Why the self-righteous press is clutching at straws

Exactly 15 years ago I achieved my greatest PR success when Margaret Thatcher arrived in the Falkland Islands without the media knowing she was on her way. During her visit, I had a tremendous row over the transatlantic phone with the BBC’s top brass who were denying ITN pictures of the tour because they wanted all the benefit from our preventing their man, Nicholas Witchell, the only TV reporter already there, from going home.

Exactly 15 years ago I achieved my greatest PR success when

Margaret Thatcher arrived in the Falkland Islands without the media

knowing she was on her way. During her visit, I had a tremendous row

over the transatlantic phone with the BBC’s top brass who were denying

ITN pictures of the tour because they wanted all the benefit from our

preventing their man, Nicholas Witchell, the only TV reporter already

there, from going home.



My row and my subsequent call to No 10, reporting relief for ITN, were

recorded and soon broadcast by Channel 4. Later that year - as in every

year that I was press secretary - the media foamed at the mouth over

authorised and officially monitored telephone tapping by the security

services which, no doubt, prevented some terrorist atrocities. I often

use this as an example of journalism’s arrogant inconsistency.



Which brings me to Home Secretary Jack Straw’s awful festive season at

the hands of the press. A Mirror journalist, misrepresenting herself in

pursuit of a story, says she persuaded his son, William to sell her

cannabis in a pub. When the Mirror told him of this, Mr Straw, an

example to us all, promptly marched his lad to the police station. And

the press, having set up their Aunt Sally, promptly knock-ed it down.

No, there could be no question of the minister resigning. This wouldn’t

have happened under John Major but don’t let’s grumble when juvenile

editors mature slightly.



But every wile and pressure was exerted on Mr Straw to reveal himself

and his under-age son whose identification may or may not have been

protected by the law as distinct from - eventually - a court order.



Mr Straw was, of course, soon unmasked by Scottish newspapers operating

under different laws, which speaks volumes for a United Kingdom. And

then the press had a field day, drawing a distinction between his strong

line on parental discipline and against narcotic drugs and his son’s

alleged behaviour.



All this came as a godsend to newspaper sales over a quiet

Christmas.



This was not, of course, acknowledged. Instead we had a great deal of

pious crap about the rights of investigative journalists (but not in

their book, policemen) to entrap their prey and enjoy immunity from

prosecution.



Who the bloody hell do they think they are? Who invested them with

rights?



Aren’t they, indeed, against (inconvenient) laws which single out

journalists for special treatment?



The lesson for PR people from journalism’s appallingly hypocritical

start to the New Year is that my craft is sans logic, sans shame, sans

everything except animal spirits in pursuit of circulation and profit.

In the process, it thinks nothing of ruining other people’s lives. I

fear things will get worse before they get better.



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