‘It was a madhouse, with people jumping up and shouting,’ Sir Richard
Scott says of the press conference on his report into our trade with
Iraq after a week’s reflection, hunting in Ireland. ‘It was the first
time I’d been exposed to that sort of occasion...I have not been trained
to deal with the media. I am only a judge after all.’
He is like thousands more in high places. He is happy to benefit from
media attention and perhaps enjoy their savaging of others or, in his
case, even to encourage their cruelty by the manner in which he treated
his witnesses. But he is taken aback when the media’s mood switches from
the benign, when their purposes are being served, to the malign when
The media’s purposes were not served by Sir Richard’s report because it
could be made to mean all things to all men. So an opportunist reporter
- aren’t they all? - sought to clarify it by securing his positive
assent for the ‘no conspiracy, no cover-up’ summary about which Sir
Richard now quibbles.
His report is to clarity what the Sea Empress is to shags. As such, it
will become a classic study in how not to conduct an inquiry; how not to
write reports; how not to present the outcome; and how not to moan when
you have been found out.
If only Sir Richard were unique. Unfortunately, the PR industry knows
what sheltered lives are led by Britain’s top managers outside politics.
Most of them are unfit to be allowed anywhere near the media jungle lest
they be eaten alive. In a fit of compassion, I therefore feel I should
offer a timely warning to all who would milk the media lest they become
stuffed with cream.
I do so because Lord Wakeham’s Press Complaints Commission is steadily
building up case law on this. And the PR industry, as minders of the
media mad, should be clearer about it than they are likely to be after
some comments in the ‘Big Question’ column two weeks ago.
The PCC’s code of practice made clear that intrusions into personal
privacy can only be justified when in the public interest - for example,
to detect or expose crime, protect public health and safety and prevent
the public being misled. It has recently upheld complaints of intrusion
by such figures in the public eye as Selina Scott, Mrs Patricia Guppy,
wife of the ex-convict, and Earl Spencer, on behalf of his wife.
But it has rejected Julia Carling’s complaint because the offending
articles directly concerned the same areas of her personal life as she
had placed in the public domain. In other words, the press are not
entitled to publish anything about people who have sought publicity. But
don’t grumble if they pursue your particular publicity angle on