Archive for the ‘resignation’ tag

Oh for those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer

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This was first posted on the Media Standards Trust website on Friday 21st January 2011

News International must be hankering after the balmy days of summer 2010.

Back last June they appeared to have successfully weathered the phone hacking story, despite the valiant efforts of The Guardian’s to keep the story alive in 2009.

The Conservatives, strongly supported by News International titles – particularly The Sun – in the lead up to the election were installed in Number 10. Not as a majority government, but with majority control.

Coulson, one of the key figures at News International and close friends with the recently installed Chief Executive of News International, Rebekah Brooks, had been appointed Director of Communications at No.10.

Rupert Murdoch may have been quietly confident that News Corporation’s bid to take over the remaining 60.9% of BSkyB would be waved through.

Enter the New York Times

Then, in September 2010, the New York Times investigation was published. ‘Tabloid Hack Attack on Royals, and Beyond’ was the result of three months investigation by three experienced Times journalists, Don Van Natta Jr, Jo Becker and Graham Bowley.

Publication by the New York Times changed the whole tenor of the story. Phone hacking was no longer a UK media story, it was a political story with international implications (due to Murdoch’s ownership of the Wall Street Journal). The NY Times investigation meant the BBC and, to its credit, Sky News could start covering the story without being accused of following The Guardian’s agenda. Labour politicians, now out of office and free to criticise the media, could start to attack Andy Coulson.

Even still, the story ebbed as most other UK papers refused to take it on. Only the Financial Times and The Independent started to report new evidence regularly and prominently.

Nor did the police show any great interest in turning over a story they had rather hoped would go away (given their close relationship with News International and failure both to interview many of those implicated in phone hacking or warn those whose phones had been hacked).

Yet the story refused to die. Thanks to continued digging by The Guardian – especially Nick Davies – and to legal cases taken against the News of the World by individuals who believed their phones had been hacked, news kept seeping out.

Coulson’s mistake

Coulson’s unambiguous evidence to the Commons Select Committee in 2010 certainly helped keep it alive. Asked by the Committee if phone hacking went any further than Clive Goodman (the royal correspondent who was jailed for phone hacking) Coulson said that he was “absolutely sure that Goodman’s was a very unfortunate rogue case”. Asked if he knew anything about phone hacking while he was editor of the paper he said he had no knowledge of what was going on.

Had Coulson taken a different approach he may have avoided resignation. He could, for example, have taken the ‘confess and seek mercy’ approach. He could have said that yes, he did know about the hacking and he dreadfully regretted that he was involved. But, given it was rife in the industry he had not fully realised its seriousness. Moreover, when he did realise, he resigned.

This approach would not have burnished his political reputation, might have cut his political career short, and would have led people to question Cameron’s judgment, but it is a position he could have maintained.

Instead, he took the Manuel from Fawlty Towers approach – ‘I know nothing’. This became increasingly untenable as evidence emerged that more and more people under his command were involved.

Then the News of the World suspended Ian Edmondson. Edmondson was assistant editor of news at News of the World. He worked closely with Coulson and then subsequently with the new editor Colin Myler. He was suspended when a series of court documents about the hacking of Sienna Miller’s phone became public that had the name ‘Ian’ written in the top left hand corner.

This was too close. If Edmondson knew about phone hacking then maintaining the line that Coulson was in the dark became much more difficult.

Sure enough, on Friday 21st January, a day after Alan Johnson’s resignation as opposition Chancellor and with Blair being quizzed by the Chilcot Inquiry, Coulson announced his resignation.

Does it end here?

News International are no doubt hoping that their annus horribilis stops here. Now Coulson is on his way out of No. 10 they must hope that the story will lose its political piquancy and slowly dwindle.

Of course the opposite could happen. Coulson’s departure could confirm the belief of those who have been unravelling this story that it goes deep within the political and media classes, and on to the Metropolitan police and the phone companies.

His exit is also unlikely to quell the energy of those fighting court cases to discover if their phones were hacked. These will trundle on, and with them further evidence of how many people at the News of the World were involved.

Then there is the press itself. Though the story has focused on the News of the World we know (from Operation Motorman) that ‘the illegal trade in confidential personal information’ went much further. The Media Standards Trust has previously supported calls for a proper independent inquiry into the whole problem. Now Coulson is gone there may well be more chance of this happening.

For News International, the story is far from over. What it woudn’t give to bring back those lazy hazy crazy days of summer 2010.

Written by Martin Moore

February 4th, 2011 at 4:57 pm

How mainstream media got it wrong over David Davis' resignation

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Jay Rosen, associate professor of journalism at New York University and one of the most astute commentators on the direction of journalism today, called the blogosphere – news’ ‘Court of Appeal’ (link here). By this he meant that a news story can have a second – often larger – life if bloggers pick it up, chew it over, and generally pay more attention to it than mainstream media did the first time around.

I’d like to add to Rosen’s analogy and suggest that as well as gaining a second life from the public ‘Court of Appeal’, that court can also overturn mainstream media’s original judgment.

This is certainly what’s happened with David Davis’ resignation. After Davis made his surprise announcement that he was resigning his Parliamentary seat over the issue of 42 days detention, mainstream media leapt immediately over the principles for which he resigned and focused entirely on the political implications for Brown and Cameron. ‘Tory shock turns to anger over one man’s 42-day crusade’, said The Guardian. The Times said Davis was on a ‘disastrous ego trip’. The Sun called him ‘a quitter’.

Mainstream media’s attitude was best captured by the rush to judgment of the BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, who in a piece to camera and in his blog, talked about Davis’ actions being a ‘nightmare for the Conservative party’ and a gift to Brown.

But then a funny thing happened. Something that couldn’t have happened a couple of years ago. The public responded. People told Robinson he’d got it wrong. And not just a couple of renegade Conservative supporters either. There were 275 comments beneath Robinson’s initial report, 175 on his follow-up, and 555 (to date) below his defense. And the same was true elsewhere on the BBC, and in response to the pieces in the press. A torrent of people reacting against the knee-jerk cynicism of mainstream media and its unwillingness to accept that any politician could do something simply because s/he believed in it.

“This is about a man of principle fighting for what he believes in” SimonofOxford wrote beneath Nick Robinson’s blog, “David Davis deserves plaudits for taking a stand”. “If only all MPs had the guts to stand by their principles we would have a much better and more honest parliament”, commented mikepko.

Climbsforfun reflected the views of many commenters when s/he said “I am pleased to see that I am not alone in being astonished at your [Robinson's], and the media in general’s reaction to this. It seems to fly in the face of how the public feel”.

“Perhaps this is the first sign of public revolt against the mass media”, Vastiriner wrote. “People are so fed up of being spun (or lied) to that they literally do not believe what the mass media’s interpretation any more”.

The effect of this public revolt against cynicism is already apparent. Mainstream media are starting to take Davis’ stand seriously, journalists are pushing Gordon Brown to engage Davis in debate (or at least James Landale from Newsnight is) – even The Sun has become supportive (see Fergus Shanahan). It’s difficult to imagine that this will augur a wider sea change in the media’s attitude to politics, but it might make journalists pause the next time a politician does something for the sake of principle.

Mind you, Nick Robinson remains unrepentant – see his 10 reasons why this will be bad for the Tories. Ironic – and perhaps fitting – that his first should be media related, ’1. It will pit the Tories against the paper whose support they most want to win – The Sun’.

Written by Martin Moore

June 18th, 2008 at 9:55 am

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Add another to Melanie Phillips' list…

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The Speaker Michael Martin is the latest public figure Melanie Phillips has called on to resign (see previous post “Do the press’ calls for people to resign have any effect?“).
Under the headline “Until the Speaker goes, our faith in Parliament can’t be restored“, Phillips gets even crosser than usual:
“He [Martin] is simply the worst Speaker in living memory. It is a disgrace that he is still in office. But then, this dreary catalogue of abuse of office is all of a piece with the tragic decline of that great institution of which he is the custodian”.
Still, based on previous form there’s now every chance Martin will stay in it for the long haul.

Written by Martin Moore

February 25th, 2008 at 10:33 am

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Do the press' calls for people to resign have any effect?

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Along with much of the rest of the press, Melanie Phillips has today called for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, to resign.

“[W]e are all profoundly shocked by him [Dr Williams]” Phillips writes, “He should stand down and Dr Nazir-Ali, who is trying to defend the religion and culture of this country, should take his place”.

But will her calls have any effect? Is the power of the media such that when they call for someone to go that person inevitably starts to pack their bags?

Using Melanie Phillips as a proxy for media power, I thought I’d do a little digging and find out. Phillips seems like a pretty decent proxy, given that the newspaper for which she is a columnist, The Daily Mail, is said to cast more fear into the heart of government than any other. On top of which she’s been an influential columnist for many years – writing for the the Sunday Times and the Guardian prior to the Mail. And, she has a pretty impressive track record when it comes to calling for resignations.

Based on a brief web search she has demanded the head not only of Dr Rowan Williams but of:

Sir Ian Blair, Patricia Hewitt (‘her every utterance seems to bear no relation whatever to reality’ 16-4-06), Des Browne, Tessa Jowell (‘The fact that she has not already resigned is therefore scandalous’, 6-3-06), Ruth Kelly (it is a ‘disgrace that she clings on’, 16-1-06), David Westwood (Chief Constable, Humberside Police during Soham), Margaret Hodge, and Sir Paul Condon.

These are in addition to those people for whom she says ‘calls to resign are growing’ such as – back in 2003 – Alastair Campbell, Geoff Hoon and Tony Blair.

How many resigned as a consequence of these calls? As far as I can tell, none. (Of course the jury is still out on the Archbishop). Sir Ian Blair is still in post. Des Browne remained, as did Tessa Jowell – though shifted by the new PM. Ruth Kelly continues to ‘cling on’. David Westwood was suspended for 10 weeks by David Blunkett after the Bichard Inquiry but then reinstated, Margaret Hodge held on despite the ‘Islington controversy’, and Sir Paul Condon, according to Peter Wilby, ‘survived the shooting of innocent people without much trouble’ [compared to Ian Blair]. Blair lasted another four years and Geoff Hoon stayed at Defence until 2005.

Alastair Campbell could be considered an exception although Phillips was not (in my press search) calling for his resignation but rather reflecting public calls for him to go.

So why does Phillips keep calling for people’s heads?

It is made even more puzzling since Phillips herself has, for a long time, believed that ‘no-one resigns’. In a piece for the Guardian in 1993 titled ‘What does it take for a public figure to resign?’ Phillips wrote that:

Public life has fallen into disrepute and the cynicism of the people knows no bounds. It’s the anything-goes-as-long-as-you-can-get-away-with-it culture, and it’s as prevalent in the corridors of Whitehall as the joyriders’ ghettos. Moral standards in the press – whose job it is to expose public misdemeanours – themselves lack a certain something“.

Presumably Phillips would argue she is doing her best to uphold moral standards in the press. But is calling for people to go the same as exposing public misdemeanours? Or do the constant, and ineffectual, shouts to “RESIGN” simply give people the impression that the Fourth Estate is doing its job but actually just lead to greater public cynicism?

Written by Martin Moore

February 11th, 2008 at 2:01 pm

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