terribly destructive to lots of people”. He told us how he had stopped newspapers exposing a footballer for being gay, because it would have ruined his career. How he had prevented the media revealing a very senior corporate couple were having an affair with the same woman for the same reason… You could feel the audience craning to hear the gossip, dying to hear the clients’ names. Much more entertaining than the rather more staid and worthy explanation of the ethical obligations of communicating Vodafone, described by its Group corporate affairs director Simon Lewis. Or even the wonderfully incongruous musings of George Pitcher, now curate at St Bride’s, who previously founded the PR agency Luther Pendragon.
No, we should not be surprised – not just because of Max Clifford but because of the wording of the motion. PR does not have a ‘duty’ to tell the truth it has a duty to serve its client (as Clifford and Simon Goldsworthy frequently pointed out). Should it aspire to tell the truth? Absolutely – but that is a very different thing.
More interesting were the justifications given by the panel for not telling the truth. Chief among these (dwarfing the rest) was the culpability of the news media. Journalists were to blame, they said, because journalists constantly sought out tension, discord and disruption. PR executives had to protect their clients from them and, when necessary, fib / be economical with the truth / lie.
If this is the view across the industry it does not bode well for a constructive dialogue between PR and the media.

Written by Martin Moore

February 21st, 2007 at 7:38 am

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Privacy – taking on all comers

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Whose privacy needs protecting from whom? The Times leads today with the story that the government and intelligence services are making an unacceptable number of mistakes when spying on people’s phones and emails (439,054 requests, 3,972 errors). Unlike the Telegraph and the Guardian it presents this as a privacy issue (‘Privacy row as checks on phones and emails’). It is right to do so. The government collects an enormous amount of data on each of us (not to mention video footage) and has introduced legislation that makes it much easier for government agencies to access that information – whether it be financial records, medical histories, phone bills or parking tickets.
Information that is relatively easy for government agencies to access is, inevitably, relatively easy for determined non-government bodies and individuals to access as well. And they are. The Information Commissioner has recently shown how finance companies, local authorities, estranged couples, and journalists are regularly invading people’s privacy and misusing personal information (‘What price privacy now?‘).
But where and how do you draw the line? Many people – especially young people – make even the most personal information public. And without the freedom to investigate personal records we would lose genuinely important public interest journalism.
The media tends to present the issue solely in terms of ‘the danger of a new privacy law’ (e.g. see Stephen Glover), but it needs to be thought about much more broadly than that. The definitions and boundaries of privacy are shifting radically and we need to work out who needs protecting from whom, and fast.

Written by Martin Moore

February 20th, 2007 at 8:25 am

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The media's role in US vs Iran

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Is the media a pliant cipher in Bush’s Iran strategy? That is a suggestion forwarded by Andrew Stephen in his piece for the New Statesman (‘This, Mr President, is how wars start‘). Stephen cites a Washington source who believes the aggressive rhetoric of the Bush camp is designed to ‘to intimidate Iran into scaling back its operations inside Iraq’, and that this is being helpfully conveyed by the world’s media. But even if this is true it is, as Stephen’s notes, a high risk strategy. Given the situation in Iraq there is a significant chance of an accidental confrontation which, in the context of Bush’s rhetoric, could easily escalate. This is particularly true in the Straits of Hormuz where the US will soon have two carrier battle groups. Harpers magazine has four fascinating pieces by former CIA officials assessing the situation and outlining how such such an accident could happen.
Anyway, if the media is fixating on the Bush administration’s rhetoric about Iran it is entirely understandable. Not only is armed conflict with Iran a terrifying prospect, the media (particularly in the US) has to recover its reputation. Its attention to detail is much greater as a result – thank goodness – and so is its level of scepticism about government statements (e.g. see reports earlier this week in the New York Times). Long may it continue.

Written by Martin Moore

February 16th, 2007 at 12:46 pm

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