ME and Ophelia

Tuesday, February 03, 2004


By Clive Soley, Labour MP - Saturday, January 31, 2004

The devastating effect of the Hutton Report on the BBC was an accident waiting to happen. I am a strong supporter of the BBC and I didn’t want Greg Dyke to go. The problem is though that the BBC had in recent years been moving into the print media role of campaigning journalism which inevitably becomes political campaigning.

It is bad enough that the press choose to do this but for a public broadcasting organisation to do it must be a serious mistake. The press looks for sensational headlines to boost flagging sales. This leads them to focus on individuals in Government in order to gain another scalp. This is fine if the stories are true but if they are not it simply undermines the democratic process.

The Hutton Report gives both politicians and media an opportunity to start again. We need to stop substituting insults for arguments. So no more ‘liar, liar pants on fire’ headlines or accusations unless well substantiated. No more cynical assumptions that everyone who enters politics is in it for personal gain. Far more openness within the political process would also help. This is easy to ask for but difficult to deliver. Only the wildest optimist would hope that politicians wont brief against each other or present their own story in the best light possible. That happens in every job but is more intense in politics.

Spinning is not new. It has been with us since the beginning of human society but it has got out of control in the last twenty years and none of us in politics or media are free of blame. The press attacks on Labour in the 1980’s were savage and highly spun. Our response was understandable at first but became institutionalised and outlived both its justification and its usefulness.

Look at the headlines today however. If Hutton had criticised politicians as strongly as he has the BBC every paper would be praising him and calling for resignations. Because he criticised the media they are attacking him for a “whitewash”. This reinforces the point I make about the media becoming like a political party. They take sides more strongly then the conventional parties.

One of the problems is that apart from blogging there is no way in which the media can be challenged. If they don’t think your views are worth publishing they don’t publish them. As they have their own agenda this is particularly destructive and is in itself a form of censorship.

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 2/03/2004
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