NEWS: If you can’t stand the heat get out of politics - and PR

Breathes there a PRO with soul so dead who never to himself hath said: ‘That journalist I could cheerfully strangle’? Only those who have patrolled the frontier between power and authority and the media know how tense it can become.

Breathes there a PRO with soul so dead who never to himself hath said:

‘That journalist I could cheerfully strangle’? Only those who have

patrolled the frontier between power and authority and the media know

how tense it can become.



Yet it is not until PROs get close to the centre of Government that they

have a chance of exercising any decisive influence over the framework

within which the media - press, radio and television - operate. It is no

coincidence that for decades Governments have preferred self-regulation

to legislating against the media and that newspapers are still not

subject to VAT, even though there is no logical case against its

imposition.



There is a respectable case for curbing intrusions of privacy, while

retaining a public interest defence, and requiring the media to admit

its mistakes more readily and prominently. I can even see the

presentational attractions of a Freedom of Information Bill as well as

reform of our discredited libel laws to sweeten the pill of a package

destined to curb abuse. But the press is still drinking in David

Mellor’s Last Chance Saloon.



There are two broad reasons for this. Sensible governments don’t

gratuitously provoke the media. Nor do they readily interfere with

freedom of speech.



It has always been assumed that a Labour, rather than a Tory government,

would be more likely to legislate, although I shall believe it when I

see it. I am no more convinced that it would after the latest outburst

by Peter Mandelson MP, who will run Labour’s election campaign. In a

recent TV programme he said: ‘If they [newspapers] are seen to affect

the outcome of the next election in the way they have in the past, I

think the pressure for change will be almost unstoppable.’



I shall take a lot of persuading that the press, rather than Labour’s

policies, leaders or trade union connections, influenced the outcome of

any of the 14 elections since the war. Mr Mandelson evidently thinks

differently. But let us look at his logic. In practice what he is saying

is that, if Labour loses the next election, even with probably more

press support than ever before, newspapers would bear responsibility and

that the public would demand it should be reined in.



But Labour would not then be in any position to reform the press. And

they are unlikely to be in a position to do so unless, for once, they

tell us how a policy would be implemented. On that Mr Mandelson is

silent. Would he require newspapers to be evenly balanced in their

political stance? If so, who would buy the boring things?



Mr Mandelson clearly has a lot to learn. You can’t have a free society

without a free press which is free to mug you. And if you can’t stand

being mugged, you shouldn’t be in politics - or PR.



Sir Bernard Ingham writes for the Daily Express



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