I would only point out that the Hutton Inquiry (along with 3 other
inquiries) was a six month investigation in which I as Prime Minister
and other senior Ministers and officials faced unprecedented public
questioning and scrutiny.
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. (Prime Minister’s speech: Our Nation’s future – Public Life via Channel 4 News)
The BBC was certainly held to account. The reporter, the chief executive and the chairman all had to resign because of their scurrilous claim that the Government was exaggerating the case that Iraq was developing WMDs.
Apart from that minor point, the Hutton Inquiry is a great example how journalists have got politicians under the thumb in this country.
From Stanley Baldwin’s statement about "power without
responsibility being the prerogative of the harlot through the ages"
back to the often extraordinarily brutal treatment meted out to
Gladstone and Disraeli through to Harold Wilson’s complaints of the
60s, the relations between politics and the media are and are by
necessity, difficult. It’s as it should be.
The question is: is it qualitatively and quantitively different today? I think yes. So that’s my starting point.
What’s that about Harold Wilson? Oh yes, the owner of the Daily Mirror tried to organise a coup against him in 1968. Much of the media also picked up MI5’s Clockwork Orange smear campaign against him, but that was in the 1970s so I suppose it doesn’t count.
That’s if you believe Wilson’s complaints of course, which certainly were qualitively and quantitively different
to Tony Blair’s treatment. Nobody’s ever suggested Blair has any
lovechildren by his KGB controller, for a start. Standards must be
The metaphor for this genre of modern journalism is the Independent
newspaper. Let me state at the outset it is a well-edited lively paper
and is absolutely entitled to print what it wants, how it wants, on the
Middle East or anything else. But it was started as an antidote to the
idea of journalism as views not news. That was why it was called the
Today it is avowedly a viewspaper not merely a newspaper.
So that’s what this is about. Maybe Patrick Cockburn smuggled those WMDs out to Robert Fisk’s place in Beirut.
there is inevitably change on its way.
The regulatory framework at some point will need revision.
Ownership regulation maybe? but no, this isn’t about Murdoch is it?
the reality is that the viewers or readers have no objective yardstick to measure what they are being told.
every other walk of life in our society that exercises power, there are
external forms of accountability, not least through the media itself.
So who exercises this external form of accountability? And what ‘objective yardstick’ do these philosopher kings possess.
Personally, I’d like to judge what I’m told for myself. I may not be objective but I’ve got my best interests at heart. Who do you think should judge what you’re told?
I introduced: first, lobby briefings on the record; then published
the minutes; then gave monthly press conferences; then Freedom of
Information; then became the first Prime Minister to go to the Select
Committee’s Chairman’s session; and so on. None of it to any avail, not
because these things aren’t right, but because they don’t deal with the
central issue: how politics is reported.
It might not have made politicians lives easier, but it was still worth doing. Why tarnish that legacy further?