While many journalists were understandably fearful that the outcome of the Leveson Inquiry might be used as “payback time” by politicians, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg struck a helpful note at the Journalists’ Charity’s annual reception at the Embassy of Ireland (7.11.2012).
In thanking him for his support, the charity’s chairman Bill Hagerty said Mr Clegg was the first journalist turned politician to become Deputy Prime Minister and it was gratifying to hear him sounding positive about his former profession.
Mr Clegg was warmly welcomed by the Ambassador of Ireland Mr Bobby McDonagh who said a meeting later in the week in Dublin (9.11.2012) between the Deputy Prime Minister and his opposite number was a further illustration of the close relationship between the British and Irish governments.
But pleasantries aside there was no hiding the reality of the moment: journalism was at crossroads and, as the chairman remarked, journalists were not all sleeping easily as the Leveson Report loomed. Mr Clegg said he recognised it was a time of heightened interest in the interaction between the press and society in the wake of recent scandals which had shaken politics and the news media.
There was “a lot of fear” among journalists as to what the politicians would do and a suspicion that Parliament would think this was “payback time.” But once Lord Justice Leveson had delivered his recommendations, Mr Clegg was confident that politicians from all sides would engage in a proper debate on how to protect press freedom.
The challenge was to strike the right balance between defending the integrity of the most “raucous and innovative” press anywhere in the world and protecting the vulnerable who had been “badly smashed up” in recent years. “I think we can get that balance right.”
Mr Clegg said the work of the Journalists’ Charity was a useful correction to the stereo type of journalists as “lone hacks hunting your prey with single minded professionalism”; that you did it alone; and that journalism was “a loner’s vocation.”
An event like the Journalists’ Charity’s reception at the Embassy of Ireland showed that perception was far from correct. “You see yourselves as part of a family...If you fall on hard times, you do need help from other members of the family and the fact you help two thousand deserving recipients...is a great display of compassion in an industry, which like politics, is not always known for its compassion.”
He wished the family of the Journalists’ Charity was even larger: only one in twenty journalists was signed up and he hoped events organised through the generosity of the Irish Ambassador would send out a signal that this was a worthwhile cause well worth supporting.
News bulletins and newspaper front pages had been dominated all day with reports of President Obama’s re-election as US President and the Deputy Prime Minister turned the headlines to his advantage.
“Today is all about one of the great politicians of our era, someone who started from humble beginnings and rose up through the power of oratory and brings star dust to celebrity politics...of course I am talking about Nadine Dorries.”
His swipe at the Conservative MP aiming for a star role in I’m A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here, was followed by a jab at the Prime Minister’s embarrassment over Rebekah Brooks’ text message in which she said she had “cried twice” after hearing David Cameron’s speech at the Conservative Party’s annual conference.
Looking around at the assembled guests at the end of his speech, Mr Clegg could not resist his pay off line: “I see no one has cried, not even twice...may be you can send me a text about that.”
In his welcome to the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr McDonagh recalled his own visit to the Liberal Democrats’ annual conference in Brighton in September where he had found the party “much more upbeat” than the media suggested.
Mr Clegg's visit to the Embassy as guest of the Journalists' Charity and his meeting in Dublin the following Friday, were all part of the commitment of the British and Irish governments to progress their shared agenda. In a further development the top civil servants of the two countries would be meeting in London for their first meeting since the two Prime Ministers signed their joint statement the previous year.
Journalism was one strong expression of the evolving cultural relationship between the two islands. Their news media had close links and “many of the best known names in British journalism have an Irish background.”
In his thank you to Mr Clegg for supporting the charity, Mr Hagerty reminded the assembled guests of the Deputy Prime Minister’s journalistic background. In 1993 he was the first recipient of the Financial Times’ David Thomas Prize; later Mr Clegg was posted to Hungary where he wrote about mass privatisation in the former Communist bloc; and after his election as a Member of the European Parliament, Mr Clegg wrote a fortnightly column for Guardian Unlimited.
Although he was the first journalist turned politician to become a Deputy Prime Minister, if he became Prime Minister he would then be “joining an illustrious group of former members of our trade.”
Mr Hagerty said he could not overlook the fact that Mr Clegg had one special claim to fame. “He is certainly the first Deputy Prime Minister to go down in pop music history, which he did when in September the song, Nick Clegg Says I’m Sorry, charted at number 143 on the Official UK Singles Charts before climbing to 104 the following week. Too early, I suggest – a couple of months later and he might have had the Christmas number one.”
Illustrations, The Guardian, Independent