Friday, December 15, 2006

On News Management

Blair is questioned by the police and the attack dogs of the Serious Fraud Office are called off the Saudi arms deal in response to Saudi blackmail. And - surprise, surprise - these two stories are smuggled out under the cover of the Ipswich murders and the police report into the death of Diana. That politicians should learn to manage the news in this way is unremarkable and generally accepted. Indeed, to the fast-talking heroes of The West Wing, news management is a noble and dignified occupation, all part of the great cause of keeping Martin Sheen in office. It is a skill, in short, that any competent politician is expected to possess. Nevertheless, convention still demands that denials must be issued. Yesterday party hacks were wheeled out to be shocked and appalled at the suggestion that the police interviews could be timetabled by Downing Street and, after 9/11, a government press officer had to be seen to resign after she was found to have suggested sneaking out bad news under cover of the World Trade Center attacks. These charades are necessary because, though accepted, news management is not respectable for three obvious reasons: a) it is an admission that there is news so bad it has to be covered up b) it is anti-democratic because it is an attempt to interfere with the objectivity of the electorate's perceptions and c) it is fantastically patronising because it assumes the voters are too stupid or complacent to see through these gross attempts at deception. But there is also a fourth, less obvious, reason. News management insults truth. And, call me a sentimental old fool, but I'd still quite like to believe that the insulting of truth is not a necessary adjunct to democratic politics.


  1. Blair and his band of dissemblers and sophists can throw what they like at it, the truth will out and democracy will survive, so long as there are sentimental old fools like you, Bryan (and a sprinkling of sentimental young fools like me. Can one be young and sentimental?).

  2. Democracy may not be safe in the hands of the current government but neither is it safe in the hands of fools, be they of the old or young variety. To be sentimental about this issue is to suggest engagement with politics is something rather cute that our forbears used to do. Wake up Neil. Where's your passion? Everyone notices this kind of news management: even the correspondents on the TV news have made a meal of it. We look to the young to change things, not to lament.

  3. Catherine, you are quite right. In my defence, I was just being glib and silly in order to give Bryan a backhanded compliment, he didn't deserve, for a excellent post. As it happens, I am politically active in Ireland, I work for a campaigning, voluntary organisation (won't mention it) and I write cranky, intemperate letters to the Irish Times on a regular basis highlighting just the sort of thing Bryan was talking about. I hope you can forgive me.