City & Corporate: Blame the press for eroding trust

Critical self-examination is not the strong suit of the UK media, unlike colleagues in the US who take themselves far more seriously.

They see any lapse in standards as an opportunity for laying bare their souls and anguishing about how standards could have plunged so low. In contrast, the British press get a bit uncomfortable when they talk about standards and rarely admit to a mistake. It does seem to me, though, that the press have to take their share of the blame for the current financial debacle, if only in that what has turned a problem in the markets into a near disaster has been the complete collapse of trust.

Indeed, apart from the size of the bail-out sums involved, this is the only seriously new aspect of the current problems. In 1974 for example, when the chief executive of Natwest Bank came in on a Saturday to issue a statement that his bank was not going bust, people believed him.

This time when bank chief executives have said they are not going bust, it has served only to add to the uncertainty. Similarly with the Government. How many times does it have to say that it has guaranteed retail bank deposits? What greater demonstration could there be of this loss of trust between the people and the civic and public institutions?

The former Downing Street spokesman Alastair Campbell surely has a point when he says that in 15 years the tone and content of British newspapers has turned from being neutral or positive in most of their coverage to overwhelmingly negative.

There is an undertone in so much political and business reporting that implies it is all spin. As a result the public have been conditioned not to trust institutions. Now we are finding out that societies don't function at all well if there is no trust.

The typical press reaction would probably be that Labour has brought this on itself by being so ruthless in its spinning. But it is not an answer. Newspapers exist to serve their readers and being preoccupied with settling old scores is not the way to do it.

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