Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

Dame Elizabeth Filkin’s warning that police officers should refrain from accepting alcohol from the media has had journalists reflecting on their own misdemeanours.

My one and only attempt to emulate the subterfuge and bravado of the renowned crime reporters of Fleet Street was hardly a stunning success. I ended up footing the bill for a boozy lunch for a clutch of Scotland Yard detectives but had little to show for the hospitality which the BBC had funded.

Hard drinking went with the territory in the macho world of crime reporting in the 1970s.  Journalists, lawyers, senior officers and detectives mixed freely in the watering holes around both the Old Bailey and the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand. It was an era when reporters had more free time – and also the expenses – with which to entertain their contacts; casual conversations over lunch or a drink could easily develop into a fruitful relationship.

Armed with the right personal or private telephone numbers a reporter could by-pass the press bureau at Scotland Yard and gain tip-offs and other useful information direct from the officers concerned – and for a high-flying detective a well-placed story provided useful publicity.

 

After a month’s occupation of their tented encampment outside St Paul’s Cathedral, the campaigners backing Occupy London Stock Exchange still look as they might be able to avoid a repeat of the violent end to the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York.

If OccupyLSX does succeed in thwarting legal action by the City of London Corporation – and their camp remains in place through Christmas and on into the New Year – it will be a vote of confidence in the media-savvy strategy which the London protesters adopted.

Journalists are addicted to the blame game. The priority is to work out who is to blame and who should say “sorry”.  Personality-led stories attempting to hold public figures to account are the easiest to write. But journalists should be on their guard: political spin doctors and the public relations industry are showing ever greater sophistication in managing the personalisation of news and turning the “S” word to their clients’ advantage.  In a speech to the annual conference of the Institute of Communication Ethics (Coventry University, 28.10.2009) , Nicholas Jones explored the ethics of saying “sorry” and the part of apologies play in the   hyper-personalisation of political coverage.

When Shami Chakrabarti appeared on stage wearing a red poppy to accept her award as 2008 communicator of the year, she triggered flashbacks which trouble me every year. Why was a civil rights campaigner the only winner at the annual PR Week awards dinner (Grosvenor House, 21.10.2008) to wear a poppy? What was the director of Liberty trying to say two and a half weeks before Remembrance Sunday?

“Was Enoch Powell right?” ... “Should Wolverhampton have a blue plaque for Enoch?” ... just two of the questions that provoked intense debate when the city’s evening newspaper, the Express and Star, brought together a panel to discuss Powell’s “Rivers of Blood Speech – 50 years on.”

The audience at Wolverhampton Literary Festival voted four to one against a blue plaque and gave short shrift to UKIP’s West Midlands MEP, Bill Etheridge, when he claimed that “immigrants were coming to Britain to get benefits not jobs”.

As one of the two journalists on the panel, my pitch was that Powell was certainly right in identifying the potency of exploiting fears over immigration – perhaps the most potent political weapon of the post-war years.

Powell had timed the speech and framed its content to maximum impact having become an accomplished exponent of media manipulation and the exploitation of immigration for political advantage – techniques that were refashioned by the former UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, and most recently by the US President Donald Trump.

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