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"Feral" media - my thoughts

Nick Robinson | 17:28 UK time, Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Thanks for all your comments.

I don't agree with those like Ed Smith who say that Tony Blair's view of the media is invalid simply because he invested so much energy initially wooing us. I'm glad he's kickstarted an important debate at an important time. I sense that Michael and Jon may speak for many in complaining about BBC journalists interviewing other BBC journalists. It is simply a way of trying to bring a more conversational tone to our journalism but I agree that it's overused.

Now my verdict on the speech.

I think it's hard to argue with the prime minister's description of a more and more fragmented and competitive media which places an ever higher value on "impact" and is wary of "missing out" on a breaking story. In this respect we are, as he says, "not the masters of this change but its victims".

I can and do argue, though, with his assertion that BBC journalists have traded accuracy for impact and policy insights for allegations of misconduct. As I said in my own lecture on this subject we must try harder to focus on policies not just personalities, to resist a constant diet of sleaze allegations and to give context.

Whilst Tony Blair did acknowledge the role of "spin" in increasing cynicism about politics, he would have wrongfooted those journalists who want to avoid self examination if he'd also reflected on the impact of his promise to be "purer than pure" - and of those missing weapons of mass destruction. These surely go some way to explain why the welcome changes he initiated - for example, monthly news conferences and cross examination by select committee chairmen - didn't do more to improve the atmosphere.

I think he may reflect in future on his assertion that governments are overwhelmed by the constant need to respond to the media. We may be about to see this put to the test. We've grown used to a prime minister who reacts to major news stories with a comment or a summit or a visit. Gordon Brown has long adopted a policy of silence interrupted by carefully planned high profile announcements. It is, I believe, an approach he hopes to maintain. It will be fascinating to see if he can do it.

Comments

Nick,

Why does nearly everyone conclude that because no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq they almost certainly didn't exist? Richard Perle, speaking at the Hay Festival, said that the only way WMD might have been found there would have been by Hans Blix or the Americans being shown precisely where they were. As he repeated, a cache of anthrax is easily 'lost' in a country like Iraq which is about as big as France.

He has a point. The IRA managed to 'lose' their weapons in Northern Ireland in spite of the fact that the police and armed forces who were looking for them had local knowledge, had been searching for many years, and had an area one-thirtieth the size of Iraq to cover.

The store of IRA weapons was never found. How was General de Chastelain able to satisfy all parties to the Good Friday Agreement that the arms had been decommissioned?

Answer: He was shown where they were.

  • 2.
  • At 06:20 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • William Lack wrote:

Frankly Bliar is reaping the whirlwind he created when in opposition. Blair legacy will be Iraq and lies that were told about it and the distrust of politican's for a generation or more

  • 3.
  • At 06:32 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Nick Hoskinson wrote:

My view is that Blair is the feral beast and has been for several years. He lead us into Iraq on a lie. Has lied about money for Lordships. His final attempt at total dishonesty is him at the death of his Premiership, trying to get this EU constitution or is it institution tied round our necks. The sooner we untangle ourselves from the EU the better He should be arrested and thrown into the Tower of London, tried for treason and either executed or imprisoned and the keys thrown away

Agreed Nick. It is an important debate, and like yourself I will be keenly watching how Gordon's policy of silence pans out. Will it work? Will he succumb to the pressure to speak up? Who knows, it will be interesting to see.

  • 5.
  • At 06:53 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Vivian Evans wrote:

Its the culture of spin and counter-spin, of briefings against colleagues not in favour, of backroom access and non-attributable 'sources', which created this 'feral beast'.
I'm sure I don't need to name names - anybody who has lived through the last ten years knows exactly who started this, and who fed this 'beast'.
It is always amazing to see that the media are more than welcome when they report in the precise way the politicians want - but are decried as soon as they report on things which politicians want to keep firmly covered.
A democracy cannot survive without a free press - I find all these attempts at stifling the media (e.g. restrictions on the use of FOI) very disturbing.

  • 6.
  • At 06:59 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Jason Nickels wrote:

Nick I agree with your analysis around the issue of examining the issues in light of policies, their impact, and so forth.

My central thessis still stands: The Blair Government (including Blair and Brown) lied to us. Full stop.

For the first time in our history we have been bombed on our homeland (post-IRA). Those two events- the Iraq war, the lies we were 'spun' are linked inextricably.

I have nothing to say about his personality. I have a lot of anger about his lies- his lack of ethics, integrity and honesty. He has blood on his hands- that is his legacy as far as I am concerned.

  • 7.
  • At 07:01 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Baza wrote:

I agree with Blair on this. The media in the UK is completely out of control, and so up itself it can't tell the difference between a genuine story and the crap that PR merchants feed to it. The BBC is as bad if not worse than the written press.

As I pay my TV licence, I expect the BBC to provide quality unbiassed news coverage to enable those of us who care about such things to make our own minds up. Some parts of the BBC ( and I DO include you in this Nick) still adhere to this admirable principle. However the majority of BBC News output (and Eddie Mair on the PM program on R4 is just about the worst) feed us an incessant stream of trashy celebrity-obsessed stories and easy journalism rehashing press releases by interest groups coloured by their own views. Stick to your guns, Nick, and keep the quality up.

I don't agree with you about everything but at least you diffentiate between facts and speculation. Most of your colleagues seem incapable of so doing. If you doubt me watch C4's 7pm bulletin and compare with that pompous idiot Huw Edwards on the BBC1 10pm bulletin. Sorry auntie but you've totally lost the plot. I thought the bBC Trust might improve things but I'm afraid we still have Greg Dyke's legacy - he has a great deal to answer for IMHO.

  • 8.
  • At 07:02 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Stuart Beamish wrote:

Will the media accept a controlled diet ? Or will they turn on the hand that feeds them ?
This government has propagated and developed the media as way of disseminating the information it wanted in the public domain, and reacted viciously when journalists used their own sources. The press lap-dogs that have been cowed into submission by the Downing Street machine, could yet turn feral.
Maybe reporters will turn back into journalists.

He's a very, very clever man. he's done it again. This is exactly what 'spin', or 'propaganda', to give spin its real name, is.

He's about to leave office. There are no riots in the streets protesting at his departure and he and his judge wife will be analysed and criticised in the media for weeks. This is Tony Bliar muddying the press before they lay into him.

The British media are, unfortunately, the only establishment we have in the UK to actually question and criticise the Bliar circus.

Very clever.

  • 10.
  • At 07:09 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Peter Copestake wrote:

Blair is reaping his own sowing by adopting a presidential, almost regal, attitude of 'trust me, I know what I'm doing' and doing it in spite of opposition from his own supporters.

  • 11.
  • At 07:14 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Marcus wrote:

Bliar critising the media is akin to Hitler complaining about the destruction of Germany in 1945.

  • 12.
  • At 07:17 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Deborah Smithies wrote:

Whoever griped about Beeb journalists interviewing each oher: I couldn't agree more, it comes across as so self-important. If you're giving me analysis of a news story, I want it from someone with authority or expertise in the field, not from some hack who's just there to fill air time. The reams and reams on groundless speculation about the ins and outs of the Wills and Kate break-up springs to mind. Mind you, I get annoyed at the constant 'have your say' texts scrolling along the screen too!

  • 13.
  • At 07:19 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Tim Barber wrote:

Nick, you talk about the need to focus on 'policies not just personalities' - but you're absolutely the worst offender on this front. Your reports on News At 10 have consistently focused on clashes between Blair and Brown, ramping up the rivalry story to the detrement of actual policy-focused insight. You've gorged on any opportunity to make either of them seem weakened in relation to the other, and increasingly use smug gimmickry to illustrate your empty, personality-based speculations. Really, your piousness ^^here is too too much!

  • 14.
  • At 07:20 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Tony wrote:

If its a feral beast then he has had a huge hand in making it like that. The Tories in the 80's and early 90's lost the concept of accountability as Labour has done sice 1997. If the government is blatant about the way it avoids any form of responsibility then the press is one of the few institutions left able to do that. (The judicairy is pretty good at dismembered the worst excesses of the new laws..) Blair said that he did what was he thought was right - well, a number of other people thing he did not. If he can't admit any wrong doing on a number of topics is it any wonder the press are baying for his blood? (just to complete the analogy..)

  • 15.
  • At 07:26 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Helge Ogrim wrote:


Feral media

Outgoing PM Tony Blair today delivered an interesting critique on how media covers politics.

Mr. Blair characterized the media as a "feral beast". A superficious online search suggests that the primary meaning of "feral" is an animal (or person/people) that was domesticated, but has returned to the wild.

If Mr. Blair were to suggest he longs for a past where newspapers were tame, he could easily be portrayed as a whining politician whith no stomach for aggressive media scrutiny. Actually, precious little in his speech suggests this.

I read it as a well argued critique of the news media's appetite for sacrificing nuance in favour of simplification. His misgivings about how we confuse the venues of reporting and comment is, albait not new, also worth while.

But I fear this point will also be the only that creates serious discussion. There is more meat in his suggestion that although new (internet) media so far has disappointed in its ability (or willingness) to produce an opportunity "to by-pass the increasingly shrill tenor of the traditional media" (Blair), he believes there is a market for serious, balanced news.

There is much to indicate he is right. A transparent platform for both fact and comment will likely evolve through the interaction between trained writers, investigative reporters, experts, readers, bloggers and the subjects the media and it's audience want covered.

  • 16.
  • At 07:29 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • A.E.Tayor wrote:

Hi Mick,
Like millions of other people out here I hunger for FACTS not the media's journalastic opinions. We are sick of tabloids tactics. So how about it Mick - why not lead the way. Yours A&B.

  • 17.
  • At 07:30 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Stephen wrote:

I agree that some of the media problems are of Blair's own making. but I think he makes a valid point about the frenzy that breaks out over every newsworthy event. I have a close friend who has been the subject of intense coverage recently. Because I knew the precise fact of the case, I could objectively evaluate the stories that came out. Frankly, I found that accuracy in these stories was certainly suspect, many so-called facts were re-hashed to death, and virtually all of the media organs adopted a point of view that was biased in the extreme. Coupled with the "news" stories were the columnists who lined up to give equally biased and inaccurate views with a clear indication that they were based on the columnists actual knowledge. The media exists to make money. They will say or print anything to get it, and the consequensces at the moment are nowhere near enough to deter them.

  • 18.
  • At 07:31 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Paul wrote:

Is there any significance in Blair singling the Independent out for criticism when it was that publication which took a key role in exposing the Cash For Honours scandal? This was an important story resulting from quality investigative journalism which saw senior officials truly being held to account. (This is what I can remember - I'm perfectly happy to be corrected if I've got my facts wrong)

Sometimes I too find the Indy's sloganeering a bit wearing, but fingering it as a so-called 'viewspaper' ahead of the Murdoch press seems ludicrous.

I should add that - despite the glaring hypocrisy - I agreed with much of what Blair said.

  • 19.
  • At 07:32 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Stuart wrote:

"...he would have wrongfooted those journalists who want to avoid self examination if he'd also reflected on the impact of his promise to be "purer than pure" - and of those missing weapons of mass destruction."

No he wouldn't, Nick, because journalists would have covered only those comments and ignored totally the rest of the speech.

I am not saying it's the case here, but often journalists zero in on a few words of a speech, even if they are utterly unrepresentative of the speech as a whole, and only talk about that.

That's why he couldn't have mentioned his own mistakes in this speech - because his point here would have been ignored.

  • 20.
  • At 07:33 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • David Kockelbergh wrote:

I agree whole heartedly with the Prime Minister. The way in which media now operates to publish news as it happens leads to overly sensational reporting, of the issues that the public want to know about. Such as (for example) the girl being kicked out of Big Brother for being a racist. A lot of the time I feel as if I'm reading, rather than unbiased reporting of fact, a few facts and the author's opinions on what should be between them.

That being said, I am as guilty as anyone of perpetuating this medium shift as I invariably read all my news online, and even then only the articles that grab my attention.

  • 21.
  • At 07:40 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Richard John wrote:

Blair has no credibility on this - the damage done to the lacklustre Major administration through constant attack was orchestrated by Labour in cahoots with their media friends (including the BBC).

The bigger question is what we have lost in News. The Birt reforms in the BBC turned the news from "fact" based to "opinion" based with a search for a narrative. This allowed journalists at the BBC free range to express their opinion rather than allow an audience to judge for themselves.

I pick on the BBC here because no other outlet takes a particular high morale ground - and no other major outlet (except partly C4) takes my money through tax.

Blairs problem was to pursue policies out of line with left-liberal thinking in some areas (Iraq, anti-terrorism being the best examples) and for this he has been pursued by the liberal media. When the BBC attacks Blair (and indeed Brown) from the right of center, I will (a) fall off my chair (b) pay attention to BBC opinion on this subject.

Blair has some cheek. He has achieved the seemingly unachievable - making the previous Conservative government look like paragons of virtue in comparison to him. At least the lies of Archer or Aitken did not result in half a million deaths in Iraq.

  • 23.
  • At 07:41 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Peter wrote:

It's interesting that no-one in the media challenges politicians over their continual refrain (no matter which party) of policies not personalities. Sounds reasonable doesn't it?

But wait a minute! Actually personalities are important, aren't they? Aren't policies made by personalities? No-one got to vote on the Iraq war as a policy, we had to trust Tony's personality, which, funnily enough, is what he always asks us to do. And if you think of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mugabe and Stalin, is it their policies that spring to mind, or their personalities?

I wonder why politicians are so keen to avoid examination of their personalities. Hell, maybe it's because they really believe that policies are the important thing.

  • 24.
  • At 07:44 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • J Buchanan wrote:

I agree with Don Foster's comment & I am not connected with the Lib Dems.
Blair should remember the old adage...live by the sword:die by the sword.
If he had spent less time dissembling over the past few years, he may well have kept the Press onside.

  • 25.
  • At 07:45 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Chris wrote:

Nick

In essence Tony Blair is absolutely right - as I think you come close to admitting.

For me, Michael's comment sheds a good deal of light: "It's time [news journalism] became a public service again rather than an entertainment show."

See what you can do!!

  • 26.
  • At 07:49 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Michael Harrington wrote:

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Blair's whole premiership has been about his obsession with getting maximum 'impact' in the media. His incompetent administration seemed concerned mainly with manufacturing endless flimsy initiatives to 'impact' the front pages and the TV news bulletins. All those ridiculous gimmicks such as taking yobs to cash points to pay a fine. Gimmick after gimmick. New day, new initiative, new sound bite/photo-opportunity. If it's all a pack of lies, who cares, even if millions of innocent civilans are killed?

He always wanted to be a pop star, a celebrity. Well, he made it as the first celebrity Prime Minister. With his constant lying and overweening ego, he has reduced the standing of politicians to the level of the gutter. Let him go hang out with Sir David Beckham; it's about his level and they can do a joint photoshoot for Hello magazine. For the damage he has done to this country and it's international reputation, he should be impeached.

If there's one good thing that his Premiership has achieved, it has been to expose the corruption of our judicial system (the Hutton whitewash, the comments by Cherie Blair on various judges etc)and the pathetically supine media who will write/ broadcast whatever their masters tell them to write. The BBC has been cowered under Blair, while the Murdoch papers have acted like a propaganda machine for New Labour.

As for New Labour MP's and their luvvy chums appointed by Blair to the Lords, they should hang their heads in shame. They will be tainted forever by their association with Phoney Blair and his corrupt government.

  • 27.
  • At 07:57 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Alex Chang wrote:

I have to agree wholeheartedly with Tony Blair. Yes, freedom of press is a crucial part of civilized society that will keep accountability and people in power in check, but the other side of media that goes largely unchecked and operates without self-control is silently sickening the country's mental state. This is the ugliness of competition for impact and thirst for the sensationalized. The prediction of doom, the dire spin on anything and everything having to do with terrorism. The media are the eyes and ears of the people and it takes a concerted effort these days to just get the facts about something without being told how to think about one way or the other through the reporter's word choice, withholding or selective statistics, or personal commentary laced in with the presentation of facts.

  • 28.
  • At 08:37 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Robert wrote:

Blair has admitted that New Labour placed too much reliance on spin, especially in the early days, but he's right to say that they faced an enormous task to combat the press which basically was and is threequarters tory-supporting. OK he jumped into bed with Murdoch, but frankly he had very little choice. At least they managed to neutralise that section of the right wing press, unlike the Mail newspapers which just run a continual anti-Labour propaganda machine. He didn't lie about Iraq. He's guilty of exaggeration perhaps, but even David Kelly said Saddam would keep trying to acquire nuclear weapons if he wasn't stopped by force.


John Snow, around a year ago on a rare debate appearance, said that he felt that the news people had got the balance wrong and that in a bid to "confront" the politician the answers required by the viewer were lost. Or something like that.

A year on and I would say his style has not changed.

You are right in most of what you say, but I think you forget a couple of very important points.

I think journalists have traded accuracy somewhat, but not for impact, but intrigue. Over the years I have had many journalists wander through my studio, and I was often bemused by how their infatuation with intrigue, with the Westminster Village, would completely subjugate the heart of the story.

It is that old “affair” argument. Can a minister who has had an affair really do his or her job properly?

In reality? Of course he or she can. And do. John Major seems to be a prime example here. However, can they do their job properly when the masses of the media will not let them alone over the affair?

No, they can’t.

But the public, to whom the politician is the servant, expects the job to be done. Indeed, we pay for the job to be done. But the intrusion of the press, the feral battle for those precious column inches, prevents that from happening.

The intrigue goes further. How often in your own reports have you referred to “sources close to …?”

If you were submitting an article to the Wikipedia, it would very soon be marked as not meeting standards as it was full of unsubstantiated claims. And quite rightly too! And yet politicians and journalists alike use this form of news dissemination more and more frequently and expect us, the paying public, to just except it. This is sort of taking us for granted and in the context of “news” rather than “views” should not be acceptable. Politicians and Journalists shouldn’t expect the public trusts, they should earn it – with accuracy, substantiated fact and clear, unbiased opinion.

The other area you forget is the one of personality and celebrity.

When Mr Robinson interviews Mr. Prescott, to some it would be difficult to argue which is the most famous. Or which was just Rory Bremnner.

The way that celebrity effects politicians is often commented on. Less commented is how it affects the TV presenters and news people. Because that effect matters too!

  • 30.
  • At 08:50 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Alan Rigg wrote:

Blair finds himself the tail of the dog and he is miffed.

Sometimes it is better to say nothing than say someting!

  • 32.
  • At 08:59 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Howard wrote:

The problem is that politicians consider the media more important than parliament. If Gordon Brown wishes to do a real service to the integrity of Government he will instruct that all his Cabinet first announce a new initiative in Parliament and then embark on the round of media interviews. If we never hear the phrase "Later today I will be announcing that......" or "Inside sources close to the minister tell me that ....." or “I can exclusively reveal that ….” again he will have done us all a great service. This will ensure that the media stick to reporting and/or interpreting the news rather than trying to score points over their competitors in the race to be first with a story.

  • 33.
  • At 09:01 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Sammy wrote:

In reply to Nick H's comment re. Blair - "he lead (sic.) us into Iraq on a lie" - it's interesting that you parrot out a phrase that is itself spin. For your information, the claim regarding the existence of WMD was not a lie as it didn't involve the intention to deceive. On the contrary it merely involved the flagging up of the faulty received wisdom of a great swathe of the world - including those who opposed the war.

Pointing this out doesn't make me a fan of Blairs, or the war, but - as rare as this may be nowadays - truth over spin. It'll never catch on though ...

  • 34.
  • At 09:02 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Hyder Ali Pirwany wrote:

Please would someone remind Mr. Blair that it his spin and lies that have damaged the government and not the press's reporting of it. He proved to be a stooge of President Bush and brought the West into disrepute. That damage will take years to recover.

  • 35.
  • At 09:10 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Chris Owtram wrote:

Never mind Blair misleading us about Iraq, what about the rest of the cabinet including G Brown.

Why has not one single Minister refused to take responsibility and resign over this disastrous state of affairs?

If the cabinet were the board of a company, a resignation would surely be in order (apart, perhaps, from an arms manufacturer).

  • 36.
  • At 09:14 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Howard wrote:

The problem is that politicians consider the media more important than parliament. If Gordon Brown wishes to do a real service to the integrity of Government he will instruct that all his Cabinet first announce a new initiative in Parliament and then embark on the round of media interviews. If we never hear the phrase "Later today I will be announcing that......" or "Inside sources close to the minister tell me that ....." or “I can exclusively reveal that ….” again he will have done us all a great service. This will ensure that the media stick to reporting and/or interpreting the news rather than trying to score points over their competitors in the race to be first with a story. The public will then tend towards the medium that gives the clearest and most informative report, rather than the first, and in order to survive, the suppliers of a media service will have to focus on the quality of their reporting rather than the speed.

  • 37.
  • At 09:21 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Brendan Reid wrote:

To Nick Hoskinson: You're far too moderate Nick. Let's hang, draw & quarter him ....... no, let's stone him first ... no, no wait ...... put him in the stocks before that!
Quotation from a famous cartoon series "DOH!!!"

  • 38.
  • At 09:39 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Bernard from Horsham wrote:

As ye sow, so shall ye reap.Absolutely laughable from Blair , given how his Govt have manipulated the media. If the media is biting back, its because they know theyve been sold a pup.

  • 39.
  • At 09:41 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • j wrote:

@David Williams.

In 2002, before the war started, the former chief weapons inspector said 'Even if Iraq managed to hide these weapons, what they are now hiding is harmless goo'.

source : www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,794759,00.html

  • 40.
  • At 09:48 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Damian wrote:

Eeeeerrrmmm never mind WMD etc. Is the media ferral ? YES it is and so it should be... who else is going to search out the truth? are we expected to feed on merely what is fed to the media in "sound bites" and "press releases"? this is how the media seems to function at present.

  • 41.
  • At 09:50 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Robert Lacey wrote:

"governments are overwhelmed by the constant need to respond to the media"

Is this the same government that pretty much never feels able to field an interviewee for the Today programme?

  • 42.
  • At 10:06 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • John Harvey wrote:

I agree with Tony Blair’s comments. I think that people who may disagree with his policies should not use this opportunity for further personal attacks but simply listen to what he has said.

Whether or not he was party to the modern media system is irrelevant. Is Tony Blair’s view of the media correct is the real issue. I would say that it is. I have personally been very concerned about the media output, in print, radio and TV for some time.

Whilst listening to Five Live this evening I found myself agreeing with every thing Gerald kaufman said and I can assure you that this was a first. I also noted Peter Allen’s shock at being criticised. It seems it’s ok for the media to criticise others but when the boot is on the other foot well that’s different.

Before the Five live programme I had listened to radio 4 between 18:00 – 18:30 and there were so many examples of poor journalism, usually caused by the new trend of having journalists providing the report directly. Each journalist is trying to make their storey the biggest and best so pushing the boundaries and using adjectives like confetti.

On the same radio programme Mikir Bose presented a report on the Bob Woolmer situation, criticising the Jamaican police for giving too many media interviews, when only a few weeks ago the media were criticising the Portuguese police for giving too few interviews in the Madeleine McCann disappearance.

On my arrival at home I watched the Channel 4 news and the report on Bob Woolmer’s death was another example of the journalist reporting directly, resulting in a very poor news report.

What Peter Allen and the management of the BBC have failed to understand is that although I don’t like it, I expect other media outlets to be bias, such as the Daily Telegraph being pro Tory. I can then take this into account when reading any Daily Telegraph stories.

I expect the BCC to be free from bias, unfortunately this does not appear to be the case at the moment and I don’t think it is anti Tory or anti Labour but is simply anti Government, not to take part in sensational journalism but to stand back and report dispassionately, not to simply criticise or question every decision taken by anyone in public office for the sake of filling space as this will eventually paralyse Government and please stop having BBC journalists interviewing other BBC journalists.

The BBC must return to objective factual journalism that asks real questions on real issues. Not simply criticising everything and everybody. Unfortunately I do not see this happening as there is no real control over the media including the BBC. The current media machine has huge power to influence events but absolutely no responsibility. The best recent example of this was the MMR vaccine when the media coverage wrecked the vaccination programme based on poor evidence but great headlines, resulting in many more children harmed than benefited.

The press very rarely critics themselves and proprietors of newspapers are the only business leaders who are never criticised whilst in office. The current press complaints system is simply not working, an independent watchdog with teeth is needed, who whilst respecting and maintaining free speech, can independently check stories for facts, bias, speculation presented as fact, speculation treated as fact and then taken on to spiral into a storey that when proven not to be true simply disappears without further comment or correction, personal intrusion without justification and there are probably many more areas that could be included. There should be fines for offenders. Free speech cannot be a cover for lies, half truths and misinformation. If I buy a product that is faulty, dangerous or fraudulently marketed, trading standards will get involved, why does this not apply to the media. It should not only be the rich who can challenge the media on issues of liable and a real watchdog would enable this to happen. The regulator could rate media outlets on each standard so the public can see who is in fact telling the truth because the main issue with the current media is that no-one actually knows.

  • 43.
  • At 10:07 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Simon wrote:

I think this was a helpful and thoughtful contribution and I'm glad that he said it. Ironically, the very media that he was critiquing are likely to roast him for his comments, which sort of argues his case for him really.

The rush to instant judgement where the only outcomes are outrage or sycophancy, is creating a culture in which insulting and condemning people rather than offering balanced judgments. This really can't be helpful to anyone.

Tony Blair will take a beating over this from sanctimonious media people - sadly even the Independent have jumped on his legitimate criticism. But notwithstanding Blair's own transgressions, I hope that his comments encourage a bit more thought about how the media and news reporting works in this country.

  • 44.
  • At 10:09 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • V, HARDMAN wrote:

MR Blair is all talk and very little do, nothing he started out to do with trumpet fanfares has been acheived and he has left Britain in a bigger mess than usual with Labour governments in power.
His main problem is that he doesnt know how the wheels go round and accordingly they have fallen off in his tenure !

  • 45.
  • At 10:10 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Howard wrote:

The problem is that politicians consider the media more important than parliament. If Gordon Brown wishes to do a real service to the integrity of Government he will instruct that all his Cabinet first announce a new initiative in Parliament and then embark on the round of media interviews. If we never hear the phrase "Later today I will be announcing that......" or "Inside sources close to the minister tell me that ....." or “I can exclusively reveal that ….” again he will have done us all a great service. This will ensure that the media stick to reporting and/or interpreting the news rather than trying to score points over their competitors in the race to be first with a story. The public will then tend towards the medium that gives the clearest and most informative report, rather than the first, and in order to survive, the suppliers of a media service will have to focus on the quality of their reporting rather than the speed.

  • 46.
  • At 10:18 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Jack wrote:

The man's (Blair's) audacity is mind blowing. Here is someone who has bowed and scraped to any media figure, such as Murdock, who he thinks may look on him kindly if he grovels enough, yet when he gets a fraction of the criticism he deserves, he squeals.

Every time I accidentally hear him talk, I am convinced that he is living on a different planet to the rest of us, which is only inhabited by other delusional characters such as Bush and the rest of the bunch of myopic immatures.

The truth is that for his crime of using lies and deception to take our country into an illegal invasion on another nation, which has lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, the press and other media, who in many cases were complicit, have barely touched him. They should be crying out for him, Jack Straw and Geoff Hoon to be brought to justice.



  • 47.
  • At 10:43 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Ant Hopkins wrote:

Good to see Nick Hoskinson keeps up to date on Tudor political methodology. Back in the post-Napoleonic world, co-operation with Europe doesn't make you a traitor.

  • 48.
  • At 10:51 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • towcestarian wrote:

or as Gordon Brown would himself say:
"..."

  • 49.
  • At 10:54 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Paul wrote:

Blair is only complaining about the media because it no longer supports him unconditionally. For his first few years of office the BBC rarely said a word against him.

You have to put his diatribe into context. Without the media, it is doubtful whether we would have known about the Bernie Ecclestone affair, or the cash for honours scandal. We might even have still thought that Blair was whiter than white. With the Opposition so limp and Labour backbenchers pretty well trained, the media has been the de facto Opposition. For that they should be thanked.

  • 50.
  • At 10:56 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • gary prosser wrote:

Basically Tony Blair resents what he considers is the media's pursuit of 'wrong-doing' while he fails to accept the major responsibility for provoking the suspicion. In fact he blames the media's hostility to labour for having to use tactics of spin (though he did not use that word !).

The media is probably not the appropriate body to hold government to account given that it (until the FOI Act) has had little access to objective and authoratative information.

Its time to consider whether Britain needs a constitution of values (perhaps backed up by a scrutinising body) that has the means to get beyond mere procedureal matters and can hold politicians/parties to account beyond their manifestos but focus on their actions.

  • 51.
  • At 10:57 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • GDR wrote:

I think the media's claim that Bob Woolmer was murdered by the Mafia and then turning out to have died from natural causes, proves Prime Minister Tony Blair is right about the media.

  • 52.
  • At 10:58 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Chris Bore wrote:

Nick, I am afraid I think you are fooling yourself if you think BBC reporting is accurate. Sorry, but it is often inaccurate when I check.

  • 53.
  • At 11:00 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Paul King wrote:

I think the media should only be allowed to print what they can prove to be true. The penalty for getting it wrong should be half of their business. This way a persons reputation which makes up half or more of their life can be protected from lies in the media. The quality of the news coverage would improve considerably and I think most politicians and the public would benefit from a change like this. It is too easy for the media to ruin someones life in the internet world we have now.

  • 54.
  • At 11:03 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Chris wrote:

The responsibility of the media is a very important issue to me - I see how easily the tabloids can get away with some very noisy personal propaganda, appealing to the masses. The fact is that whipping the masses into a frenzy by producing large headlines and emotional content is what is known in as creating 'mass hysteria' - the gullibility of a large amount of people whipped into a common frenzy over one issue.

The media have a huge responsibility nowadays in being responsible, and not manipulating the minds of the common public into what they consider the issue of the day. I have already noticed how much emphasis the supposedly impartial BBC news reports have put constantly on deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not on any successes.

I for one would like the media to be regulated for once, because I know that they are abusing their position of power. OK, so Tony Blair's cabinet knew how to manipulate the media - is this a case of sour grapes?

Let me ask you one thing - If on newsnight we have one comment saying that politicians always lie, should we believe that our media always tell the truth?

  • 55.
  • At 11:15 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Ed Manning wrote:

Labour were convinced in 1992 that the media had a substantial impact on their defeat. Labour therefore felt the only way to win the election was to win the media, a key target of that was the Murdoch media and particularly The Sun.

During this time the BBC has been going through a time of insecurity, it is currently very well funded for a public service broadcaster, and Murdoch does not like that because it is a competitor. Therefore the BBC has been under enormous pressure to win the ratings battles and justify its licence fee.

The advent of the internet is also threatening the printed media, not just in the formal media such as BBC Online but also news blogs. It is a time of change.

The BBC used to be justified because it upheld that quality, and therefore influenced the quality of the whole media. The government could have given the BBC long term stability and chartered it to do quality, but that would fit uneasily with Cool Britannia New Labour.

The other comment about Blair is he is a man who likes to follow the public mood, and I think that the public generally would like higher standards in public life and the media.

Shouldn't politicians stop pretending to be infallible and journalists stop berating them for being fallible?

Anyone who has played a management role in any large organisation knows that you just can't get everything right, because you don't have perfect knowledge and you don't have time to consider all the angles. You do your best and you see what works.

It's tragic that people are horrified at the idea of trying different things out and seeing what works (because, heaven forbid, you might have people in Scotland doing one thing while people in England do another!) and the Media cannot countenance the prospect of politicians changing their policy in the light of whether it works or not - because that would be (oh horror!) a U-turn!

Most of all, you can't please everybody: one man's NHS crisis is another man's tax money well spent - there will always be someone moaning about whatever decision you have made.

  • 57.
  • At 11:23 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • richie wrote:

I feel quite strongly that the media have undermined British democracy.

The tone of many interviews is aggressive, non respectful and immediately assuming politicians generally have something to hide. This is a very short step away from:

1. implying they are all liars
2. They are only in it for personal advancement rather than any notion of public service
3. That all politicians are basically motivated by the same thing.

As a result the media have directly contributed to a feeling that our institutions are not to be trusted.

This has got much worse since Labour have come to power but I feel the cat wont be put back into the bag when the Tories are next in.

My personal theory is that this situation arose from a number of factors:
1. A lack of effective opposition in the first two terms, hence the media appointed themselves as the unofficial opposition rather than reporting the news.
2. A reaction against being successfully managed and spun in the first term - how dare the Government think they are more powerful than the free (& biased) media.
3. A perception that an unelected` journalist was the equal of a politician reinforced by the fact that most of the senior journalists when to the same schools & university.

There is undoubtedly a place for investigative journalism but it has become the default - the result is those politicians who cannot be open and candid and an extremely cynical public.

  • 58.
  • At 11:42 PM on 12 Jun 2007,
  • Penrose Feast wrote:

Nick

I think the master manipulator is at it again.

I have read today's speech (link) and would like to say that I personally want the media to scrutinise the messages government offers the electorate. It's a necessity for democracy isnt't itďż˝ To have a media that didn't challenge the views of an administration would result in fascism surely regardless of how 'benign' one or other political party might beďż˝

When, for example, a health minister makes the assertion that 'the NHS is having it's best year ever' it is the media's job to assess the validity of the statement, not just to report it as fact without question - that would be irresponsible, wouldn't it?

And what about the Iraqi WMD, Dr David Kelly, and the Hutton report?

It sounds to me as if the PM is making a case for restricting debate, for limiting contrary opinion, for neutering the media so that the administration can just get on and do whatever they need, or want to do...
I am reminded of the words of a master manipulator from another era�Hermann Goering:

"Naturally, the common people don't want war ... but after all it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country."

The media is merely the means by which the message is communicated, and not the message itself.

Mr Blair recognises that in order to control the message, he has to control the media. This should be resisted in all quarters; political, social, and personal, but particularly within the media itself. Your reader/listener/viewer expects.

Without balanced information how can people come to a balanced view?

  • 59.
  • At 12:11 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • emma white wrote:


So desperate is Mr Blair to make his mark in his dying days he now resorts to attacking the media when he and his cohorts spent most of his premiership trying to manipulate the "feral beast".

The Blair years will be remembered for Iraq and spin, period. The protracted honeymoon he so enjoyed in his early days at Numbers 10/11 must seem like a distant memory. He worries so much about his legacy.

The majority of politicians must start from scratch, learn to think for themselves and be prepared to speak out. The British public values an honest opinion, free of political correctness and manipulation.
Politicans must earn that trust once more if they're to be regarded with respect. Much of the media, as part of the public, has had enough of shallow words, double speak and dodgy deals.

Mr Blair says current relations with the media threatens: "capacity to take the right decisions for the country".
Those decisions must always be open to scrutiny in the media. The demands of rolling news can doubtless be exhausting for elected souls but these story-hungry outlets also ensure greater opportunies for politicians to air their views. Of course the media has its faults but in general it does its best. Besides, the Government has always been quick to exploit the media by offering knee-jerk, headline-grabbing policies in response to big stories. The ill thought-out Dangerous Dogs Act comes to mind. Now it wants to bite the hand that so often feeds it.

Are politicians always right? Of course not. So the media must continue to challenge and debate.

Mr Blair talks of a "feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits". The widow of David Kelly will surely read those words and reflect.

  • 60.
  • At 12:11 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Charles E Hardwidge wrote:

The underlying rules of conduct the Prime Minister highlights are the same for politicians, media, and public. Any single person, organisation, or nation state is a player in the same game. What you do and how you relate to the world around both achieves and influences things. Daoism, Buddhism, and martial arts are ways of developing better context, calm, and performance. Here, there is considerable scope for politicians, religions, and commerce to agree on standards of excellence, learn from each other, and by gradual and steady change achieve a positive consensus.

It seems that Gordon Brown's economic and social approach draw from the same core. His personality type dictates his approach, which has a lot in common with Steve Jobs and Apple. Historical parallels can be found in the leadership of Ieyasu Tokugawa, an inspiration for James Clavell's Shogun, and Gaius Julius Caesar, a man who needs little mention in here. All were incredibly successful at what they did and this is why I have some confidence that Gordon Brown could be a demanding but excellent leader. If we didn't have him, we'd have to make him.

Decades of fear, greed, and spin, from the 1970's to the present day, and international events from the Iraq War to the showdown between American and Russia, are moments where we look over the edge and into the abyss. Corrupt politicians, swaggering captains of industry, and a truculent public are clear signs that something isn't right and we all share a responsibility in this bigger collective failure. In spite of this or, rather, because of this I feel quite optimistic. The bad reminds us of the good, and that it is worth working through mistakes and difficulties to get somewhere better.

  • 61.
  • At 12:16 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Steven M. Dorif wrote:

Blair's right.

It is difficult to find any presentation of the news that does not intermingle fact and opinion, often wildly speculative opinion.

I have nothing against political reporters rubbing their hands with glee and discussing various 'possible' interpretations of who said what and why, but first give us the facts in a balanced and clear manner, free from opinion and in context, then give us your opinions based on those facts.

Instead what we get are opinions dressed up as facts or or mingled with facts, reports which quote biased statements or selected 'talking point' facts, often with littlr or no context given.

Impact does seem to have become more important than truth.

  • 62.
  • At 12:33 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Ian - Dunblane wrote:

Nick

Words like 'pot calling the kettle black', 'boot on the other foot' and 'chickens coming home to roost' come to mind.

For years Blair and Campbell used spin to ensure that any contentious policy subject would get reported and noticed in the way that they desired. They used spin purely for impact and certainly not for accuracy. Now that Blair's legacy will not be what he would like it to be, he squeals about a media doing exactly the same thing. Dear oh dear oh dear. Come in No. 10 - you're time is up!!!

  • 63.
  • At 12:44 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Justin Flook wrote:

I agree with him. Exposing all them lies about the Iraq war was selfish. What people don't know can't hurt them, isn't that right Tone? And as for all this so-called spin stuff, we all know that it's just the media misinterpreting his words.

  • 64.
  • At 12:44 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Dick Taylor wrote:

One has to say that Tony Blair's comments would be rather more credible had they come from someone else. For the Prime Minister, who has been the most avid user of media and media folk to now, as he fades away into the history books, bemoan media frenzies, such as he used to sell his agenda and get his party elected, as " feral" is pathetic.

I cannot do much more than laugh at someone who employed ( and gave Cabinet access, if not authority to) Mr Campbell can now have the front to complain about anyone in the media, however frenzied their attentions have been. The frenzy was, in many cases at least, started by the New labour Spin doctors themselves.

I do think history will judge the Prime Minister with generosity in the long run, but this sort of hissy fit ill becomes what is soon to be an elder statesman.

  • 65.
  • At 12:54 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Anthony Young wrote:

I think this is sheer hypocrisy from a Prime Minister who has so diminished his office by his famous taste for spin and news management. Unfortunately, we can’t expect any better from Gordon Brown. Although the style may be different, Gordon is notorious for putting things in deliberately misleading ways – e.g., announcing the same increase in public expenditure several times, neglecting to announce increases in taxes at all.

It is this emphasis on spin and sophistry that has necessitated the increase in the amount of commentary. If the Government deliberately goes to great lengths to see that formal speeches conceal the truth, it can have no complaint if a free press places greater emphasis on interpreting them than on the speeches themselves. This government’s mission is apparently to confuse and conceal, while that of the press is to reveal and explain.

The irony is that, although he meant to do the opposite, Tony Blair pays the press a great complement in his speech. He also lays bare the frustration of the control freak who has experienced the agony of seeing control gradually but inexorably slip from his grasp.

  • 66.
  • At 12:59 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Howard, (Manchester, UK) wrote:

I have to give you credit Nick, for at least alluding to what is really a very lucid analysis and a damaging critique of the British media from the PM. This blog is almost a candle in the wind of silence from TV and Radio News on the subject. Indeed, the very lack of mainstream coverage of the PM's speech shows how the UK media works. If a politician tried to bury bad news you and the rest of the media would want blood. 'Power without responsibility' is the phrase which springs to my mind when it comes to the media. But at least you didn't just write a headline like 'Lame duck Blair tries to gag the media' and then go home to bed - well done.

The trouble is, Nick, that your 'verdict' on Blair's Feral Media speech to the Reuters news agency carries a strong whiff of sour grapes it seems to me. Worse still, your comment on Blair's original whiter than white intentions and 'those missing weapons of mass destruction' seem to place you firmly in the 'Blair lied over Iraq' brigade.

Any cursory reading of these pages or a glance at the cover of Private Eye demonstrates just how many people in the UK must actually believe Blair to be more liar than leader, and that the electoral success of New Labour was obtained by some kind of sinister manipulation or hypnotic deception of over half a Nation. This is the modern equivalent of the media-created 'underpants outside the trousers' image of John Major. Genuinely funny, but enormously damaging to a serious and effective PM and a man of enviable dignity.

The blurring of the line between news and comment, another of Blair's observations, is a crucial one. Political reporting is in such a rut now that if the PM emerged from Downing Street in the morning and announced that a meteorite was about to destroy the Earth and we all had 2 weeks to live, Sophie Reyworth would still hand over to you outside No 10 and say "...so what's really behind this Nick - what is Tony actually saying?"

Reality TV, Drama Documentary, The News, Soap Operas - its already hard to tell the difference, and its getting harder. You seem to care more than most, can't you help us Nick? ...we are all powerless.

  • 67.
  • At 01:08 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • ChrisJk wrote:

"Gordon Brown has long adopted a policy of silence interrupted by carefully planned high profile announcements."

When Gordon's succession was mooted many years ago I had to confess myself unable to decide what to make of the man or his principles.

After his recent careful utterances I have finally decided. He made a Faustian pact and his price was his complicit silence for ten years over abuses of Parliament, civil liberties, and international law.

What I now think of Gordon Brown I have self-censored... ..and pray that the Lord takes me before we reap the new whirlwind.

  • 68.
  • At 01:11 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Lucas Bateman wrote:

This is unfortunately a debate in which the evidence is largely intangible for us poor members of the public. Only once have i been able to directly compare spin and press coverage with reality: some years ago my wife and I made the dreadful error of visitiing the Millenium Dome. We were horrified by what an utterly wretched piece of shabby tat it was and embarrassed to see tourists from overseas wasting their time and money there as well. I saw, read and heard lie after lie told about it being a great success screen by ministers and officials and knew then that I would not ever trust them or their ilk again: if they could lie about a relatively unimportant (if expensive) mistake with such ease what would they do about something that really mattered!?

  • 69.
  • At 01:12 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Mohammad wrote:

David William in his comment, is either ignorant or an apologist( maybe paid?) for Tony Blair's lies. If you recall Tony Blair said that the attack with weapons of mass destruction could occur within 20 minutes, was imminent. If WMD do exist as David William argues, then the British and the American military are exteremly incompetent that they have not been able to locate them within the last 4 years, with all their advanced computer technology, which can read the licence plate of a car on the ground from a satellite high up more than 10,000 miles up in space.

  • 70.
  • At 01:12 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Andrew wrote:

I decided to watch the speech in full from the downing street site instead of the edited version the BBC provided to give myself an educated option based upon what was said, and not, as Blair complains, on the interpretation and comment of people such as yourself Nick. I suggest others do too as it is a very interesting speech ďż˝ and I am by and large no Tony supporter.

Blair mentioned, �Opinion and fact should be clearly divisible. The truth is a large part of the media today not merely elides the two but does so now as a matter of course. In other words, this is not exceptional. It is routine.�

I would go further than Blair and specifically request the BBC (being a license funded service payable by law for anyone with a TV) never report the political opinions and/or commentary of its reporters. At least politicians put themselves up for election to get their opinion heard.

  • 71.
  • At 01:52 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Peter Moore wrote:

Dear Nick,

Tony has been his own worst enemy by wanting to use the media for his/Labour`s own ends. He has for 10 years been feeding information to the press and there has been so much rhetoric, disinformation and downright lies that no one trusts what he or the majority of his Ministers say.

The press quite rightly, taking any comments as being an opportunity to analyse and place their own interpretation of what the Government is trying to tell the public.

To call the press Feral Dogs is something of an exaggeration, I would liken them to playful puppies, looking for an old shoe to chew upon. Tony being the old shoe and his speeches being something to tear apart.

I can`t wait to see how Gordon will be treated

  • 72.
  • At 01:57 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Sean wrote:

Sport and the Media
I agree with Tony that sports personalities have to cope with the media (across the spectrum including the likes of Barnes and Winter), and I'd say most expect to be rubished
and the fear of failure doesn't support good performance.
If the England Football Team fails (and doesn't the English media's negative hyperactivity build it up to fail splendidly, especially under the current regime)
I agree with Blair's sentiments that it saps the country's confidence and self-belief, and reduces (the team's) capacity to take the right decisions (on the field - did we ever look like beating Portugal in the World Cup), in the right spirit for our future (just look at McClarens press conferences).
In Australia where the press don't go for the throat if it's teams lose a little (like to England pre Cricket World Cup) there is more of a commentary of confidence in their sport - and look at how their teams thrive in a culture of sporting success.
How quick will Lewis Hamilton go from Hero to Zero and what of the poor souls who'll be built up for the London Olympics - I'm sure we'll be reading plenty of post 2012 inquests about why we failed. Blair is not entirely blameless though giving MBE's and parade's to England Cricket and Rugby teams - again the Australians just win (celebrate behind closed doors) and move onto the next game and don't expect a big pat on the back. English press needs to have a more balanced approach.

  • 73.
  • At 02:18 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Jonathan wrote:

If the media are printing defamatory lies about people, that news outlet should be sued by the person concerned.
I haven't seen any libel action from the people concerened with cash for peerages, government sanctioned corruption and blackmail over BAE bribes, WMD etc. I seem to remember that one of the reasons Hans Blix didn't find the WMD was because UK and USA were in such a rush to go to war. Why? All this from a government that has tried more than any other in recent times to manipulate the media. It's sour grapes coming from someone who now sounds like a spoilt child.
People are becoming more aware of the way these people operate and that can only be a good thing. I hope it will enthuse more people to vote in future. If they can clean up their own back yard we'd all be much happier.

  • 74.
  • At 02:49 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Alf Parelli wrote:

Hi Nick- you look like an space-alien in your picture at the top of the page. Please change it as it's disturbing me. Cheers.

  • 75.
  • At 03:52 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Livingston wrote:

Nick,

You and the others have missed a key point in Mr. Blair's message and in current events.

The public has lost trust in what passes for journalism today and the media in general. There is a lynch mob hysteria in the press and many would say that the press has failed to do its job.

What you call loss of public trust in politicians and government is really a derivative of a disfunctional press. You can see this in the declining readership and subscription of major news sources.

Your prescription is correct though: focus on policies (and I would add facts) rather than personalities.

  • 76.
  • At 08:29 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

Was Andrew Gilligan a "feral beast" when he reported the "sexed up" paper on the weapons of Mass Destruction? He told the truth and where is he now? More to the point look at what was unleashed on David Kelly, what was that but a frenzied Feral attack led by that Alpha feral pack leader Alastair Campbell. If you play with the wolves expect to be bitten!

  • 77.
  • At 09:38 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • David Evans wrote:

I think it's also worth mentioning that your analysis is not always aired in full on prime time, and tends to sit alongside other commentary that could be described as vacuous. Does the general population get their analysis from Nick Robinson? Unfortunately not, and I'm sure most blog readers here would say that they are worse off.

An interesting claim I've heard is that ministers dare not float a controversial policy if it can't be explained in 30 seconds to John Humphreys. I've also heard it said that the tone on political stories is often set (at least for the BBC, but probably far beyond) on the early bit of the today program. This does not lend itself to the idea that great thought and divergent opinions are placed into the melting pot.

It also suggests that your own work is not as influential as perhaps it should be. Having occasionally heard James Landale on News 24, he seems more in keeping with the zeitgeist of the day...

  • 78.
  • At 09:40 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • AMJ wrote:

David William's comment (No 1) highlights exactly what is wrong with the British media and endorses Mr Blair's fundermental point impact. Which is the most eye catching headline 'No WMD found search continues' or 'No WMD found Blair lied.

Unfortunately we have a self regulated media ( the toothless PCC, press freedom amd all that) that uses; faked pictures of soldiers abusing Iraqis, illegal phone taps, made up stories become fact just by adding 'according to a senior civil servant' or 'a source close to the Prime Minister', and they (the media) say that its not out of control. Whose leg are they pulling. Its no wonder that newspaper sales and viewers are falling, its not only about technology its more about content. For example, the BBC are paying a reported ÂŁ18,000,000 to a presenter while cutting its news budget. From now on we'll only get half a sound bite.

  • 79.
  • At 09:48 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Jonny wrote:

Admirably fair article, Nick. Is the media feral? The literal implication of this would be a once tame creature become wild and uncontrollable - not sure this is true on either count.

However, so many journalists have what I would call "Woodward and Bernstein syndrome", ie they look for conspiracies behind everything in the hope of that one scoop which makes their career when, in actual fact, most questionable action by government happens by oversight and general cock-up.

Journalists are also shaped by the pressure of holding the attention of an audience with many options for information and entertainment - the tendency to sensationalise or editorialise becomes hard to resist and creates further pressure on others to keep up or, rather, level down.

As the PM mentioned, commentary and reportage are often elided. ITV news is particularly appalling in this regard - I fear that because there is a statutory duty for tv broadcasters to observe political neutrality, they implement this by displaying equal cynicism to all parties.

In any event, cynicism and knowing-ness is the language of the age: post-modernity shines a bright light on pretensions to idealism and the "End of History" political consensus which currently prevails has deified pragmatism to the extent that principles are eyed with suspicion and we grasp at genuine points of difference like a drowning man.

And yet... despite the withered state of political debate, in reality our soldiers are dying in Iraq almost every day for a cause many of us would struggle to articulate. The disparity is both fascinating and disturbing.

  • 80.
  • At 10:00 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Nigel wrote:

I thought Andreas Whittam-Smith made some good points on Newsnight last night. In particular, the comments about this government's panicking, their inability to deal effectively with the media and ride things out.
And Govts are economical with the truth on many occasions and it is the job of journalists to get to the heart of things and find out that truth. So if one side is manipulating the message, it will of course breed an atmosphere of mistrust. The more successful the message manipulation (and boy are New Labour good at it!), the more frustrated and distrusting the media will become. Snowballs.

If we accept the premise that 'all Governments lie', then the media, especially on those dreaded 'slow news' days, are going to circle like a shark that smells blood.

This creates the antagonistic atmosphere between Government, the media and governed.

So, maybe the real question is 'Why do Governments occasionally feel obliged to lie about their activities?'.

When we can find an answer that one, we can all move forward to a better England.

Blair was completely correct in everything he said.

However everyone is missing the point - the "media", whether print, net, radio or TV are all chasing maximum viewing figures. They know what the public want - sentionalised gossip or weird. Just look at the Most Read stories on BBC News - always exploding crocodiles or slept with who on The Apprentice. The newspaper's appetite for pictures didn't kill Diana, *our* appetite for pictures did.

The *mistake* the media is making is attempting to chase this audience as a group. All media appears to be becoming more tabloid as there's a perception that's where the money lies. However not every paper can be The Sun - The Sun is already there, and doing it rather well. Only the Independent and the Economist have twigged that specialism leads to profitability - as with any business, concentrate on being the best in *one* particular niche, and your profits - if not revenues - will soar.

  • 83.
  • At 10:43 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Bransby wrote:

Firstly in response to David Williams' point about not finding WMD in Iraq. I think it's a little frivolous to compare it to finding weapons in N.I.. Rifles and small explosive devices ARE easily hidden. The mechanisms for creating nuclear weapons are not. It's not just the weapons themselves that were not found, but the technology for creating them was also absent.

Secondly, I agree with Tony Blair (god, I never thought I'd say that) that the media is something of a "feral beast". I do think he and Alistair Campbell are in no small way responsible for just how feral they are, but more importantly I think we should look at the necessity for 24 hour news stations, and even hourly news bulletins. Taking it back to basics, do things in the world really change that quickly? Yes I know when some kind of disaster strikes like the WTC attacks, or the SE Asian Tsunami, regular bulletins, news flashes, and 24 hour coverage is valuable, when events are rolling out quickly. But how often is that kind of coverage needed? Remembering the recent Virgin rail crash, I saw continuous coverage on BBC News 24 the day after the crash. Continous coverage of absolutely nothing happening. With the exception of massive disasters, by and large, things actually happen very slowly in our world. I know we're all convinced (particularly those of us who work in media, and in London, like I do) that the world is a non-stop rollercoaster of fast moving momentous events, but it isn't. Poverty in Africa won't be solved overnight at the G8. Global Warming won't happen next week, and can't be stopped the week after. Political changes happen agonisingly slowly, overnight revolutions are very rare things. The fact is we simply don't need 24 hour news coverage, because the fact is that things don't actually change very much in 24 hours. The only reason for an hourly bulletin on Radio 4, is if you missed the last one. Nick must be the first to recognise that journalists have to go out and find stories, and are under massive pressure to create NEWS every hour of every day. Is it very controversial to suggest that NEWS doesn't happen every hour of every day. Maybe we should wait for something important to happen, then report it, rather than sensationalising the unimportant, or misrepresenting the important.

  • 84.
  • At 11:41 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Ian Deller wrote:

Nick - I wish all those that say Blair lied would please explain what he lied about. He might have made a mistake and taken a decision that he thought at the time was in the countries best interest (we might never know what would have happened if he hadnt taken that decsion). In trying to backup this decision then emphasis was placed on some facts more than others - that is not a lie!! I dont want the media to just research and reveal FACTS - i want the media to present the TRUTH which is not the same thing. If the BBC Political/UK News spent more time trying to present the TRUTH of events rather than looking for controversy I might have greater respect. To understand the contrast just listen to foreign correspondents analysing world events and trying to explain the TRUTH.

  • 85.
  • At 11:44 AM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • EM wrote:


Nick,

I am a fan of yours and feel that many of your criticisms of the speech were as justified as the points the PM made. However the argument over the tabloid-isation of the news goes beyond the frontline journalists. The news programmes themselves and choice and presentation of what is news has also seen a shocking decline. I imagine this is somewhat of a chicken and egg argument as to what came first. But sadly I now struggle to take seriously most of the reporting on the bbc news. Partly because on the look and feel of the studio (will ITV be suing for plagiarism?), the script (has the editor been working at The Sun) and the constant and needless use of reconstructions.

The other day during a report the journalist said 'the two men allegedly met in a petrol station'. For some reason they felt it was necessary to do a reconstruction of two men shaking hands on a petrol station forecourt. Even those with a fairly limited imagination probably could have conjured up a mental image of what two men in a petrol station look like.

I am afraid we, and especially the bbc, must look deep inside ourselves and re-discover what journalism and news is and should be. The bbc should remain a bastion of good reporting against the tide of meaningless drivel that is permeating the media.

While I am no particular fan of the messenger, I certainly welcome his decision to open the debate.

Yours,

EM

Surely Nick, you have missed one of the important points in Blair's speech (after all he was appealing for more accuracy),

“As the technology blurs the distinction between papers and television, it becomes increasingly irrational to have different systems of accountability based on technology that no longer can be differentiated in the old way. How this is done is an open question and, of course, the distinction between balance required of broadcasters but not of papers remains valid. But at some point the system is going to change and the importance of accuracy will not diminish, whilst the freedom to comment remains. It is sometimes said that the media is accountable daily through the choice of readers and viewers. That is true up to a point. But the reality is that the viewers or readers have no objective yardstick to measure what they are being told. In every other walk of life in our society that exercises power, there are external forms of accountability, not least through the media itself.”

So that’s it then, it’s all about accountability and the “news” and “new media” reflecting the required accuracy to be measured by some yardstick. So after years of reading about items such as Bernie Ecclestone’s donation to the Labour Party, the so-called 45 minute warning on W.M.D’s, the Hutton whitewash Enquiry, and the alleged selling of peerages to favoured Labour Party donors Tony wants to see some new sorts of regulators to ensure we tell it as it is with the required accuracy. In other words let’s control the media (newspapers, broadcasters, and the new media) and ensure that all voices of dissent are well controlled, it’s the New Labour way isn’t it, just ask any party member!

  • 87.
  • At 12:30 PM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • JonA wrote:

I think the issue here is not so much that Blair and co. have fed the popular media with lies and misleads. It is more that they have given them access to the heart of government, to find more recently that they are just not interested in serious governmental matters and news.
So Brown, and Cameron, would be wise not to invite in The Sun etc. when serious issues are to be discussed. It would be very salutory for the newspapers to be told they need to report or else lose their press badge.

By the way, do I sense that finally Blair is ready to admit to misjudgement?

  • 88.
  • At 12:51 PM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • David Simmons wrote:

And who, pray, has fed this beast, Nick..?
'The Home Secretary is expected to say today....'
Guessing, were you..??

  • 89.
  • At 01:06 PM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Jim Jackson wrote:

I'm sorry. I had to say something in response to comments about the media being responsible for public cynicism and about Blair's "electoral success". Tony Blair was elected by something like 28% of those people who actually voted and when you include those who didn't only by about 22% of the electorate. Blair's electoral success therefore consists of being supported by 20% of the population (who actually voted for Labour, not for Blair) and being actively opposed by 70%. Yet despite this overwhelming opposition who do we get in Number 10 ruling without having to make any compromises to the 70% of the population who didn't want him? If people are disaffected and cynical its entirely possible its because the current political system is so unresponsive to the electorate.

Is this relevant to the topic of how the media report politics? Yes of course. When was the last time we had any serious discussion of our political institutions and how to reform them in mainstream media? Instead we get basically politics as soap opera- who said what to whom, the manoeuverings between Blair and Brown rather than seriously looking at issues? The BBC 6 O'Clock news is in particular a complete joke - politics is reduced to essentially celebrity gossip and consumer stuff that would once have been on Watchdog not a news programme. I have a feeling sections of the BBC consider serious political journalism to be "elitist" and best shoved to the margins.

The media should be aggressive and feral. It should take the powerful to task and look into their actions because that's how democracy works. But being feral doesn't mean being stupid. The public are hugely cynical and disengaged from politics me included. Part of that is politicians not tackling how to make Parliament more democratic because that would work against their party interests (look at Labour's refusal to deal with the West Lothian issue) and Labour's fondness for knee-jerk authoritarian solutions to complex issues but a big part of that is also the media inc the BBC which by focussing on gossip and trivia allows them to get away with it.

Somehow I don't think that's what Blair meant though.

  • 90.
  • At 01:28 PM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Mark G. wrote:

Silly, emotive reporting by a populist media has resulted in politicians playing to the gallery rather than doing what is right for the country. They are forever on the defensive against a media who, like a baying hound is waiting for them to trip up so they can pounce and draw blood. Real meaningful reporting of mature policy items is never reported - I suppose it's just not sexy enough in this day and age. At the same time however this government has show a distinct lack of courage in dealing directly with this problem and have resorted to "spin" in an attempt to get thing reported in a favourable light. Unfortunately this simply comes across as them being less than honest. Someone needs to break the cycle either the news media or the politicians - it's a pity Blair did not tackle this problem 10 years ago.

  • 91.
  • At 01:36 PM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Jeremy wrote:

Nick,
We seem to be concentrating our reaction to this issue on Blair. The fact is that constitutionally we have Cabinet Government. Therefore all ministers who remained in the cabinet following for example the decision to go to war are jointly and severally responsible for the consequences of that decision, and that includes Brown
It�s no point complaining about the press when they do their job and investigate. The problem is when the Government throws its full force against journalists who dare to criticise it (Andrew Gilligan) it�s not surprising that the Press hits back.
The alternative is a government controlled press, and that really would be the beginning of the end.

I think this is an important date, but what seems to have been forgotten is the role the media consumers have in this. When we put down our newspaper in favour of the sensationalist television reports that show the same footage over and over and over and over again offering very little real insight in the way of real information instead of plain facts then we have contributed to the problem.

Similarly, when we spend time watching a quick fix television news report in place of in-depth current affairs piece we influence what media producers feed us in the future.

All the journalistic integrity and media ethics under the sun cannot stand the forces of capitalistic demands of media owners.

  • 93.
  • At 02:22 PM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Steven M. Dorif wrote:

Why am I not surprised that so many can't see past their own prejudices and instead of giving the points careful consideration, are more interested in taking the opportunity to give Blair another kicking.

The truth is the media in the U.K. is a mess, it is either ruled by a few right-wing rich men, it's pandering to it's readers prejudices or competing to make the news more entertaining and 'scandalous'.

It has come to a level where we are in danger of our democracy being undermined. That may seem an extreme opinion, but without accurate information how on Earth is the electorate to make sensible decisions?

We are seriously misinformed on many subjects, to such an extent that it is sometimes difficult to reconcile "accepted wisdom" with reality .

We are at the stage when a serious journalist can 'paraphrase' what someone said and declare "this is what they really mean".

So many declarations of catastrophe are repeated uncritcally, regardless of the source. There is never confusion anymore always "chaos", never a problem always a "crisis", no mole-hill is too small to be spun into a mountain of controversy (remember that croquet game or Prescots cowboy hat?).

It is not a shock that journalists will not turn their scrutiny back on themselves and just shrug off criticisms.

Isn't it about time someone in the media had the intestinal fortitude to admit that there is something rotten in the culture they belong to?

  • 94.
  • At 02:31 PM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Ken wrote:

David Williams wrote:

"Nick,

Why does nearly everyone conclude that because no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq they almost certainly didn't exist?"

Because all the evidence available at the time of the invasion pointed that way. There was ZERO evidence, (lots of baised speculation and lies, debunked at the time), but zero evidence that Saddam had retained any WMD capability at all.

All the actual evidence, from the actions of the Iraqis and the UN at the end of the 1991 war - 2003, the thoroughly documented destruction of their weapon building infrastructure and stocks, including the incredible level of forensic acounting of the stocks, pre-cursers, and all other ingredients, equipment and everything else involved with the production of the prescribed weapons programme, right through to Condaleeza Rice admitting in 2001 that Iraq had not reconstituted their armed forces or WMD capability, and Colin Powel saying the same thing, through to every claim that was made in support of the WMD threat being publically debunked by the 'alternative online media'.

No new evidence emerged to support the claims that Saddam had retained any WMD. NONE. Even Don Rumsfeld, the former US Defence Secretary said so when he said, "We have no new evidence. We are looking at the old information in a new light"

Claims were made up by people who had not been in Iraq for 15 - 25 years and these were debunked at the time.

The UN verifiably destroyed 90 - 95% of the WMD stocks and the entire production capability. The remaining 5 - 10% figure that is banded about stems from a UN commitee postulating, in the mid 1990's, about what the theoretical maximum output was from the labs and factories before they were destroyed. These theoretical stocks never existed, but became the "unacounted for" WMD that the west seemed determined to use as justification for war.

Even if these stocks had existed, they were old and these biological and chemical weapons have a limited shelf life. They would have been rendered inert by the passage of time. Inert = Harmless. There was NO threat from Iraq.

All these facts were known by the Government at the time that they decided to invade Iraq. The WMD issue was used because it was the only plausable excuse that the protaganists could all agree on.

It was a massive conspiracy to invade a sovereign state that posed no threat to anyone.

Even the original draft of the September dodgy dossier said clearly that Iraq was NOT a threat to us, NOR EVEN A THREAT TO THEIR NEIGHBOURS.

This section was removed after the 'presentation' meeting chaired by a Mr A. Campbell to be replaced with deliberately falsified information about 45 minutes to launch WMD strikes.

Every claim made by our Government and the USA Government about Iraq's WMD threat was publicly debunked and proven false at the time they were made, but they kept on making them, and the mainstream media kept on allowing them to keep making them.

If the mainstream media had not been so complicit in spreading the lies, and had decided to be a watchdog for truth, instead of a faithful messenger of whatever pro war propaganda was being peddled at the time, then we would not have gone to war. Blair would have been ousted for attempting to lie the nation into a disaterous war.

The media should have said, "You claim he has WMD, prove it."

The UN sanctions and resolutions called for Saddam to disarm and he had.

If you recall, the UN inspectors were not given even 4 more months to finish their inspections. Why not? Because the US administration knew that they could not find what wasn't there. How could you convince a nation to go to war, if your justification for it is totally debunked?

This is Blair reaping the whirlwind he sowed. After ten years during which he and his cronies - most notably Campbell - manipulated and bullied the press for their own ends and to promote their own agendas, he can hardly now complain when the press (including the blogosphere) have combined to destroy his premiership and his reputation. When you have people like Jonathan Powell, talking about the Evening Standard and how the 45-minute scam would 'play', asking "What do you _want_ the headline to be?", it is clear that there is a deeply unhealthy - and mutually-dependent - relationship between politics and the press in this country...

  • 96.
  • At 03:02 PM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Stephen wrote:

One contributor asks for some indication of what Blair lied about, and then goes on at great lengths to try and dig Blair out of a hole. Let me remind that contributor, that it was this government with Blair as PM that published a dodgy dossier which it had stolen from other sources and held it out as their own. Likewise it was Mr Blair who stood up in Parliament and claimed that weapons targeted at the UK could be launched in 45 minutes. The same information was then relied upon by the US authorities in their justification for action against Iraq. I don't recall Blair leaping up and down saying he got it wrong, and not to use the info. Instead he sat on his hands and took all of the plaudits going from Bush and the Senators / Congress. If these are the actions of a straight kind of guy or of purer than pure, heaven help us.

As for Blair complaining about the media, he simply cannot be taken seriously. He has manipulated circumstances to his own advantage time after time. Any suggestion of greater government regulation has to be resisted. If the next PM or any future PM is having a hard time, let them reflect upon the fact that they sought their role , they desired power, and with that power comes responsibility and accountability. I for one want to be able to pick up a paper and read about what they are doing in my name, and how much integrity they have. In return, they receive more than adequate salaries, allowances and the right to boss us around (subject to the bureacrats in the EU). Not such a bad deal when you look at it in the round.

If politicians did not trail their speeches the day before they made them and forced the media to report their words as they spoke them, there would be less time for over-analysis.
By allowing such a lead time before the speech the facts have already been reported. All that remains once the speech has been delivered is the opinion of "experts".
How much exposure do they want for their pronouncements?
It would take a brave man (or woman) to withhold the content of the speech and let the media fill up their time with skateboarding cats and singing dogs.

  • 98.
  • At 04:23 PM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Gary Elsby stoke-on-trent wrote:

Nick, there are no WMD found in Iraq because the intelligence services got it wrong (to date).

The presumptions by the media is that Tony Blair 'lied' and misled the Country in going to a US led war that we should have taken no part in.

The 'feral beast' within the media dined on the flesh of the PM for half of his tenure, like a lynch mob issuing instant justice on behalf of the poor misinformed public.

Saddam, gassed, electrocuted and tortured his way into and out of power before being hanged for crimes against humanity by his own people.

And Blair is the bad guy.

Gary

  • 99.
  • At 06:29 PM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Ben Slight wrote:

So the Media is a feral beast that Labour want to tame? So it is clear that the party won't be wanting the support from any parts of the press during the next general election?

Thought not...

  • 100.
  • At 07:15 PM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • LL wrote:

Media preoccupied by impact?

Today, there's been an assassination, more instability, more prospect of war and deaths.

The BBC, meanwhile, is leading with the tabloid-pleasing "chemical castration" non-story.

On this point - and I hate to say it - Blair is right.

  • 101.
  • At 08:33 PM on 13 Jun 2007,
  • Natalie wrote:

Well, he would be complaining about the media being feral, wouldn't he? After all, the alternative to a feral creature is a domesticated one: tame, housebroken and rolls over when ordered.

While I don't support some facets of the current British media milieu, I certainly prefer an unpredictable, 'free-range' media to one on a politician's leash (or should that be choke-chain...)!

Blair is mendacious. His speech on the relationship between media and public life was pernicious drivel. Whatever truth was actually in it (which was little) was subsequently negated by his own self-seeking attempt to shift the blame for public cynicism from himself onto the media (mostly singling out *The Independent* for special mention, ie, Fisk and Cockburn). Perfidious Blair!

As for the "feral beast" hunting in a pack, that serves best to describe the Coalition of the Killing. And as for the media's obsession with "impact", that certainly describes the claim of 45 minutes to Doomsday from Saddam's non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Some people have even tried to spin Blair's lies about this into mere "mistakes". I'm sorry, they were lies.

Blair's speech vis-a-vis the media and himself reminds me of that iconic nihilistic statement from the Vietnam War era: "we had to destroy the village in order to save it, sir". Here two opposite values are made to occupy the same semantic space, but like matter and anti-matter, they meet, annihilate and leave of void of meaninglessness. Read the speech again, and you will see it is so.

So too Blair, successfully mendacious as always, begins his speech by stating that in the situation, "no-one is at fault" designing to charm and disarm. But then he gradually shifts the entire onus of blame for public cynicism and the democratic deficit onto the journos and the media, and completely away from himself. What a hypocrite. What a nihilist!

Live by the sword - die by the sword. Blair spent his early days of Leadership cuddling up to the arch capitalist Rupert Murdoch - to get his journalists onside. Long term Labour Party members like me should have realised this wasn't the action of a real Labour Leader - he just lead( or rather dominated just like Thatcher) his cosy cabinet - to hell with the Party that made the mistake of electing him.

Sure, much of the press is pretty disgusting - but what's new ?

  • 104.
  • At 11:26 AM on 14 Jun 2007,
  • Bransby wrote:

Ian Deller wants to know what Tony Blair lied about. It's really very simple. He told the House of Commons that the government had intelligence to suggest that Saddam Hussein had WMD and was capable of launching an attack within 45 minutes. He made that claim based on evidence that his own intelligence service said was unreliable. He knew the intelligence was unreliable, he presented the intelligence to the HOC as reliable. That was lying.

  • 105.
  • At 12:52 PM on 14 Jun 2007,
  • Gordon Panther wrote:

I welcome the PMs questioning the British media. Consider how ?policed? by the media most bodies in this country are; the police, judges, hospitals, government ministers, individuals, pop stars, schools. Everybody, and everything is available for examination by the press. You may think the level of questioning is too high (I personally think so), too low, or just right. This isn't the point though. The point is; what is the obvious - perhaps the only body missing from this list? The media themselves. Are all reporters, all TV presenters, all editors, all persons involved in the media, whiter than white? Surely not (they are only human); yet we never see the level of intrusion and harrassment against these people as we see against pop stars, politicians and the like. Is there an unwritten code? And again, are all newscasters, opinion formers, political journalists always correct? Again surely not - yet when they get it wrong there appears to be no backlash, no impact, no questioning, no shaming, no high level questions, no - except in very rare and wholly exceptional circumstances - any resignations or firings! Yet as soon as an employee of any of their targets makes a mistake - or is percieved to have done so - they are hauled over the coals and not left alone until the media and public have had their appetite for blood satisfied.

As I say, I personally think the media are too intrusive, too error prone, too open to opinionating and misrepresentation. But that's just my view - and probably a minority one. However, what I don't think is purely a view is my argument above, which - summed up - is that there is one rule for the media (a fairly easy ride) and another for all the subjects (targets?) of the media - police, hospitals, ministers etc. This is unacceptable and Mr. Blair's raising of the issue may help people begin to take a more realistic and balanced view of their news sources. Surely it's only fair to have a level playing field so as to help ensure standards in all bodies are driven up?

  • 106.
  • At 12:53 PM on 14 Jun 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

The worrying think about Mr Blair is that he is still of the unfortunate view that 'objective truth' sits with him in No 10, while the rest of us bumble around failing to recognise it, or (worse) are the willing victims of an intimidatory Press willing to supress or massage that truth.

When you hold such a view of 'truth' - that I've got it, you haven't, and he's trying to keep it from you - you become (like Mr Blair) incredibly sure of your own heroic status. After all, it's not just that he, Blair, *knew* that there were WMD in Iraq and we didn't, but a mischevious unelected Press - in his view - was wilfully misrepresenting the truth to make us believe he was wrong - or worse, he was lying.

Politicians love to believe a variant of the conspiracy myth. No, they don't inevitably hold that everyone is against them through some systematic, organised attack (not unless they are Harold Wilson anyway) but they do believe that truth resides close at hand and others are ready to subvert it. That would be the same 'truth', of course, which famously wispered in Mr Blair's ear that all was well with routine GP appointments until a Question Time audience member famously - and without the aid of a single journalist - put him right.

What politicians have to do is discover the humility (I nearly wrote 'recover', but I don't think they've ever had it) to recognise that 'truth', in this wicked post-modern age, is less an austere and settled thing living in the Cabinet Room at No 10 than a fickle and difficult beast.

  • 107.
  • At 02:29 PM on 14 Jun 2007,
  • Morien Jones wrote:

“I’m with you on the free press. It’s the newspapers I can’t stand.”
- Tom Stoppard

I understand what Mr.Blair is talking about. We are living in a country with a feral Press. In May of last year I was reported on by a press agency, who in my view, cynically sensationalised the story and sold it on to major newspapers and media organisations. The media had a party with it. It was a story that was horribly spun. Quotes invented. Facts misreported. Facts omitted. No-one thought to check the story or ask for my comment, but they did write opinion articles themselves. No reporters were present for the original court case. I was plucked from obscurity and libeled.

I have spent the last year, (and put myself and my family at huge financial risk in the process,) in trying to close this stable door after this horse has bolted. I have received apologies from the BBC, The Times, The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, The Independent, The Guardian, The Mirror, The Western Telegraph, The Sun, The Yorkshire Post, The News & Star, The Carmarthen Journal, and the Daily Express. But who remembers apologies on page 36 when the original nonsense was much more prominent?

I am currently involved with setting up a web-site called www.presstostop.com in order to give advice to those who have been libeled by media organisations.
I believe in freedom of speech; but in this current climate of the sensational story equating to better sales, who will police the line between fact and fabrication?

  • 108.
  • At 05:56 PM on 14 Jun 2007,
  • Jim wrote:

Whoa, whoa, whoa. I think you've all missed the point completely. The real point here is that the media beast has been unleashed because of a mixture of its massaging by Blair and his team in 1997 and then by an unfounded sense of self-worth, driven by the pursuit of information "in the public interest", whereas in reality, the public is only interested in such hogwash because they're pumped through with it on a daily basis.

Who really cares about which celebrities the prime minister knows socially? Who cares about a miserable, failed, cynical politician who has resorted to feline impressionism on reality TV shows just to make himself feel better about his shambolic political career? In truth, nobody, but because of our insatiable need for constant electronic stimulation, we'll take any old rubbish that's thrown our way. However, what's really happened is that it's spiralled out of control, because Heat magazine has exploited the British public's desire to forget about their underpaid, overworked, emotionally undernurished lives and immerse themselves in a day-dream about what life could be like over the blue yonder that is the "celebrity" lifestyle. The fact that more people voted in the Big Brother evictions than in the last General Election is testament to the direction in which Britain is, with careless abandon, currently headed.

On another note, however, I must take issue with "Baza" (comment 7) - you sir, are a cad and a charlatan and should be ashamed for even thinking such things about Huw Edwards, arguably the finest news anchor of this modern, digital age. His innate sense of timing, importance and empathy are true marks of a man in command of his field and your tarnishing of Eddie Mair merely serves to compound your intellectual, moral and cultural ineptitude.

What I don't understand is why various media outlets still feel the need to report the rubbish continually spouted forth by Thatcher, who clearly remains bitter that her party booted her out. She?s a perfect lesson for people dealing with the media? Don't play with it unless you really understand it and if you try to manipulate it, don't start crying when you get it wrong. But that's just my opinion.

  • 109.
  • At 09:23 PM on 14 Jun 2007,
  • Anthony Wilde wrote:

You have gone Mr Blair, its like this:

When you resign your oppinion no longer matters, just go.

There are now millions of adults that have tuned out politics from their lives because of your lack of balanced politics, trying to unify a country rather than pushing through all your minority agendas.

What is worse there are millions more children that wont engage in politics as they see democracy and politics as a route to no where. This is your lasting damage to our country.

The press is everywhere ... you dont only have critisism from the UK Mr Blair, the web is fortunately out of your reach... millions of us watch and read and listen and talk to international colleagues and sources.

As a prime minister of a country like the United Kingdom you should be reading the fact that here and on HYS there are literally 10,000s of people that not only despise you and your inept policies, with deep regret! You were the prime minister of 60 million people not just the few that voted for your parties MPs in our rediculously split electoral system.

10 years to build a consensus how to focus a nation and we are more divided than ever.

No railway systems that work
Health care a mess
No dental care
Education fragmented
Fees out of net income for government services all over the place
The state versus the citizen
No energy policy
US owned infrastructure for IT
Hamstrung monoplistic telecoms
Science in full retreat
An overstrong pound
A massive recession in manufaturing
20 Years of credit to pay
50 years of government debt to pay
Growing inflation
Rising Interest rates
unemployment back where it was when it matered
Racial problems
Immigrant problems
Armed services overseas and underfunded
a Navy without ships (that matter!)
IT systems that dont work
Draconian state measures for suspending our democratic rights if 1 MAN sees fit
Alienation of the civility of the police towards the civic population
And on
And on
And on....

If you had done NOTHING since 1997 this nation would have been better off.

You couldnt even listen to Robin Cooke about Iraq.... Why would you listen to anyone about anything that matters.

The press will hound you over all the infractions of your government rightly or wrongly, you sqandered mine and millions of others faith in you.

I hope the press buries you.

  • 110.
  • At 10:36 PM on 14 Jun 2007,
  • Francisco wrote:

I stopped watching BBC News 24 and switched to EuroNews after 2 reports (where I found myself switching between the BBC and EuroNews):

Beslan:
The BBC correspondent seemed hung up with the minutiae of what was happening in the school itself whereas EuroNews had more on the political context to the siege.

The 7/7 bombings:
Again the BBC correspondents seemed to be hung up on the details of what was actually happening on the street whereas EuroNews had more on the reaction of other Governments to it.

Those are just my impressions. I know that EuroNews isn't wonderful but those examples illustrate an important point: If journalism is to survive in this country then it must report the bigger picture as the details!

  • 111.
  • At 07:33 AM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • Geraldo Manchego wrote:

The real feral beast is the one that controls both Blair and the press, and which has controlled and will control the leaders of any party and any press that exist in our present scheme of things.

Nothing will change until the present scheme of things changes. Such a change can even be brought about democratically - if it is desirable.

And it is desirable.

  • 112.
  • At 07:52 AM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • Frank wrote:

Let's see....

Andrew Gilligan claimed that the WMD dossier had been 'sexed up'. He had to resign from the BBC.

The government declares that there ARE ( not MAY BE or IT IS BELIEVED THAT... as the intelligence cautioned) WMDs. And now the PM is attacking the media for being feral animals....

Actually, the intelligence services were not as far off the mark as the government. They had not excluded the possibility of WMDs not existing. However, the government precluded the possibility of not finding WMDs.

  • 113.
  • At 02:41 PM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • Bransby wrote:

Re AJR's post 78. Nick can you confirm which BBC presenter is getting paid Ł18,000,000? That's quite an astonishing figure, and I was considering a proposal of marriage.

  • 114.
  • At 03:59 PM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • Sam Martin wrote:

I think Tim Barber really hit the nail on the head (reply 13). I was genuinely surprised by your comments on this blog in reply to Blair's speech, as I'd class you as one of the very worst offenders!

One of the comments above is singularly enigmatic - I can't work it out anyway! No 107 from Geraldo Manchego. (Must be some conspiracy theorist, I guess).

Another one is anything but enigmatic - quite angry but quite clear (if also quite wrong)- No. 105 from Anthony Wilde.

Apart from those, there are many quite interesting comments.

So it shows that there are different communities which the press need to serve in this country. We're all in the same land, but we don't see things in the same way. For instance, I don't think there is a secret organisation running things. Nor do I think that Mr Blair has wrecked the country, or made me ashamed to be British. I think he's done the exact opposite!

Perhaps the press are just trying to pander to (or serve) these diverse little niches. And they may be right. That's supposed to be the way to go these days. I've even done it myself - though my niche has a limited shelf life - about 12 days to be exact ;0)

But the argument is wider than just whether or not Mr Blair should be the one to raise this press issue, or whether he has made his own bed and now must lie in it, surely?

Sensationalism and the twisting of facts to fit agendas are tactics which have always been used by the press, but now it's becoming all-pervasive and out of control. I suppose somebody should start a paper called "The Daily News and Nothing But the News". It might sell a copy or three.

Anyway, interesting that the Independent editor, Mr Andreas Whittam Smith (?) seemed to justify his ad hominen attack on Blair from the angle that "all politicians lie" (on Newsnight the other night).

That gives him a job for life then, eh? Do you like YOUR motives being attacked Mr Smith? The "trusty sword of truth"?

And, are ALL journalists ALWAYS honest upright individuals in full knowledge of every fact about political goings-on and so in a position to continually damn our elected representatives so wholly? Come on.

I don't know about most of the commenters on here, but I certainly didn't vote for the Indie to run my country.

Then again, nor did I vote for Labour or Mr Blair, but I'm big enough to give credit where's it's due.

http://keeptonyblairforpm.wordpress.com/2007/06/14/blair-blasts-the-feral-beast-press/

I would like to see journalists standing back & letting the politicians speak more. Journalists consider themselves the "interface" between public & politicians but often they are merely passing on a six word soundbite which informs nobody of anything.

Gladstone used to go round the country delivering 3 hour speeches to packed hassl of ordinary people. I don't believe there isn't the same interest now I merely think that there isn't the demand for 3 hours of "commentators" chewing at the same soundbite for 3 hours. It is not that the public's atention span has gone - in the French election the highlights of the campaig were hour & a half broadcast speeches by Royale & Sarkozy. There is no reason why political debate in the English speaking world should be reduced to "demon eyes" & "where's the beef".

There is also, of course, the outrageous, racist bias in the BBC. How often did they say Blair was "sincere" in his dodgy dossier & allow his acolytes to push what we now recognise to be lies. By comparison did the BBC equally often say that Milosevic, Mladic or Abdic were sincere or allow supporters to say that our bombing of hospitals was a criminal action. If the BBC is honest it will be an equal number of times. If the BBC is only 1,000th part honest you will have broadcast in a friendly way about Milosevic only 1000th as often. I trust you will agree that by that standard you don't reach as high as merely 99.9% dishonset & racist.

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