A two-faced Government which invites cynicism makes PR tough

One of the functions of a free and independent media which we so seldom encounter in Britain today - free maybe, but independent? - is a certain scepticism about power. Reporters have always viewed authority with suspicion. Lord Acton confirmed they were right to do so when he said that ’power tends to corrupt and absolute power to corrupt absolutely’.

One of the functions of a free and independent media which we so

seldom encounter in Britain today - free maybe, but independent? - is a

certain scepticism about power. Reporters have always viewed authority

with suspicion. Lord Acton confirmed they were right to do so when he

said that ’power tends to corrupt and absolute power to corrupt

absolutely’.



After 50 years working half and half on either side of the

media/Government divide, I am sure our nation is cleaner for the media’s

scepticism.



But over the last 30 years, that scepticism has often turned into

cynicism as conspiracy theory has come to drive our journalism. I am not

sure a conviction among reporters that those who wield power are

inevitably up to no good is beneficial to society. A presumption of

guilt about the actions of its governors is not the mark of a healthy

nation, but the symptom of a sick one.



It is of course, difficult to argue that all is well with European or

American government even though they are held up as examples to the

world.



I need mention only William Jefferson Clinton, Jacques Santer and Edith

Cresson to make my point. And that is but a selection of contemporary

Western political personalities who have left something to be

desired.



Closer to home, Labour rode to office on the back of Tory ’sleaze’ and

has since proved to be far from as pure as the driven snow.



But I never expected it quite so brazenly to invite media cynicism as it

has done over its approach to our privatised railways. Here at home,

Labour has given the clearest impression that privatisation was a

disaster for the traveller, even though seasoned rail customers like

myself beg to differ. Only six months ago, John Prescott said their

performance was ’by common consent a national disgrace, with service

reductions, falling performances and increased fares’.



But how is the DTI and Foreign Office trying to flog our railway

expertise abroad? Why, their sales brochure says Britain’s engineers and

operators - those who run the ’system which is breaking down’, according

to Mr Prescott - have had their capabilities ’strengthened’ by

privatisation. Our railways have ’experienced a revolution in thinking

as well as massive new investment’ with ’new energy and enthusiasm in

the industry’. The result of privatisation ’is an innovative environment

as well as a cost-effective one’.



Feeling charitable, you may think it is time Mr Prescott talked to his

colleagues, Stephen Byers and Robin Cook, who have put out the

brochure.



Being realistic, you will certainly expect our 25 train operators to

quote extensively from their testimonial. But, being honest, you will

find it difficult as PR persons to blame the media for their cynicism,

which, incidentally, affects your ability to do your job, too.



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