Archive for the ‘Alastair Campbell’ tag

Alastair Campbell in perspective

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Talking yesterday to a delegation of Chinese government officials about government-media relations forced me to get a little perspective on the Blair-Campbell-Press media circus.

The delegates seemed quite perplexed by my concerns about a crisis of public trust, about the dilemma of how to inform the public and how to sustain public interest journalism.

But the degree of cultural disconnect only became clear to me when one of the delegates challenged my comments about systematic government leaking by saying how, during the Iraq war, the media leaked too. “Please could you explain what you mean by leaking?” I asked. She cited reports about the capture of British soldiers and stories filed by journalists from the battlefield.

Now it was my turn to be perplexed. “But the media are not required to get their reports OK’ed by government first” I responded. “They’re supposed to ‘leak’. Only when there is a risk to British troops or battle plans are they prevented from speaking openly”.

This lack of government control seemed peculiar to them – quite literally foreign. I got the impression that to the delegates, Alistair Campbell’s desperate media management and Tony Blair’s ‘feral beasts’ speech were symbols of weak government rather than indications of the vitality or otherwise of our political process. ‘Stronger’ governments would simply institute greater methods of control.

I left more conscious of the fragility of our democratic safeguards than when I arrived.

Written by Martin Moore

July 10th, 2007 at 7:40 am

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A cynical appointment that shows little respect for the public

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The Conservative Party yesterday appointed Andy Coulson, ex-editor of the News of the World, as their new Director of Communication, on a salary reported to be over £400,000 a year.
What seems most astonishing about this appointment is the message it sends to the press and the public. It shows that the Conservatives want their very own Alastair Campbell – their own tabloid editor who knows how to charm, manipulate, cajole, square and bully the media. This despite the disastrous impact Campbell had on public trust and on public cynicism about political spin. Only a few weeks ago Michael Howard rounded on Campbell on Newsnight, saying that in the last 10 years “the tone and standards of public life in this country have deteriorated radically” and that Campbell bears “a heavy share of the responsibility for that” (Youtube Clip).
At the same time the appointment undermines the criticisms politicians have made of the media. How many times have we heard them talk about the damage the press has done to politics by focusing on personalities and by exposing people’s private lives with no regard for the public interest? Yet this is exactly what the News of the World under Coulson was so good at. In 2005 his revelations about the sex lives of Blunkett, Beckham and Sven Goran Eriksson won him the prize for ‘Newspaper of the Year’ at the British Press Awards. Less successful were his paper’s involvement in the staged Beckham kidnap plot, its libel loss against Tommy Sheridan, and its false accusation of three men for plotting to make a ‘dirty bomb’.
Coulson resigned as editor of the News of the World when his royal correspondent, Clive Goodman, was convicted of illegally tapping the Royals’ phones (amongst others). In what looked from the outside like a deal struck with the Press Complaints Commission, Coulson was able to leave the paper quietly without being investigated. This despite the fact that if anyone knew about Goodman’s actions it had to be him, and that he was the only one who could really say if Goodman’s behaviour was unique at the News of the World.
Other evidence suggests Goodman’s actions were certainly not unique. A study last year by the Information Commissioner, What Price Privacy? reported on the findings of a police raid on a private detective who had been collecting personal information about people on behalf of newspapers – most of it clearly not in the public interest. From his records alone we know that 23 journalists from the News of the World made 228 requests for personal information.
For anyone hoping that the end of the Blair era would signal an end to dissembling, disinformation, and distraction, Coulson’s appointment will come as a great disappointment.

Written by Martin Moore

June 1st, 2007 at 8:30 am