MEDIA: PROFILE; Guardian of journalistic integrity: Alan Rusbridger, Editor, the Guardian

In PR terms the Neil Hamilton cash-for-questions scandal could not have come at a worse time for the Conservative Party. They entered their conference week surrounded by the stinging criticism of even normally loyal papers such as the Sun and the Times but it was the Guardian and its editor Alan Rusbridger who really struck the killer blow when they went to war with Hamilton after he pulled out of his libel action.

In PR terms the Neil Hamilton cash-for-questions scandal could not have

come at a worse time for the Conservative Party. They entered their

conference week surrounded by the stinging criticism of even normally

loyal papers such as the Sun and the Times but it was the Guardian and

its editor Alan Rusbridger who really struck the killer blow when they

went to war with Hamilton after he pulled out of his libel action.



Such victories are rare in Fleet Street. The Guardian Media Group is not

hugely wealthy so the paper’s fight was all the more brave. The slow

death of investigative journalism over the 1980s resulted in such

stories fading from our front pages. Rusbridger says the glut of obscure

investigation that followed Watergate bored people and slowly killed off

interest in the field. But the Hamilton case has put investigative

reporting and the role of the press as the watchmen of democracy back on

the agenda. Rusbridger credits his predecessor Peter Preston with

breaking the story in 1994, but agrees that the paper’s recent crusade

is his baby.



‘We had a decision to take when the case collapsed,’ he says. ‘We could

either have bunged the story on page seven or eight, said the case

wasn’t going forward and we could have left it at that. We wanted to

play it big, however, and it was their behaviour that finally persuaded

us. Hamilton and Greer are both PR men. They weren’t going to fight us

in the court so they tried to do it through the TV studio. Within

minutes of pulling out of the case they released press statements and

were giving briefings. For the next three days, I had to find out every

programme they were appearing on in an attempt to slur our reporting and

make sure I was on it too. By Thursday I think we had won and no-one

believed their version of events.’



What has surprised some about the Guardian’s recent triumph is that

Rusbridger, famous for inventing Pass Notes, was seen by some media

commentators as rather lightweight when he took over. ‘When I became

editor, everyone just talked about Pass Notes,’ he says. ‘What they

forget is that I became a journalist in 1976 and worked in news for

seven years. That’s what got me a job in Fleet Street, not some idea for

a seven inch column.’



He believes that his years on the Cambridge Evening News were essential

to his training and says all journalists should serve time on the local

press. ‘I also learned a lot in Washington from the US press when I was

a foreign correspondent,’ he says. ‘They are obsessed with impartiality,

sources and ethics and, while I think they are too hung up on those

areas, the British press could perhaps be a little more hung up on it.’



If a Blair government takes power can the Guardian, with its strong

liberal tendencies, maintain its reputation as a scourge of the

Establishment when the Establishment is one it supports? ‘I don’t think

we’ll find it a problem attacking a Labour government,’ Rusbridger says.

‘We attack the Party at the moment and have an extremely arms length

relationship with them. Of course we’ll have more sympathy with them

than the current Government, but there will always be a lot of distance

between us.’



HIGHLIGHTS



1987 Washington correspondent, London Daily News

1988 Launch editor, Weekend Guardian

1994 Features editor, the Guardian

1995 Editor, the Guardian

1995 Executive editor, the Guardian and Observer



Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus

Latest Articles

John Lewis to tell brand story with "tasteful" 150th anniversary celebrations

John Lewis to tell brand story with "tasteful" 150th anniversary celebrations

Department store John Lewis is to use its 150th anniversary this year to talk about its history, which "not enough people know about", according to director of communications Peter Cross.

Labour hires Obama election strategist David Axelrod to fight General Election

Labour hires Obama election strategist David Axelrod to fight General Election

The man who helped Barack Obama win the 2008 and 2012 US presidential elections is to work for Labour along with members of his team.

Sky adds Fever PR to its roster after splitting with Cake

Sky adds Fever PR to its roster after splitting with Cake

Pay-TV giant Sky has added Fever PR to its agency line-up for a wide-ranging brief covering products and services.

Max Clifford trial jury to continue deliberations after Easter break

Max Clifford trial jury to continue deliberations after Easter break

The jury in the trial of celebrity publicist Max Clifford has been sent home for Easter and will reconvene on Tuesday for further deliberations about its verdicts on 11 charges of indecent assault.

Home Office brings in Munro & Forster to campaign against FGM

Home Office brings in Munro & Forster to campaign against FGM

The Home Office has tasked Munro & Forster (M&F) with supporting its campaign to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM) as part of a wider retained brief.