NEWS: BERNARD INGHAM; Royal hoax reveals double standards of the media

My 21 years as a press secretary reminds me of Britain’s relationship with the Commonwealth, which is about to hold another biennial bash in New Zealand. After attending six of them, I concluded that the Brits’ role in life, as the ex-colonial power, was to be abused at every turn by the 49 other members who would then hold out their hands for more of our hard-earned brass. Press officers, learning how to survive in the media jungle, know the feeling.

My 21 years as a press secretary reminds me of Britain’s relationship

with the Commonwealth, which is about to hold another biennial bash in

New Zealand. After attending six of them, I concluded that the Brits’

role in life, as the ex-colonial power, was to be abused at every turn

by the 49 other members who would then hold out their hands for more of

our hard-earned brass. Press officers, learning how to survive in the

media jungle, know the feeling.



This year’s Commonwealth conference will be overshadowed by radio chat

show host Pierre Brassard securing a 14-minute conversation with the

Queen, the head of the Commonwealth, by impersonating the Canadian Prime

Minister, Jean Chretien. Who is next for hoaxing?



Of course, after the initial witch hunt over who was responsible for

this spectacular lapse in security, everyone is now trying to laugh it

off. M. Brassard’s a bit of a card who has conned others, including the

Pope. He didn’t do any harm, did he? In fact, he did the Queen a bit of

good. Didn’t she do well? And isn’t it marvellous that we now know how

the Queen talks to one of her Prime Ministers? Etc, etc.



Bunkum. At the risk of sounding pompous, all this misses the point. M.

Brassard earns his living from a reputation built upon carefully

contrived deceit of the rich and famous. Indeed, he wins his 1.3 million

drive-time Canadian audience by the hope - nay, the expectation - that

he will take some dignitary for, preferably, an embarrassing and even

constitutionally damaging ride. This is not what talk radio is supposed

to be about - or to encourage.



I am not surprised that the British media have had difficulty in

recognising the dangers inherent in M. Brassard. After all, they are not

above a bit of deceit themselves. In fact, the old Press Council, no

less, excused the Sunday Times for breaking into Denis Thatcher’s

Barclays bank account, in pursuit of Mark Thatcher, with the immortal

words ‘permissible subterfuge’.



Nothing is more calculated to get journalists on their high horse than

what they think is a juicy Government phone tapping scandal. Yet what

happened to my celebrated row with the BBC down the line from Port

Stanley when they were preventing ITN securing their pictures of

Margaret Thatcher’s visit to the Falklands in 1983? Why, someone taped

the entire stormy conversation and my follow-up call to No 10 to report

the outcome. And Channel 4 broadcast the lot. The media obviously thinks

some phone calls are more tappable - and broadcastable - than others.



It is time the media sorted out their ideas. Their double standards, not

to mention arrogance, do them no good. Their reaction to M Brassard is

not what any self-respecting strategic PR man would have advised.



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