The Media & Public Life
Is the media have a "seriously adverse" impact on public life?
The Media Standards Trust and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism debate at the Foreign Press Association, Wednesday 28th November 2007
Introduced by Martin Moore (Director of the Media Standards Trust) & John Lloyd (Director of the Reuters' Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University)
Chaired by Michael White (assistant editor, Guardian)
Panellists: Sue Stapely (Quiller Consultants), Lord Jay (ex Permanent Secretary, FCO), General Sir Rupert Smith, Tim Livesey (head of public affairs, Lambeth Palace)
Martin Moore: Good evening. Welcome to the
first Media Standards Trust and Reuters' Institute for the Study of Journalism
joint debate about the media in public life. The Media Standards Trust is a
new, non‑profit independent organization devoted to fostering high standards in
the news. We are about to start a major project to promote transparency on the
web. We have just launched a website called www.journalist.com. And this Friday
we will be announcing a partnership with the Orwell Prize for political writing
and journalism. The Reuters Institute, as so many of you know, launched last
autumn, and is in the midst of a range of international research projects and
has hosted many debates and speeches already.
Indeed the Reuters Institute organized the infamous ‘feral beasts' speech in
June, made by then Prime Minister Tony Blair. In that speech, the Prime
Minister said the media was having a "seriously adverse" affect on public life.
I quote, "Talk to any public service leader ‑ especially in the NHS or who
deals with law and order - and they will tell you not that they mind the
criticism, but they have become totally demoralized by the completely unbalanced
nature of it". His speech was drowned out by cries of
"hypocrite" and accusations of the pot calling the media kettle
black. Yet many believed that his arguments ought to be taken more seriously
including Jeremy Paxman in his Edinburgh MacTaggart lecture in August.
In order to take the debate forward, we felt that it was necessary to remove
some of the political hot air. In other words, to take the politicians out of
the equation and to do what Tony Blair referred to, go straight to the figures
themselves in public life. For that reason we've gathered four senior figures
from public life here tonight, to talk about the impact the media has had on
their lives, both positive and negative, constructive and destructive. And to
find out whether figures in British public life are indeed being demoralized by
To discuss these and other questions we are delighted to welcome once more Sue
Stapely, Lord Jay, General Sir Rupert Smith and Tim Livesey - chaired by
Michael White, assistant editor of the Guardian.
Michael White: General, can you identify that
[laughter, crowd talks]
Perhaps it is the growl of a feral beast!
And over to you Michael.
Well you broke the ice there, Martin, with the pyrotechnics. Good
evening, everyone, thank you for coming. I don't really need to introduce the
other people. Tim Livesey, is on my far right, I first knew as the Downing
Street Press Officer, poor soul, and is now head of public affairs at Lambeth,
out of the frying pan into the fire. On his left, General Sir Rupert Smith,
cerebral soldier, author of books and other dangerous pieces of ordinance.
On my left Michael Jay, Lord Jay. Whose family has not been discouraged
generally speaking ‑‑ listening to Martin ‑‑ from involvement in public
affairs, since it has been for many generations. Lady Jay was in the news this
morning. Enough said.
And Sue Stapely as aforementioned, former BBC program maker, a solicitor here
on behalf of Quiller Consultants. What you may not know, she specializes in
reputation and crisis and issue management counsel for business organizations
and individuals of all kinds. Among the things she has done are running the
campaign for Sally Clark, the solicitor, and support for Tom Ap Rhys Price, a
young lawyer who was murdered in Kensal Green, I think. She is the author of
"Media Relations for Lawyers", best selling text.
This being an event organized by high brows, nobody has told me how to proceed
from here. [audience laughs] So I'll proceed on my own account by inviting any
volunteers to begin the proceedings with a brief outline of the case for the
prosecution or possibly for the defense. Any volunteers to go first?
Sue Stapely: I think I will.
Tim Livesey: We've been told it's all about going in order.
Michael White: Well it's almost as good, you've been told. [laughs] Miss Stapely.
I'm not for the prosecution or the defense. If I talk, you'll probably
discover that I'm sitting rather uncomfortably outside the fence. This is
obviously a timely debate, there's a certain individual who was revealed just
this week to have used all kinds of intermediaries, four at the last count, to
avoid being identified in the media as a supporter of the Labour Party.
My last ten years, as you've heard, has been in the field of public relations
and the law. I've been described from time to time as a spin doctor, and most
people seem to assume that my work is predominantly about getting my clients
better known by the media, perhaps sometimes by tweaking stories or stretching
the truth. Getting their stories, their businesses, their organizations, their
points of views publicized in the media and thereby raising their profile,
making their arguments more visible and persuasive, and helping to grow their
businesses or swing issues their way.
In truth, increasingly, every single day my work involved trying to keep the
media away from my clients or my clients away from the media, keeping it out
rather than getting it in. Not because my clients are doing nefarious things,
behaving badly or afraid of scrutiny; but simply because increasingly, they are
anxious about the accuracy of reporting. Fearful that mistruths may jeopardize
their business interest, or unsolicited attention makes their personal lives to
scrutiny they don't want and can't stop. They're concerned that the immediacy
of the unregulated Internet, as well as the scant controls on much of the
traditional media. Meaning that once the genie is out of the bottle, and they
are under the media spotlight, it will prove impossible to suck it back in and
for them to ever retreat into the shadows again. The years after one media hit,
a quick Google search will bring the issue back to haunt them forever.
My professional work most days involves working alongside lawyers who are
representing clients suing or being sued, bringing or defending employment law
cases, merging or de‑merging or acquiring businesses, acquiring or losing high
profile executive staff or board members, facing accusations of fraud,
regulatory or money laundering irregularities, or simply seeking to influence
and persuade opinion formers that they're entitled to do whatever it is that
their business or individual court wants to do. The clients themselves come
from every sector: household name businesses, financial institutions,
regulatory bodies, charities, public bodies, private individuals or courts.
And in my private life, I have always tried to help on a purely pro bono basis
those I believe have a need for the help I can offer, but may not be in a
position to pay professional fees. They have, as you've heard, included Sally
Clark, the woman solicitor falsely imprisoned for murdering her two babies,
whose media campaign to overturn one of the worst miscarriages of injustice, I
ran for many years until her tragic death earlier this year. Adele Eastman was
another, the young woman solicitor whose lawyer fiancé was brutally stabbed to
death in a quiet London street in January last year, and who was one of the
first to make a victim impact statement in court when his assailants were
convicted. And I also look after the Speak family, whose two severely disabled
sons are still fighting their local authorities for proper care packages, so
their exhausted parents can return to work and help pay for the endless
expenses their sons incur, rather than being full‑time caregivers themselves
for their sons, because the care package and disability benefit provisions are
In these cases, to support, defend and help my clients, I try to get the media
on our side. And so there is, I'm very well aware, a real contradiction in my
professional and personal work. Some days, keeping the media away from the
professional clients, and at other times when it suits my clients for my purposes,
courting them to publicize an injustice or win support for a campaign.
And this ambivalence reflects how I personally feel about the media, and about
individual journalists, program makers, editors and proprietors. They are just
people, and most behave just like other people do. In large part they are are
conscientious, honorable, interested, passionate about getting it right,
telling it how it is, and working with them for me is a pleasure and a
privilege. Many have become my friends.
But increasingly in the past few years I'm observing a very different tension
that has come into their work. There are many of them now under pressure to
achieve scoops, to run sensational stories, to keep circulation up, to snatch
photographs to dramatize their stories, to get stories on the Internet ahead of
everyone else, and to keep their job. But they, it seems to me, are daily
required to compromise their instinctive integrity. Recently, one of the most
highly regarded legal journalists resigned from a national newspaper and
elected to go freelance because he could no longer tolerate the way that his
stories were distorted and accuracy was shelved by sub‑editors over whom he had
I am often asked repeatedly, four or five times by email, phone call, couriered
letter, having made quite clear that my clients are not prepared to comment or
grant any interviews, to make an exception for one particular journalist,
because they are personally under such pressure from their editors to secure
the interview, instead of risking it going to their commercial competitor.
My clients and I are regularly offered money to do this. Some clients
inevitably succumb when the sums offered are just irresistible. Sally Clark's
nanny was offered 10,000 pounds to tell her story. That was wealth beyond her
Though I have never brokered the sale of a story, many others now have to. I'd
be door‑stepped and harassed at my home in the hopes that I will reconsider and
advise my clients to speak. My clients have been hounded for days, weeks or
An example, Sally Clark was pilloried by her local Cheshire press some years
ago when her second son died in unexplained circumstances. There was clear
evidence that the impression given by the local media and the phrases that they
used, lingered with that jury that subsequently tried and wrongly convicted
Then a few journalists began to listen, to research, and once convinced, to
help me campaign to have her conviction overturned. They became staunch allies,
not enemies. But on the day earlier this year, when Steve Clark learned that
his wife had tragically died overnight. He was on business abroad at the time.
His house was once again, staked out by about twenty journalists and
Photos were taken of it, and of his village, the neighbors were given fees for
comments, and no attention was paid to the fact that a court injunction was in
force, supposedly to protect the anonymity of their very young son.
He and his son had to run the gauntlet of scrum of photographers and press just
to get into their own home, on the very day that this young mother was found
I fielded more than a hundred phone calls that day, and about the same number
of emails. It took the press complaints commission and the ethics police to
remove the journalists and photographers, and most of my time on that Sunday
was spent working to allow this damaged family to mourn in peace.
Now most people don't have direct access to the PCC on a Sunday and can't get
through to a chief constable. What hope have they, ordinary members of the
public, of avoiding a media feeding frenzy?
The story ran for days, with dreadfully inaccurate press comments recycled from
old cuttings and from the web and cruelly unflattering photos of Sally being
dug out of libraries and reprinted. Even the Telegraph obituary was fatally
flawed. Everywhere this grieving family looked, they were reminded how some
journalists have misreported Sally's case, and how tragically the whole story
had unfolded over previous years.
The phone's rang endlessly in my office, in my home, and in my handbag, with
ever more desperate bids for interviews or comment. Despite my making it
crystal clear that there will be no further comment beyond the statement I put
out for the family on the newswire and on the website we set up years earlier
to campaign for her release.
It was exhausting and deeply distressing for the family. The world has
certainly changed and Tony Blair has much to answer for. It was after all, the
Blair Project that rose to victory on the back of the savviest media campaign
any political party has every waged. And it's interesting to see how Alistair
Campbell's book has been carefully edited to leave out much of the tactical
That old cliché of living by the sword and dying by the sword, now this week,
has new relevance. But in my book, as a former Parliamentary candidate and one‑time
very minor public figure in my campaigning days, I think there's a huge
difference between those who knowingly enter the fray and take on media
opportunities willingly and those who don't.
Public figures promoting their public works are, I believe on the whole, fair
game. I regularly agree to appear on Question Time, the Today program, Any
Questions. They gave me time for my views and a visibility local campaigning
would never give. And make no mistake, the media is enormously seductive and
ego‑boosting, and hard to resist at times. But the private lives of public
figures should only be of any interest when they demonstrate incontrovertibly
something which directly and materially impacts on that person's ability to do
the public job to which they have been appointed, or for which they are seeking
Their sexuality, their personal finances, their bedmate or bedmates, their
views expressed in private situations, their homes, their families, should all
in my book, be off limits. But these are the things which seem to interest us
and the media who bring news of them to us the most.
Do we get the news we deserve? I suspect we do. We are as a nation, nosey,
prurient, sexually repressed, and fascinated by gossip and detail in a way that
the more sophisticated French person finds completely incomprehensible. The
papers sell, "The News of the Screws", is our most read Sunday. The
programs sell, Big Brother and I'm a Celebrity have amazing viewing figures,
despite the snide comments we all make about them.
It's hard not to be voyeuristic when the networks make it so easy. We've seen
the wildfire growth of interest in totally insignificant minor characters who
sometimes are thought of in some circles as celebrities. As a result, the sight
of all these can fill hour after hour of cheap television time in a way unheard
of when I worked for BBC Television, and most programs were made for, by and
with experienced professionals. But these people are seeking media attention,
in many cases trying to relaunch their careers on the back of it.
But it is, I believe, a totally different world now for those who find
themselves inadvertently caught up in the media. They may have suffered a
catastrophe, won a fortune, been involved in a scandal, or related to or dating
someone in the public eye, been accused of a minor transgression. But they
themselves are not seeking, nor do they want or relish media attention, and
nor, more importantly, do their families.
The growth of the virtually unregulated Internet probably concerns me the most.
Most days now professionally and for my pro bono clients I'm spending hours
monitoring the lunatic allegations which appear in blogs, chat rooms and in
comments after online articles.
Anyone is able to say virtually anything about anyone else on the interweb
these days. These mad ramblings, often defamatory, often deeply distressing,
hurtful and ill‑informed, often just downright lies, are then used as source
material by traditional journalists against tight deadlines researching
unfamiliar topics. So rumor, speculation, vicious gossip and lies find their
way into print and onto the airwaves, sometimes prefaced with something like,
"Some are saying that." And by so doing, they acquire credibility and
a gleam of veracity that they simply don't deserve.
The McCann's case is one in point. I won't dignify some of the allegations now
filling the interweb by publicizing them further, but there are now people who
say they are spending many hours a day playing amateur detective, speculating
and spreading their views to all who have the time and inclination to read
them. It's interesting that one of the first things Gerry McCann did once their
daughter disappeared was to start his own daily blog.
Taking down defamatory and untruthful allegations on the Internet takes up many
hours of lawyers' and communications specialists' time these days, if indeed
they can be taken down. This is almost always at the expense of the individual
defamed or traduced, with no way of their recovering the costs involved.
Ordinary members of the public don't know how to tackle this kind of
misinformation. They don't know how to deal with the commercially competitive
editor driving his journalists behind the ongoing comfort boundaries. They feel
powerless, persecuted, frightened and alone.
I championed freedom of speech for decades and don't seek to bring in any more
controls if they can possibly be avoided. I count many journalists and a couple
of editors amongst my friends. But I despair of what is happening in the name
of freedom to all those ill‑equipped to defend themselves, and to the
journalists whose standards seem to be eroded daily by commercial pressures.
Let's hope the Media Standards Trust, newly created can play some small part in
reversing this tide.
Michael White: Well, if that was sitting on the fence...
Well now, you obviously all know what's going to happen next, so who's
going to happen next?
Lord Jay: I think I'm happening next, and then
Rupert. Well, that's quite a hard act to follow too, I must say. I'm going to
say something from a rather different perspective, from a senior public servant
having retired from the Foreign Office with [inaudible] to the Foreign Office
18 months or so ago, and having therefore lived through four and a half years
as head of the Foreign Office through wars, tsunamis, and quite a lot of events
which caused quite a lot of press interest.
Now, I should say I should start with a confession, which was that yesterday I
prepared a talk on the misapprehension that what we were going to be talking
about was, "Are politicians right to be cowered by the press?" But
then I looked at John's email this morning and discovered it said, "Is the
establishment cowered?" So I've now got an alternative text on, "Is
the establishment cowered?" I can't talk for the establishment as a whole,
but I will talk on the basis of my own experience of the Foreign Office and in
particular the last few years.
The key point, I think, about the relationship between government and media as
far as foreign policy is concerned, is that it is, in fact, a symbiotic
relationship. Each side really needs the other. The press needs information. It
needs information about what's going on in the world, which the Foreign Office,
Foreign Office ministers, our embassies have and can give it. It needs to know
what's really happening on events day to day: what's really happening or really
happened in Annapolis yesterday, what's really happening in Afghanistan, what's
really happening in Iran.
It needs to know what the state of the negotiations is at the moment. What's
happening in negotiations on the European Reform Treaty? What is the
government's position? What is the position of other governments? So there is a
real need on the part of the press to have the kind of relationship with
government which enables it to get the information it needs.
Government, and in the case of foreign policy, the Foreign Office needs, too, a
good relationship with the press. It needs, first of all, to ensure the press
really does understand what's going on, because the more the press really does
understand what's going on, the better the chances of good coverage, accurate
coverage, but of course also the government and ministers will hope, favorable
So clearly there is a kind of neutral fence in which the government wants to
get genuine information across, and there's a more subjective fence in which
the government clearly wants to get across its view on what's going on, and
individual ministers will want to get across a fence that they are the ones in
control, managing it, and get some good press for them for their own reasons.
It's a natural aspect of politics.
And from that basic relationship comes, at least as far as the Foreign Office
is concerned, a whole range of different kinds of contacts, from confidential
background briefings, privileged off the record briefings, press conferences,
doorstep interviews, press parties going on planes, privileged briefings on
airplanes, ambassadorial briefings to the press for other capitals, and so on.
And that really is the daily bread and butter of diplomacy and the relationship
with the press. As you were saying, Michael, sorry, as the introducer was
saying, it's good to get away from the pure politics and on to what actually
happens day by day. That's what happens day by day by day, every day, several
times a day, that kind of contact with the press.
Now there will of course be a certain wariness about that relationship. The
press will suspect that there's more to what they're being told than meets the
eye, and so there usually will be, either for genuine reasons like you can't
reveal or shouldn't reveal exactly what's happening in a negotiation, unless of
course you want to use the technique which many of us do use of using the press
in order to advance your case in a negotiation, though to be honest I don't
think we're quite as good at that as people like President Ahmadinejad out of
Iran, who's made it a kind of an art form, really.
You will want to do that to a certain extent. So the press will have a genuine
concern that they are not being treated entirely fairly. The government on the
other hand will suspect that the press will have some line of their own that
they want to peddle, some angle that they want to advance, and of course that
also is true.
But going back to Tony Blair's speech last week, I wouldn't say that this is really
a relationship which is a relationship of distrust or mistrust. I would have
said that this is a relationship with a certain wariness and, to be honest, a
certain mutual respect, borne, as I say, of the sort of symbiotic relationship
where each actually needs the other.
The other thing I think I'd say is that none of this seems to me to be
spectacularly new. Of course the kind of relationship will vary depending on
the kind of minister you've got, and Robin Cook and Jack Straw and Margaret
Beckett, the three that I worked with, were very different ministers, had very
different approaches to the press, in particular the last two.
Jack Straw, who wanted to be on the radio and the television every minute if he
could to get his point across, and Margaret Beckett, who became quite quickly a
sort of invisible Foreign Secretary because she didn't talk to the press. She
wasn't doing any less, she just didn't talk to the press. Therefore, she was
invisible. So, different characteristics there.
But I'm not sure that any of that is qualitatively different from what I
experienced with, say, Douglas Hurd in the 1990s. At the time, which was a very
difficult time for Foreign Policy if you look back that far‑‑it was a weak
government, the Major government, the Balkans were disintegrating, there was a
was a master of negotiations that I was much involved, these were very very
difficult time for foreign policy.
And the kind of relationships we had then were very much the same as those that
we've had for the last few years, though, and here I think I do agree with some
bits of what Tony Blair was saying last year, the context is of course
different. We might talk a bit about that.
Freedom of Information. The presumption, now, that there is a right of
information, and the fact actually that there is a right of information unless
there is a specific exemption which prevents it. I know from outside, that
doesn't look like much. From inside, it is actually quite a revolutionary
change in the way that government operates, and the presumption now is that any
piece of information is releasable and there's no specific reason not to
release it. That is a complete reversal of what it was before the piece of
information that came in. That is a different context, plus of course, the Internet,
the electronic media, the blogs that Sue was referring to.
So, the context is different. But on the whole, I would say that that kind of
day‑to‑day relationship is relatively constructive, almost relatively benign
and necessary to both sides. But, it is fragile that relationship and it is put
to the test often in different ways. Now, I try to kind of think up in my mind
just what are the circumstances in which that relatively constructive
relationship breaks down. I think there are three or four.
One of them is that clearly the policy is in trouble ‑‑ Iraq in particular,
Afghanistan, the dossiers, the vanishing weapons of mass destruction. Now, if
you've got a really difficult policy issue because, frankly, things have
they've done a really seriously badly wrong, you are rightly going to have a
very aggressive press, and that's going to cause difficulties for the
government. And so, it should.
But in those circumstances, clearly, the relationship becomes a very difficult
one and can break down quite quickly. But it doesn't do so on all big issues.
It is quite interesting one of the biggest foreign policy issues of the last
couple of years or so has been Iran. But that's one but actually the policy the
government has adopted has been quite a successful one, both within the EU and
with the United States and with the Iranians. It hasn't that kind of anything
like this sort of difficult issue as, say, Iraq or Afghanistan.
Now, so that's one circumstance in which things gets tough. The other ‑‑ and
this is where in the sense, I sympathize the huge amount as what Sue was saying
‑‑ if there's a strong human interest story, then the rules of the game seems
to change completely. A kidnap, a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, then
it's an entirely different story. By the time I'd left the Foreign Office after
four and a half years, I recognized the pattern and I recognized the scenarios.
Let's say there's been a terrorist attack on Britons overseas. Day one, shock
horror. Day two, sympathize with the victims. Day three, blame the Foreign
Office. And this is an extraordinary kind of pattern that you saw emerging and
to the extent that we actually began to plan on the assumption that it was day
three, you needed to have a defensive stuff in place. Day one, you're OK. Day
two, a little bit dodgy. Day three, day four, day five... Watch out.
The Hurricane Katrina was a very good example that. One couple got out of New
Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and blamed the Foreign Office for not looking
after them. There were hundreds or thousand others all around who were looking
to us and saying what fantastic help they got. None of that ever appeared in
the media at all.
That one story got to the press, it spreads throughout the media, it spread
throughout the Parliament. I was attacked by the Foreign Affairs Committee, by
it all. And then, it turns out to be false. Then, I'll say it went away.
Foreign Affairs Committee apologize but, in a sense, the damage was done. The
people who were trying to help felt totally demoralized.
It was quite difficult then as the manager to get them to realize that they had
done a good job, don't believe everything from the press, we're behind you and
get on with the job. That was quite difficult.
In those sort of circumstances, there is a little bit of distrust which creeps
in. In the sense, that the objective is not in any way at all dispassionate
reporting. It is the story and there's no sense that the truth and objectivity
matter. There's no one to reply, that was the other thing. So I found out in
most circumstances, you write the newspapers and they'll print, even the
ministerial replies are not printed. It gets in the way of the story.
So, I think there again, I have a slight sympathy with what Tony Blair was
saying. In the sense, that a huge amount of energy in those circumstances which
might actually have gone into saving people, or helping them, goes into the
handling of the press. I think there is an issue of that and I feel with what
he was saying.
The other time I think it can go wrong in this relationship is when the story
gets caught up in some bigger political storm. My guess just now is that pretty
well every government department is pulling down their shutters and saying,
"For God's sake, don't talk to the press", for any kind of
misdemeanor. It's going to be part of the broader context of government
incompetence, even if it's only something pretty tiny. I think there's a
certain reticence just now.
If the Prime Minister... Clearly, if something goes wrong and it involves the
Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister's going through one of his troughs as he
his now, then again that becomes a huge story. Tony Blair in Tokyo when the
Kelly story erupted. That dominates everything.
In a sense, I can understand that, but there you get quite a difficult Number
10 departmental relationship, because Number 10 is involved... The Prime
Minister is involved, then that impacts on the relationship with the
I just want to say one final word about Europe and the European angle. This is
a slightly different point, really, but it's one that I wanted to mention.
Now clearly, there is a deep Euro skepticism in a good part of the British
press. This is a long and honorable tradition, and we've all struggled with the
square tomatoes and the straight bananas. I had to explain in the Birmingham
European Cup in 1992 to one of Delors' senior officials what the Sun meant by
"Up Yours, Delors." I explained that this was kind of a term of
endearment well known to readers of the Sun.
This goes on today. You've seen the Sun today has a story called
"EcoWarriors" that Eurocrats are going to force all of our tanks to
close down because of the emissions that they're... Equally by that one,
But there's quite a well‑established Euro‑skepticism. You can argue about
whether that is a reflection of or effect of public opinion. Actually, I don't
take either of those views. I think the reason why the press is Euro‑skeptic
and people are Euro‑skeptic is that no government since Edward Heath's has
actually tried to advance the argument as to why it's actually quite good for
Britain to be part of the European Union.
If there had been a sustained campaign over time, I suspect that both the press
would be a bit different and public opinion would be different. I think in that
context it's extremely interesting that Gordon Brown has not succumbed to the,
as far as I can understand it, the Murdoch blandishments of we want a
He said, "No. We're not going to have a referendum". Let's see what
happens now, and whether that's really is going to make a huge difference. Or I
can broaden it out a little bit. Whether the feral beast can tear up the paper
tiger. I think there's quite an interesting issue there.
In my own experience, it's a complex relationship between the press and the
government. The government needs the media, and vice versa. There are lots of
examples of that, but on the whole I would say that it's a constructive
relationship, but one which is fragile and breaks down fairly regularly. I'm
really quite worried, as I say, about the lack of objectivity which crops up
when human interest is involved, and when all sense of objective news coverage
seems to disappear.
One final word which kicks up Sue's final point is a really interesting issue
for discussion. Can we have a free and responsible press? I have lived in all
sorts of countries around the world. I've travelled in 70 or 80 countries
around the world. I've seen what happens when you don't have a free press.
Corruption of the governmental process creeps in very, very, very quickly, even
if it's only to the degree constrained.
Free press is fundamental for our democracy. But is a free and responsible
press a chimera, or is that achievable? I don't know, but what I certainly wouldn't
want to do is to compromise the freedom.
Thank you. That was a generous conclusion. Now tell me, who's next? Rupert?
General Sir Rupert Smith: I am.
I'm beginning to pick up the pattern now.
Thank you so much.
Most of my sandwiches have been eaten, by previous speakers. I shall be
What follows is an ex soldier's point of view, out of date by some years, but
when I was in date ‑‑ I am speaking to you as an agent on the interface between
politics and the military. I was accountable for military outcomes if you like,
both national and international, and yet I was a national asset.
I could be accountable to both national and international organizations, but I
was owned by a nation. That gives you quite an interesting relationship with
the media, generally.
I'll not cover the points about the individual. I have some knowledge of what
was said, and would agree with it, and I will agree with much of what Michael
I've come to view the media not as something to fear. Certainly one has to work
at one's relationship, which I agree is symbiotic. I understood the media as
having three broad characteristics.
First of all, it was a medium. Exactly what it said it was, a medium of
communications with other people. It was a medium within which I operated, like
the weather or the city or the countryside.
Secondly, it was a platform. It connected me. It took things, a message,
information, to an audience, but I had to understand the audience this particular
medium's communicating with. And like other characteristics of a platform is it
packages the information, and you needed to understand which bit of the media
you were talking to because it would do things to the information and the
message. You wish to talk to me through this communication system.
And finally, it's a business. This, in its current circumstances, demands an
enormous volume of information to fill space. You can't have an empty page or
just a carrier wave, or you've failed. You've got to fill the space. This leads
to repetition to fill volume. It demands instant response speed, and it
encourages a demand for shock and controversy.
If you put those three characteristics together, you get my understanding of
this thing, the media, which I have this relationship with. This all leads to
fact and comment being inextricably mixed and often repeated, so that people
are reporting other people's comments as fact, and in loops. It gets worse the
more international you go. It creates simplification of complexity where no
simplification is going to help understanding.
It creates an effect where all information is of equal value. The corporals on
the street say this is happening is given exactly the same weight as the Prime
Minister. There is this flattening. Now, I'm all for flattening higher up
offices, but it has an effect. It confuses the understanding of the actual
There is a constant search for personal and emotional content. There is a
constant search for controversy. Ideally, if you can achieve personal and
emotional content and controversy, you've got a long term winner.
There is an endless misuse of language to sensationalize. All this tends away
from explanation and balance and a very simple example of what I am talking
about and it is simple.
I published a book sometime ago in this country and then a year later in
America. I mentioned Iraq and Afghanistan had moved on, but were essentially
the same. It was very instructive in the nature to contrast the questioning by
the media in the two constituencies, if you like, the two audiences.
Essentially on this side of the Atlantic in this country no one was remotely
interested in what I had written, except and insofar as to whether I would say
something that they could use to make the next story. I was constantly being
asked questions in order to prompt me to say, Mr. Blair or whosoever is wrong,
and now there was the next story. We had achieved controversy. It was very
I very quickly learned to ask my question, "Have you read my book?"
The honest ones said no, and the others stuttered and would start shuffling
bits of paper to find the true reviews that were in their briefing pack. Mostly
they were honest, but the point was that their briefing pack and their run sheets
as it were, that this interview was all about finding controversy so that they
could create a story for the next one. Keep this constant, demand the bold.
Cross the Atlantic and the contrast was very different. People had read the
book. The questions were not, "Is Mr. Blair wrong?" or, "Is Mr.
Bush wrong?" It was what do we do to get it right? There was a genuine
interest in understanding what had been said and how it would help America. It
was very different, but why that is I don't know.
I gave you that story simply to show the contrast of controversy but also the
contrast between the media in one country and another. But I operate, my
business is adversarial. There is no second place. There is no niche market. It
isn't a competition. I win or I lose. I am operating as a commander and I am
not talking about a senior officer than a chap having a fight in some village
in Afghanistan. I am the commander of a theatre of operations.
It's like being in a Roman circus all those centuries ago and you are a producer
of some gladiatorial contest. The difference is that there is at least one
other producer with another bunch of gladiators in the pit there with you.
Mixed up in the dirt and the sand and the dust is all the people that were late
for their seats, the ice cream sellers, the ticket types, and the idiots who
can't find the car park.
All around you in the stands is a highly factional audience who pays attention
to what is going on in that pit by peering through the drinking straw of their
Coca‑Cola drink at where it's noisiest. Your business as that theatre
commander, as that producer, is to write, and tell, and act the most compelling
narrative in the minds and the view of the people in the stands.
Your problem is the media through which you communicate is a highly unreliable
communications system, and you have to understand it to achieve their purpose.
To that end, I operated in an understanding that I had this symbiotic
relationship, but it was not a symmetrical one. It was highly asymmetric.
I never set out to deceive, but that doesn't mean to say that I have to tell
everybody everything. I was quite prepared to practice illusions. A conjurer.
You know he's a conjurer. You pay good money to come and see the conjurer. You
know he's got a rabbit up his leg, but what you don't know is when and where,
and in what circumstances you're going to produce it.
I'm very pleased that when I successfully carry out an illusion that I never
lied about being a conjurer or that I've got a rabbit. I provide volumes of as
accurate data that I can. The side effect from hot copy flows with good
communications. Most journalists are idle, frightened people and they will go
to my tap and get all the valid information they want.
I will provide a spokesman with the language for the audience in question, who
I will brief daily, whose business is to explain, as much as to stand in front
of a camera ‑‑ explain to the journalists as much as to stand in front of a
camera and talk to the camera, or be quoted.
I will seek to produce the narrative, the script, so that when you're faced
with the inevitable disasters, because your enemy is setting out to defeat you,
there is a line of logic on which you can comment. You can explain. You can, to
some extent, prevent these disasters being seen in isolation and to be
understood as part of the drama that is being carried out in that adversarial
situation in the pit.
If you don't do that, the enemy doesn't appear in the story. And yet, their
people have killed your soldiers, or captured the hill, or sunk the ship.
So in summary, I'm not frightened of the media. I recognize they exist, which
is something which I've had to operate, but I don't trust the relationship
unless I work at it. Unless I manage it. I don't expect it to work to my advantage
all the time at all.
So, was that quick enough?
That will serve. I'm wondering if you're left... We've left any
sandwiches for Tim Livesey. We've heard from the military. We've heard from the
loyal... We've heard from the Lords Temporal, and now we'll hear from the
spokesman from the Lords Spiritual.
Tim Livesey Thank you, Michael. I have to start with a quote.
"His voice is gentle. One strains to hear him. He creates an attitude of
silence, of contemplation. You have to still your thoughts to be able to absorb
his words. There is no grueling personality. No highs and lows of country
rhetoric. No sound bites or in a sense words to quote, but rather a series of
profound views that express a serene tranquility."
That was the beginning of an interview given by the Archbishop of Canterbury
which actually some of you may have read about in the Sunday Times. I read
about it in the US Imperial Foreign Policy [?]. I bought 70 copies. If anybody
is interested in actually reading the interview.
As you can tell, it's another one to think about But I want to buck the trend,
actually. I want to... The trend of the panel, in some sense, and the trend of
the media, by beginning with the good news. I actually think we've got a
fantastic media. It's well cast. It's diverse. It's very creative. It's
extremely challenging. It's dynamic. It's developing. It's ahead of most
curves, not all, technologically. It's great fun. It's like [inaudible]. It's
incredibly intelligent, for the most part. The gentlemen who've I've met, and
I've met plenty, are usually fantastic fun to be with.
There is a lot of rubbish on television. There is an awful lot of really
outstanding quality, and, I think we really must recognize that. That doesn't
come out of nowhere, that comes out of a lot of hard work and creativity. It's
also the reason why, given that a lot of people in the media are asking
themselves, "How, nevertheless, did we get to the state that we're
I have to say I agree with their reaction. Though possibly, that this speaks
with brilliant, particularly to the challenges that you lay down to this
profession. I think we've got to recognize what we've got, in case we are
throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I think that if that's not mad it's certainly
The cause of these is that our media is fragmenting. It's highly competitive.
It's very commercially driven. It does tend to invent placeholders, as we all
know. It's increasingly personalized with more and more, as we know, journalist
as commentator, in the mainstream media. Indeed on the web, anybody can be a
journalist. The blogger is a journalist, that's commonplace.
The cult of the personality of celebrity, which is largely, if not exclusively,
media driven. They actually think that that's what people want, that they'll
take it if it's there. It sells, but, it is corrosive. It's also, if you
disagree with somebody, more fashionable today than once, simply to attack,
rather than argue it.
As Sir Ian Maxwell says, or rather, implies, television in particular, it's
important to remember that's what he's talking about, is losing it's soul and
it's sense of purpose. There is a feeling of prurience setting in. With some of
the scandals around voting, on these music programs, and so on. I think we've
got to take that very seriously as he suggests. I also agree with the Prime
Minister that public figures are being forced to focus, more and more, on the
presentation, rather than on the substance of what they are about, from
whatever walk of life they're in.
I disagree with them that the answer to that, is to have a damn good press
office. I actually think that the answer is to know who you are, and to get on
To quote Jonathan Sacks, I look like a younger type. [inaudible] In his other book,
"The home we built together", it's a very, very provoking book, and I
recommend it to you. As Jonathan Sacks says, "Is much of what this is
about, the pursuit of truth, or, the will to power?"
I think the trouble is the media has become terribly powerful. That means that
if you have the opportunity to enter the media yourself, you could become
personally powerful, influential, and I think you may have to question your
So, what's it like to research other religious groups, for example, working in
this kind of atmosphere? I mean, frankly, it's quite tough. It's quite
difficult to get air time, which is a relief. Often religious leaders, people
of that kind of persuasion, are dealing with really quite difficult issues.
Yeah, difficult issues, complex issues, issues that everybody asks themselves,
whether or not, whatever answers they come to, they ask themselves. Its not
like they're inhabiting another planet. They are actually asking issues that
most people are, deep down, terribly interested in. But in order to answer
them, you need time. You need a bit of respect. You need a bit of empathy.
You can't do it with sound bites. Again, it's what Jonathan Sacks rather
precisely calls our time "the end of argument" in your context. He
says the age of subtlety is dead. Again, I don't entirely agree with him but I
think he's right to be provocative.
And there are fantastic programs, if you take for example, John Humphrys, his
program is on Radio Four, which he invited three people, one of them was the
Archbishop of Canterbury, another was Jonathan Sacks and the third was Tariq
Ramadan. To engage in a discussion with him about the existence of God, and it
won awards. It gave rise, he said, to more correspondence than he had ever
received about anything. When you consider John Humphrys, it's saying
And what it underlines is that people are interested, he's interested, and he
explored it. And there are people there who are willing to explore it with you,
given the right context. And one of the problems, another problem that we face,
frequently, as I think you've shown, is that in this day and age, naturally,
and one simply has to take account of it and you're clearly going to fall foul
of it occasionally, is that you think you're addressing one audience. But
obviously, in this day and age with the globalizing and all, you're actually
addressing every audience potentially. In that case it's interesting, because,
and I think it's naive, on the part of the magazines. They wanted to bring
people's attention to the interview, and they didn't actually tell us that's
they were sending things out in advance. And so everyone was caught on the hop,
and the attention that was brought to bear on the interview was not what they
expected. But anyway, hopefully more people will read it, and likely at least
20 more will read it this evening.
But frankly, that is a complexity. I think regarding these things as problems
and such is complexities of which we have to find a way over them. Another
problem, I think, is if you're of a religious disposition, if you're
philosophically minded, it can be quite difficult to not only find the time and
space within the immediate context to express what you want to because of the
complexity therein. But actually, very often you're speaking into a context
where there's already a meta‑narrative, and the meta‑narrative is that you know
whatever 'X', they want to return us to the Stone Age, they're all liberal, and
so on and so forth. But thankfully, if that's the context, and if that's the
environment, you just have to get on with it.
There's always the easy accusations of hypocrisy, which has been mentioned
already, in respect to the politicians will from time to time. So, what do we
do about it? Well, I think that we have to adapt, is what we do. I don't think
that anybody can expect special treatment. I think that if they're in the
public, if we're talking about people in the public life. I'm not talking about
the vulnerable people, and a lot of what Sue was talking about, I have immense
respect, because she was talking about vulnerable people who are not in the
public life, people who have been thrust into the public limelight, which is
We shouldn't get special treatment. We're not victims. We shouldn't pretend that
we're victims. We have to cope with the media environment that we find, and as
indeed, we mentioned anew. Both within the media we need to find ways to
improve the things which we need to improve on or which we wish to see
developed. The church, for example, mustn't sell its soul. It has to engage,
but it mustn't sell its soul, and it doesn't exist to entertain.
So, what we do? What I do, is I look for other media, building broadcast
partnerships with other people in broadcast media who actually do want to
explore some of those issues. It can be very difficult, but they do exist. One
of the problems, actually, is the distributors, are much more difficult. I can
find an independent review system to work with, and it's much more difficult to
persuade the BBC, for example. It's not as difficult as it was, but as people
in the BBC will know, it's going very ‑‑ it's quite hard. It's very often, it's
booked 18 months in advance.
Once a distributor wants ‑‑ will always have deadlines and that again is
something we have to deal with. We like to communicate directly, we're not a
media‑exclusive, and I think that's reasonable through the website, broadcast,
video cast, and so on. Essentially, you have to find ways to attract the
audiences you wish to address, directly. And not always through media, not
always through somebody else's medium. So, we have to adapt. We have to be
So, if that's what we can do, what can the media do? I assume that a lot of you
are in the media and that's really a question we need to answer. Again I have
to say, I tend to agree more with Jeremy Paxton than with Tony Blair, because I
think that the Prime Minister didn't actually give any solutions to this other
than saying, "We need a better Press Office."
I think that the temptation is to come up with what I call technical solutions.
Where actually, i.e., better, faster, more [inaudible], more powerful, more
economical, etc. We're all familiar with that. Actually I think what we need to
do is we need to rethink our values. And that's not just something the media
needs to do. I need to do it. We all need to do it. But I agree with Jeremy,
that the television in particular needs a [inaudible]. It needs a statement,
but seriously here, BBC radio, commercial radio, newspapers, everybody, we are
all failing in this together. It's a common project, a project about social,
So that's what I think we should do. We need to get back to square one and
rethink what it is we're here for. I think that in doing that, I'd like to
suggest a few benchmarks. I'm not a big believer in competencies. I think there
is a tremendous incompetence in election institutions. I'm a much bigger
believer in values.
Here's a few. A checklist. I'll go rapidly through. The sort of questions that
we, as individuals, if I'm within the media, and organizations within the
media, ought to be asking ourselves.
First of all, what is our clear sense of purpose? What might we live for? We've
got to recognize that we're moral agents. Everything we do has moral value, it
is not morally neutral, that's all we tell ourselves. What is my, our,
contribution to the common good? What is our code of ethics? What does behaving
ethically look like, to everyone in the organization? Do I, going about my
business, whether I'm a journalist, producer, whatever, respect the integrity
of the other?
In the pages of media the "other" is very often the person about whom
I lie to, the person with whom I'm connecting in order to lie to, whatever.
"The other", do I respect his [foreground noise] ethically? Do I
value honesty above sensationalism? Because if I do, I always say to people,
"What makes a good journalist?". And they usually say, "Really
good notes for the story." I tend to think of some really good notes but
I'm not in the story. It will mean self denial. If you can't write it, produce
it with integrity, then don't.
The ultimate test, and I'm sorry, this is a bit cheesy, but I hope you'll know
what I mean. Don't make the paper humanized, or dehumanized. And that's me, and
the other. Or, we'd much rather be proud of it.
In conclusion, I do think that the media is having a serious impact on public
life. I don't think it is necessarily seriously adverse. I think it's seriously
challenging. I think if you want good underlying people not to walk away from
public life, or, bad people not to engage in it for reasons purely to do with
celebrity. Or not to walk away from you, the media, close down, walk away,
refuse to engage. I think it is essential to rediscover the value of integrity,
trust, and the value of honesty, and the real purpose of playing the media part
in this common object. In which we all have to play our part.
Finally, rediscover what it means to treat each other with civility. I'll leave
it at that.
Thank you. Questions? My practice is to take three at a time so the panel
can cherry pick them according to their inclination and talent. If you could
say who you are, roughly where you're from, and no speeches please. I'll start
with you, ma'am.
1: Thank you, I represent [inaudible]
Salida, Mexico. As a foreign international correspondent, I am very pleased to
report that the other day what was shown in My Mexico, between the wedding
anniversary, the Diana inquest and the long time [inaudible] and the Madeleine[?]
case, was a wedding anniversary, and I think Archibishop had no business to say
this, the Archbishop talked of a long and married [inaudible] at a private
White: Well done you.
1: ...long term [inaudible]
That's good. Question, please.
1: Now. The other thing is, the other
day also they chose above the Euro cart[?], the first thing is, OK. [inaudible]
Now. My question is, what is the alternative, to the General Sir Rupert Smith,
to the options you gave, opposing [inaudible] of the media, and the other
question, both temporal and both spiritual is ‑‑ what do you think that the
other foreign correspondents can do when they're employer consults a lawyer? It
is easy for me to change, as far as I am concerned, when Rupert Murdoch
[inaudible] he has employer authority. I would like to know... [inaudible].
OK. One left. I think he has admitted that before in many, many forums.
We'll take John Lloyd because he is paying for it and then we'll take you.
Lloyd: I am John Lloyd. Thank you. It
is a very rich choice really, for [inaudible] to take up. One thing that I
wanted to focus on, in the question that you introduced in an almost throw‑away
remark, is that you have got to know who you are. If you are a public figure,
you are somebody who is in the media all the time, it struck me that it is an
interesting point, and I wondered if you meant...
That is that ‑‑ at one time I used to be up in your boss before your time ‑‑ it
struck me that here was a man who had to know who he was. He is a common‑footed
man, was portrayed as an extraordinary intellectual, who was on the liberal
side of the Anglican Church, but as soon as he became Archbishop, he then had to
straddle a whole number of possible situations and therefore, knowing who you
are is, in a public figure, is like that of losing youth. You have to, as it
were, reduce... Do you not ‑‑ my question.
Do you not have to reduce yourself, rather than knowing who you are as a human
being and relying upon that to come across. You have to reduce an entity if the
character is a public figure because you have to speak through your office.
They will only know your office, not who you are.
That's a leadership question. Now. You, sir.
1: Thank you. Tony Curzon-Price here
from OpenDemocracy.net. I wanted to ask a question about relationship between
the media and politics. I think it is the kind of relationship which hasn't
previously been touched upon. I want to pick up Lord Jay on Katrina. It seems
to me that here you have an example which, in a sense in the old days, would
have been dealt with through Parliamentary representation. In other words, your
member of Parliament would have kicked up a fuss and got things done.
Should we not recognize, that the media that we have is dominated and
determined by the politics that we have. And when we have a politics in which
parties ‑‑ [inaudible]‑led parties, distinguished largely by brand ‑‑ mean very
little anymore. In which the huge remoteness of the electoral cycle, can't we
expect the media to then take up the role of representation? What we see in the
media is that it is essentially a representative institution. Isn't it
absolutely natural to then find the representative institution of Parliament
and the media essentially competing with each other?
OK. Well said. You have to reply to [inaudible].
I wasn't aware I had offered any options.
1: Do you also offer any options? I ask
you what's the alternative? Do you think you have a certain big view of the
media and major public [inaudible]... What's the alternative?
We could debate all night the other views. You have got mine, which is
what I came here to give you!
Timothy, leadership and the Archbishop. A man never more [inaudible].
Yeah, I mean ‑‑ [inaudible]. I'm not for a moment ‑‑ it wasn't a throw‑away
remark, though it may have sounded like that. I'm not for a moment,
underestimating how extraordinarily challenging it is to know who you are. And
that isn't just true ‑‑ and I completely agree with Michael's point. It's not
just true of media, it's true of all of us. But the problem with leadership is
then you have to really prove it, and you then have to, under the glare of the
public spotlight. I don't want to go into what happened to [inaudible]. it's a
dynamic, isn't it? You don't know who you are today, and that's it. I'm a
complete product. In the test of the leadership role, you are having to grow and
develop and make statements, and so on. But I think if you don't have a pretty
clear grip of who you are, you will be in trouble.
And the second point if I may Michael, [inaudible] I think in a sense it is
what I was trying to get at. What I happen to believe is, and I might be wrong,
is that the mistake many people make is they look themselves through the eyes
of the media. And I think you could argue, although I think it would be
extraordinarily robust, that some people [inaudible] Prime Minister [inaudible]
are trying to do that. The end of the day ‑‑ that's what I mean by know
yourself. Lots of people out there who will tell you what you are really like,
or how you are coming across. And that can be extremely confusing. They could
be right, but at the end of the day you have to decide and do your best.
I said I could talk to this because I've been, or I think I've been, in
this position as it were, the question. I think there's two things that you
have to understand, of course you represent the institution you lead, you
personify it. And to some extent, you personify all those who lead. They want
you to do it right for them. And so you've got an audience of your own
institution, quite apart from anything else.
Secondly, as I did as a commander, you sit astride that interface between
politics and military, you're an agent of the politician, as the actor on the
ground, you sit astride it. We see this every day in generals and so forth
being asked opinions. You've got to be very clear in your own mind just what
your bit is, on that interface. You're always astride it, but you're [raps
table] weight should be on the correct foot.
The third thing, and this ‑‑ whatever you do, don't become an actor. The moment
you try and act the part, that you think everyone wants to have, or you would
like everyone to have, you will make a serious error. You will be found out
within weeks, if not hours.
Sue, we haven't heard from you in ages. Care to break your silence? Or
are you staying out of the media?
No, I'm not. I think the compelling points have already been made. But my
concern is one of both political bias from the ownership of publications, which
distorts the truth of messages, and the ethical compromises which journalists
on a daily basis are made to do by their proprietors and their editors, which
goes against their own principles. It's very good, I think, for Tim and the
rest of us to, exalt the journalist who cling to core values. And I could
endorse every one of the ones that Tim recited. But the reality is that these
people have to pay mortgages, retain jobs in a [inaudible] marketplace, usually
not terribly well paid jobs, against increasingly impossible deadlines when
they're filing online as well as in the traditional way. At that is the point
at which I think it's really hard to cling onto those values, and what I'd love
us to try and find of a way of supporting the instinctive propriety of most of
the journalists with whom I work, to arm them, to withstand the blandishments
that they now have imposed upon them by those who own them.
Even in liberal newspapers, how strained, all that is true. Now that
question is directed ‑
Jay [?]: Katrina. I think ‑ let me say
two things about that. Firstly, I think, yes, the press is powerful and
ubiquitous at the moment, well, it has been, up until a few months ago, partly
because for 10 years there has been no Parliamentary opposition. And the press
has been playing the role of the Parliamentary opposition. I think that is
unhealthy in a democracy, actually, and I think it's much better if there is a
proper opposition. But I think there's a bigger issue than that, a more
profound issue than that. It comes back to the role of Parliament. And I think
there is maybe not quite a realization but an underlying fact here, is that
given some global pressures and globalization, the ability of Parliament
itself, or indeed even national governments actually to influence things that
really matter to people, is much less than it was in the past.
And I think one of the reasons why there isn't this sort of interest in, or
respect for Parliament of the kind that Tony Blair mentioned, is because people
see Parliament as being unable to do as much for them as in the past they have
done. And I think that also maybe leads to a kind of frustration, partly with
the political process which the press also tends to reflect. But I think that
my point is not really that the press shouldn't criticize. I think it should
criticize. I think it's hugely important that the press should constantly
criticize and challenge the public sector, government, departments, you know,
people who work for people, that's an absolutely fundamental part of the
My point is rather, is that isn't there a need for a degree of responsibility
in how people do follow stories, treat people, treat the vulnerable as Tim was
saying. Isn't there a need for respect, even when the story is a big one, for a
kind of objectivity, for a respect for facts, for a recognition that the other
person's answer needs to be reflected and their reply needs to be appear in the
newspaper. I think that's where I worry, a bit. So that was my point, it wasn't
so much there shouldn't be criticism, there should, but the criticism needs to
show a degree of responsibility.
Stapely: Michael, can I just have one
other point too? It hasn't really come up but it's another residual concern
that I have, and I think it's one of some of the people in the room tonight.
Increasingly, it seems to me, that both the print and the broadcast media is
being filmed by the "commentariat", as we now call them. And
increasingly what we are read is "what I think", not "what I
know", or "I have researched."
White: Comment is free, but facts are
expensive, as E.B. Scott meant to say.
Jay: Somehow the International Herald
Tribune, the Financial Times, Le Monde. There are papers that manage to ‑
White: Well, Le Monde is awash with
opinion, even to my primitive French. [laughter] As a business model, they're
all in trouble; they're in real trouble.
Jay: That's bad news for all of us.
It's awful. The FT joke is "pay more, get less." 1, 2, 3. Lady
with the cruel glasses you might know. [laughter] Right, fire away.
in Audience: [off‑mic, inaudible]
Good one, good one.
in Audience: [off‑mic, inaudible]
in Audience: [off‑mic, inaudible at
first]...in terms of the decisions of ten journalists that showed in a study of
twenty countries, in terms of media/government relations, the thing that stands
out, is that everywhere the media in terms of quality. But the overall message
appears to be that public figures are having a seriously adverse impact on
public life with the help of a docile or inadequate media. I think that you
can't say that in this country. We have the demerit, that Sue has pointed out,
the accepted invasion of privacy, which is another area in which we stand out,
I think, as an example. I have no questions.
That was it, was it? OK.
Hobsbawm: Well, it sort of...
Julia Hobsbawm from Editorial Intelligence. We kind of appropriated the
term "commentariat" from the [inaudible]. We believe, in a way, that
the commentators are in fact interesting for the newsmakers, because news is no
longer a standard tool [inaudible] values. The commentators are [inaudible] and
are democratic. They know that they are entitled to their opinions.
But I think I must echo some of the cautions ‑‑I do not mean all the points
that have been brought up. Obviously, I published [inaudible] pretty much
everything that you have said so far. But there is no doubt that there is a lot
going on in public life [inaudible].
near Mic: Absolutely!
And what is going on, to my mind, is something more of an indication of
major denial than [inaudible]. And you see it. As you walk around you see many
of those. [inaudible for a while].
So, at what point, do you think it is a worse evil for the media to be
swallowed into these terrible misdemeanors? I mean, these are the people in
public life. Surely the pact has to be completely neutral for this program to
OK. Who wants first bite at that one?
Jay: Well, I agree with everything that
you said. I think there should be a pact here. And I think it is absolutely,
absolutely fundamental to our democracy that there should be real, probing,
serious criticism of the process of government and governments and policies and
the people. I have no difficulty at all with that.
That's why I think I said that when governments and individuals and politicians
get into trouble because of poor behavior or hypocrisy or bad policies, they
deserve to be taken to the cleaners. You don't have to live long in a country
where that doesn't happen to know how hugely important it is that it should
happen. And I think you're right. It does happen here. I think that is good.
So, that leaves me, I am afraid, with William Horsley's question. I mean, are
there any unfairly destroyed reputations? At the very top, I doubt it. Lower
down, I am not so sure. I suspect there are people who have been hounded out of
of jobs that we don't know about, who have been a bit unfairly treated in the
press. But has any top politician been unfair... I don't know whether Rupert or
Tim or Sue can think of any?
William Hague's [inaudible] challenge, I think, probably did him a no
in Audience: [inaudible]
We can agree that Sally Clark was unfairly destroyed, can't we, one way
or another, by the very press which then turned her into a heroine?
Could I just please tell you what I feel about one side, because I didn't
really have the time to make a learning trip about it: the distinction between
Sally Clark's case and the McCanns'. I won't obviously go into great detail on
either. But the point I was struggling to make and obviously didn't manage to.
At the very beginning when Sally was very first charged and investigated, she
had no support of any kind. I didn't come on board until her first appeal had
failed. And until then they floundered. And while they were floundering, there
was no professional help. Having had no experience of, no appetite for it and
the nerve to even try to harness it. To brief and advise and try to get the story
They were pilloried, and I use the word advisedly, by the regional media, in a
way that was influential in the initial file and subsequently in the first
appeal. It was only when media professionals ‑‑I would like to regard myself‑‑
worked hard to try and get true facts, details and evidence into the hands of
professional and well‑regarded journalists, that we began to turn the tide that
ultimately persuaded the legal process to reopen the case. I think the McCanns
are very different, and I wouldn't presume to comment on anything other than
the way that the misinformation is currently through blogs and comment pages,
because I suspect that if either of my children were taken, I would try every
conceivable thing that is known to man and woman to try and bring them back and
if it's blogging and put comments in the media, then that would probably be the
route I would try.
But the misinformation is now recycled as if it had veracity and credibility
which it absolutely doesn't ‑ it comes from completely ill‑informed and
misinformed amateurs dabbling in a dangerous way.
in Audience: But I think you said, if I
understood you correctly, that after the deaths of [inaudible], you thought
that it was inappropriate that...
I thought it was completely inappropriate. What specifically happened was
that after the deaths, which was a terrible surprise and shock to everyone
involved ‑ and she died in her sleep at night, while my husband was away on
business ‑ we decided that we simply had to put a statement out to try to
reduce the volume of press calls and interest, because the family was trying to
come to terms with this and had practical arrangements to make and a small
child to protect.
We put out a statement which said very specifically all that there was to say
in that situation. There hadn't been an inquest, the cause of death hadn't been
identified ‑ there was very little we could say and at the end of that we made
very clear in a plea to the journalists: would they please leave them alone.
Once we had more information we would let them have it. We always have done.
There was a website for that purpose and we used it as a conduit. But instead
they staked out the house in a way which meant that the child had to be pushed
through a phalanx of journalists and photographers to get into his own home the
day that his mother died. I think that it is disgraceful behavior ‑
You want to be a bit [inaudible] about that for us?
You want me to respond?
Well, it's been a pretty respectable evening so far, go for it.
Well, we also let you have a competitive...a really big story, I know. A
huge development, such as the death in this case, I think it would happen that
there will be stake out. I don't know in what world real journalists will not
But if they have been told they are going to get nothing. There is a
court injunction in force protecting the child's whereabouts. To breach it by
photographing the house and identifying the village and to cause untold
distress to a family which is grieving and in shock, seems to me inhuman.
Tim, Dr Sacks wants to come back on that.
Two quick points ‑ one on the law. I don't accept the implications of
your question. There are newspapers that take a view that they won't do certain
things. The Independent, for one, The Guardian, for another. They say,
"I'm not going for that story". I'm afraid, I just don't accept that.
Everybody's got a choice. You don't have to do what everybody else is doing.
in Audience: [inaudible]
No, no, oddly enough they have tortured and often ineffectual debates
about what they should do. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they get it
wrong. But they think about it.
The point is there is a choice to be made. The second point, I just
wanted to say ‑ oh, I've forgotten what it was now!
I just wanted to say in response to your point, I tried but have failed
to make it pretty clear that as far as I'm concerned the benchmarks, for
example, that I'm talking about are not just benchmarks for the media ‑ they
are, but they are also benchmarks for people in public life. What does truth
look like and what does truthfulness look like? It's not easy, but everybody's
got to ask themselves the same questions. But if you are asking it to people in
public life, you can't say that it will meet the same standard.
1: Now, John, what time do they switch
the lights off here.
3: Well, we have time for another round
of questions, and [inaudible].
in Audience: [inaudible]
1: Well, the prime mover has a 20 minute
Cuban Colonel speech to make, so we'll ask you to cut down your closing
remarks. Sorry to would‑be questioners.
Lloyd: Sorry about that. I've got to
say, this has been a tremendously rich panel ‑ thanks to them all. One of the
things that Mr. Smith said ‑‑ tremendous interventions by all ‑‑ one of the
things you said was simplification of complexity, where no simplification paves
understanding. Both Media Standards Trust and the Royal Institute are in the
business of examining and picking what journalists can do towards
simplification of complexity. And the panel tonight has done this really well.
You weren't paid for this, but you don't know that as yet. [laughter]. So,
please thank them.
Media Standards Trust & Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism
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