The ease with which stories can be ’sold’ is prostituting the UK media

My text for this week is my judges’ report at the PR Week Awards.

My text for this week is my judges’ report at the PR Week


Among other things, I said: ’The most frightening news for me as a

journalist is the assumption among the entrants that the British media

can be ’bought’ - seduced by a beautiful bird, a gimmick, a stunt, a

slogan or a soundbite/headline.’ And I added: ’I fear they may be


Journalists are, of course, there to fill the space and, within reason,

have never looked a gift horse in the mouth. The pressure on them to

produce stories has always put them at risk in dealing with the


This and their sympathies have made them particularly vulnerable to

pressure groups. So-called scientists and environmentalists, parading

their prejudices, are allowed to get away with utter codswallop.

All this has occurred even though Watergate bred generations of

journalists driven by conspiracy theory. Unfortunately, many of them

felt that only government in its widest sense was capable of conspiring

against the public good. So, in my experience, they had two laws in the

1980s - one for those attacking the Government for cutting spending

while increasing it; and the other for a hard-faced, gradgrind

Government itself.

In short, I have as much difficulty with the concept of journalistic

objectivity as I have with academic rigour. You can always get the

answer you want by carefully hiring your don. So why should we expect

better of mere scribes? Answer: because they make such a song and dance

about their precious pursuit of the truth. Nothing nauseated me more as

No 10 press secretary, contrasting the different pressures for accuracy

on journalists and on Ministers and civil servants, than the media’s

insufferable piety.

But things have since got worse for our frank and fearless reptiles.

One reason is the ascendancy of accountants over them in the management

of the media. This has lowered journalistic standards and resistance to

exploitation. Another is the growth of competition which, along with the

dumbing down of society, has produced much more triviality and


The result is that public relations companies think - and some know -

that certain journalists will dance to any seductive tune.

It has also led to the bullying of journalists by PR companies and New

Labour: either you write what we want or forget about future help.

Journalism is now in a debilitated state. My faith in it will not be

rekindled until it begins to treat the new Government, with a majority

of 177, as rigorously as it treated Margaret Thatcher’s with 143. For

the last six months the media have behaved like a kept woman.

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