OPINION: Blair has transformed journalistic mores

Throughout my working life until 1997 there was an anti-Labour and

pro-Tory bias in the British press. The broadcasters were supposed to be

politically impartial, though I have never met a political activist who

thought they were. There was, however, one thing I felt I could rely on,

both as a journalist and press secretary: their robust editorial

independence and determination to pursue a real story to the ends of the

earth. As such, they were utterly treacherous allies of Conservative

governments - as Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan and John Major amply

discovered. I don't think Margaret Thatcher had much to grumble about,

provided you never expect the media to be fair.



Then came Mr Blair. One thing he can be credited with is a

transformation of media attitudes and behaviour. Let me be clear what I

am talking about.



It is not the change in their political sympathies, which are fairly

easy to explain.



For commercial reasons, The Sun felt Mr Blair was a much better bet than

the tired, grey, decent Mr Major. So Mr Blair has to be supported, even

though The Sun doesn't think much of his performance or policies to

judge from its own pull-out manifesto. The Express stable switched from

Tory to Labour slavishness under Labour peer Lord Hollick and remains in

servitude. Otherwise, nothing much has changed in terms of formal

political affiliation. The Mails and Telegraphs remain the only - thank

God - still fairly treacherous Tory supporters.



No, the transformation I am talking about is in journalistic mores. As

one BBC veteran told me, surveying the Number 4 Millbank newsroom: 'This

lot have forgotten their job is to make life difficult for governments.'

This is perhaps not surprising when BBC edicts have put Peter

Mandelson's private life beyond public discussion 'whatever the

circumstances' and banned direct approaches to the campaigning Keith

Vaz. But it is more general.



An ITV journalist told me: 'We don't cover the things we know we would

if the Tories were in office'.



I have been trying for four years to work out the reason for this

'soft-on-Blair' approach, bearing in mind the treatment I got when I was

in Number 10. To be consistent, they should have been very bloody

minded.



After all, in 1983, they told me: 'You're too powerful with a majority

of 143 and no opposition'. Mr Blair has had a majority of 179 and no

opposition, apart from William Hague. Is their quiescence a reaction to

their utter beastliness to Mr Major? Are they cowed by Alastair

Campbell's sustained favouritism and Labour's incessant pressure, not to

mention rubbishing of correspondents to editors? Is British journalism,

like the American, now politically corrupt?



Perish the thought. But no Cabinet Minister I ever served would have

become a media election hero for socking an egg-chucker. Perhaps it's

all part of Britain's decline and fall.



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