OPINION: Fill awards gap to improve journalism

Columnists, I believe, should give their employers as well as their

readers the benefit of their candid advice. So, I feel impelled to

counsel this newspaper on four ways to improve its famous PR Week UK

Awards, to which the editor kindly invited me last week.



First, avoid deafening the audience at the outset. I never quite

recovered from the opening tattoo. Second, never employ comperes who use

four letter words. It lowers the tone of the trade, which is already low

enough. Third, if you must employ a comic for the occasion, ensure that

those with their faculties still more or less intact after the opening

drums can understand him. If this makes it necessary to provide

subtitles or simultaneous translation, then so be it. And finally - this

is substance not presentation - I believe the PR industry should

urgently join with PR Week UK in a move to fill a gap in the awards

themselves.



This idea did not come to me in an idle moment after I had given up

trying to make head or tail of the comic. It has been germinating in my

brain for some time.



Indeed, I have long argued for a Which? report on newspapers which tell

us what is the best - i.e. most accurate - buy. I now feel impelled to

canvass such an extra PR Week UK award because of two items in recent press

and broadcasting coverage. The first was the trailing of Mr Blair's

speech on the environment.



He was widely forecast to tell the 'Greens' to cut the dogma and join

the human race. Then we were told that the Phillips report on the

handling of BSE would name 30 'guilty' Conservative ex-ministers and

civil servants.



What happened in practice was somewhat different. Mr Blair did not

lecture the 'Greens' and produced a mouse of an environment policy. Lord

Phillips delivered a carefully balanced critique that, to the distress

of the Sun, did not throw a scapegoat to the media wolves. The initial

trailing of these events was no accident. Government briefers sought to

portray Mr Blair as getting tough with environmentalists and to lay all

the blame for BSE at the door of the Tories. In doing so, they misled

the press reporters and broadcasters.



Had there been a PR Week UK award for the 'Best Buy in British Journalism',

that kind of servile reporting would only win penalty points. The

award's long overdue introduction would deal a serious blow to

spindoctoring, put a premium on reliable PROs and tighten up journalism

so that journalists really did become seekers after truth, beauty and

light instead of props for their editors' or proprietors'

prejudices.



In this way, PR Week UK would strike a formidable blow for honesty and

probity in public life and might eventually come to be hailed as the

saviour of Mr Blair and British journalism. It would also do the PR

industry a power of good.



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