So, Tony Blair likens the media to a feral beast, for reporting views as facts. Whilst I have some sympathy here, the gutter press are not whiter than white, coming from Blair's llips the words are hollow and pleading. This is the man of 45 minutes, of spin, of media management.
The Independent seemed to his the right note with this morning's headlines:
Would you be saying this, Mr Blair, if we supported your war in Iraq?
Today's paper is true to those ideals. So how come we now exemplify everything that's wrong with the public discourse? We don't trawl through people's dustbins. We respect the privacy of those in public life. We strive to abide by the PCC code. But, after 10 years of the Blair administration, a decade of spin and counter-spin, of dodgy dossiers, of 45-minute warnings, of burying bad news, of manipulation and misinformation, we feel that the need to interpret and comment upon the official version of events is more important than ever. And we are confident that our readers can differentiate between news and opinion. We can also be sure that our readers will make up their own minds, and with this in mind we are printing the full text of Mr Blair's speech (there we go again, offering another viewpoint).
What clearly rankles with Mr Blair is not that we campaign vociferously on certain issues, but that he doesn't agree with our stance. What if we had backed the invasion of Iraq (like, for example, we supported the interventions in Kosovo and Sierra Leone)? Would he then be attacking our style of journalism? Of course not. We are unapologetic about our opposition to Iraq, the biggest foreign policy folly of our age, and we shall continue to hold him and his government to account.
I think that hits the nail on the head completely, Blair doesn't mind opinions if they agree with his - but otherwise insists on 'facts' (which happen to be whatever we're being told at the time).
Personally, I don't like too much 'opinion' in newspapers, and to that extend I agree with some of what Blair said. I like a plainer form of reporting and as such papers such as The Sun, Mirror, Express, News of the World and (shudder) The Daily Mail leave me cold.
I tend to browse the broadsheets, picking and mixing from the Telegraph, Grauniad, Independent and so forth. I can recognise the difference between opinion and fact - and though it's not totally separated (opinion can be expressed in what you choose to cover), the broadsheets tend to be clearer than the tabloids. I've a lot of time for The Independent. They regularly devote their whole front page (and several pages inside) to an important topic which isn't 'news'. They look at things in a bit of depth. Yes, it's a liberal paper, and no, they don't report things uncritically - but their readers don't take things at face value either.
The editors have been commenting on this speech.
Given his own history, Blair's attack seems little more than a child throwing his toys from a pram.
In Blair's defence, he does acknowledge his own part:
We paid inordinate attention in the early days of New Labour to courting, assuaging, and persuading the media. In our own defence, after 18 years of opposition and the, at times, ferocious hostility of parts of the media, it was hard to see any alternative. But such an attitude ran the risk of fuelling the trends in communications that I am about to question.
He talks of the Hutton Enquiry:
The verdict was disparaged because it was not the one the critics wanted. But it was an example of being held to account, not avoiding it. But leave that to one side.
(If memory serves, people were questioning the terms of reference of the enquiry from the start)
What concerns me about the press these days isn't so much that opinion is mixed with news (as long as opinion remains recognisable as such - and it helps to view a wide range of sources), is what passes for news. Big Brother, TomKat, Posh and Becks... this is not news. If it must be discussed, put it in the TV pages, or in a gossip section. Please.
I look forward to any comments which you may have.