Labour hits out at 'unfair' press

Negative coverage Outcry after media seize on Home Secretary's apparent knife crime policy U-turn.

Frustrated Labour loyalists have slammed the media for their coverage of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's knife crime policy 'U-turn' this week, suggesting that fair coverage is becoming impossible.

Newspapers and major broadcasters this week rounded on Smith after she appeared to backtrack over a suggestion that those caught with knives should be taken to see stabbing victims in hospital.

Smith has insisted there was no U-turn and has blamed the media for manipulating her words.

Labour MP Martin Salter defended Smith, telling PRWeek the media have been 'truly pathetic' in their coverage of the controversial policy announcement.

Salter, a member of the home affairs select committee, added: 'Ministers should ignore the press and do the right thing. You can get the approval of the Daily Mail and Daily Express without engaging half a dozen brain cells.'

LabourHome blogger and PRWeek columnist Alex Hilton suggested fair coverage was now impossible.

'If a cabinet minister sneezes, the media come down like a ton of bricks,' he said. 'Smith was not saying that hospital visits would be a solution to knife crime. There is not one thing that will fix this.'

Mick Halloran, a former special adviser to John Prescott and now a director at Citigate Dewe Rogerson, also said the party was facing an increasingly hostile media. 'Parts of the press, whatever the issue, will write it up as a failure,' he said.

Halloran speculated that, leading up to the Labour Party conference this autumn, the media may be more sympathetic. 'Will they feel that Labour has taken such a battering that they'll train their fire elsewhere?' he asked.

But journalists have insisted that they were given conflicting messages from the Home Office over knife crime.

The Observer's political editor Gaby Hinsliff suggested there had been a disconnect between Smith and the Home Office press office.

'In trying to stop inaccurate versions of their plans taking hold, they panicked and went too far in denying what they had previously said,' Hinsliff told PRWeek.



Polly Toynbee - The Guardian, 15 July

There was some gnashing of teeth yesterday that Jacqui Smith's talk of letting offenders see the harm they do was presented so badly. There was no intention of marching violent kids into A&E to gawp at knife wounds.

David Aaronovitch - The Times, 15 July

The doctor's rather obvious objection that neither the suturing medics nor the suffering patients would appreciate such a distraction wasn't diminished by the fact that no-one was actually suggesting any such thing.

Leader column - The Sun, 14 July

Let's leave aside the problem of teenagers clogging up A&E wards gawping at the wounded...


£100m - Allocated for Government's Youth Crime Strategy

337k - Number of under-25s who admit to carrying a knife

£3m - Allocated to Government's anti-knife crime campaign

20 - Teenagers killed violently in London since start of 2008

9 - People killed with knives since 7 July.

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