ALAN FRANKLIN writes: A former journalist colleague, Cliff Mogg, just sent me his wonderful collection of reminiscences of 50 years in the media, called: "Don't Quote Me." Cliff is a great reporter and I wish some like him were exposing what's going on in the world today, instead of reprinting press releases. Here's some thoughts on the media from Christina Speight- and a good Telegraph leader. Here's Christina
Yesterday I showed the degrading of the media by listing in full all the items in the Telegraph relating to the economic crisis. It was a big news day with the handing over of government money in astronomical quantities so that the public could become owners, in effect, of the banks’ toxic assets and so that the same banks could have chunks of our money to continue trading. There was also news of the mounting tensions in the eurozone and the possible collapse of the euro as it exists today.
Now, during the week, the Telegraph - for those who don’t know it - has a main section as well as Business and Sports sections. The business section is, in my opinion, by far the best in the media, with a superb ‘stable’ of economic and financial journalists. But, it is, nevertheless, a ghetto and is not necessarily read by all.
So what happened yesterday? The main section contained nothing whatsoever about the crisis which could ruin all of us but devoted acres of newsprint to one man’s pension . Now the pension IS obscene - correct! But it is monstrously irrelevant to our future.
I have long suspected that Robert Peston and the BBC are complicit with the government’s spinners to bury bad news by dumbing down the “agenda”. This pension scandal was strangely yet another ‘leak’ by Peston and was carried to the exclusion of the real news by the BBC. This is exactly as the government would have wished it.
Yesterday’s papers were dominated with almost all carrying the Labour ‘spin’ on the pension scandal on the front page. (The tabloids merely used larger type size!) . As the paper points out today the pension is a footling 0.00017 per cent of the bank bail-outs
But here’s the nonsense ! The paper has all the news but hides it while falling into the BBC / government trap.
But move to today and the leading article below makes all the right points and spots the elephant trap for the media. Fine! But then why is its front page lead story “Brown is powerless to strip Goodwin of pension” ???
Does the paper not have an editorial policy? How can its leader denounce government ‘spin’ while its news editor falls for that very ‘spin’ designed (its own words!) to use “a small piece of bad news to distract attention from an enormous one – burying bad news " ?
But sadly the Telegraph is probably the least guilty of this incoherence and dumbing down! Ye Gods!
TELEGRAPH (Leader) 28.2.09
Sir Fred is distracting us from the real problem
Voters need transparency over the credit crunch, but they are being treated like children
The Government should be deeply embarrassed by the pension arrangements of Sir Fred Goodwin. Last autumn, Lord Myners, the City Minister, sanctioned payments of £693,000 a year to the former Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive, adding up to a pension pot of £17 million. Moreover, he apparently did so without the knowledge of the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer. One might imagine that the Government would recoil from the whole subject. On the contrary: yesterday, the Prime Minister and prominent Labour figures were vigorously stoking up public anger at Sir Fred.
We've seen before what can go wrong when this Government directs the might of the state at one individual.
It was no coincidence that details of the pension agreements emerged during the latest stage of the Government's bail-out of Britain's stricken banks. It suits Labour that public attention should be preoccupied by a row involving £17 million rather than the astonishing figure of £100 billion, which is the ultimate bill the taxpayer could face for the RBS rescue.
To put the sums in context, Sir Fred's pension is equal to 0.00017 per cent of the money the bank has already received and is likely to offload in the form of toxic debt. By focusing on one banker's pension, the Government is using a small piece of bad news to distract attention from an enormous one – burying bad news and "doing a Jo Moore" in reverse, as it were. We need absolute transparency from the Government about the extent of the problems, and an assurance that ministers will set aside petty party politics. Yet, day after day, there are more attempts at news management that reek of expediency. In the process, voters are being treated like children.
Ministers hope the electorate will ignore the true consequences of what is unfolding. Take public debt: in the words of Steve Bundred, chief executive of the Audit Commission, it could soon hit "Armageddon levels". [ see “Our public debt is hitting Armageddon levels” timed at 1442 yesterday -cs] He reckons that, by 2010-11, the ratio of public sector debt to GDP in the UK could exceed 65 per cent, and the government of the day could run out of lenders. In that context, it was interesting to learn that the Government was cracking down on 100 per cent mortgages – but, in the wider scheme of things, this belated measure is of no more significance than Sir Fred Goodwin's pension.
We truly are moving into previously unimaginable territory here, yet the Government seems to think that, so long as it produces the right snippets of rhetoric, the public will suffer in silence. Elected politicians are not solely to blame for this alarming state of affairs: responsibility rests, of course, with bankers on both sides of the Atlantic, and also officials of the Bank of England and Financial Services Authority who appear to have dozed off or been looking the other way when madcap mergers were approved. [ALL of this in Britain was with the active encouragement of the prime minister who urged ever ‘lighter regulation’ and who, in his own accounting practices broke every rule, He was a close partner of all the failed bankers. I must disagree withg the Telegraph’s assessment here! -cs]
However, it is the responsibility of the Government to set out the scale of the problem now, rather than embracing a culture of evasiveness that deters banks from lending to each other. The full implications of the banking crisis have yet to sink in fully; but, when they do, British citizens will work out for themselves that there will be great pain involved in returning the country to prosperity. [It would help if the Tory party spelt it out for them NOW! -cs]
Mr Brown is under a moral obligation to explain how and when this expenditure will be paid for. Barack Obama has produced figures (admittedly, not wholly convincing ones) for the repayment of debt. At least that is a start. Why has the Prime Minister not done something similar?
The British people have demonstrated frequently down the centuries that they can dig themselves out of recession and crisis through the application of enterprise and discipline. But, in order to do so again, they need first to know the scale of the challenge.
Give us the bad news, Mr Brown. We can take it, even if you can't.