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Sofia's Letters from London #8
by Sofia Gkiousou
2007-07-16 09:08:59
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With the publication of Alastair Campbell's heavily edited diaries, titled "The Blair Years", the British Press have launched a new assault on the ex-advisor to the ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair - dully dubbed a 'spin doctor' and loathed en masse by the press. But is his shortcomings what we need to be focusing on?

Starting out as a journalist, Campbell rose to be the Political Editor of the Daily Mirror until he 'joined the enemy' to become Tony Blair's spokesman when Blair became leader of the Opposition. A central figure in No. 10 he has been accused with varying degrees of venom for being controlling, misleading, Machiavellian and the king of spin - a word that came to characterise much of Labour's media related work for the whole of his stint as spokesman and later Director of Communications & Strategy.

He resigned on August 2003 and concentrated on editing his diaries which were published on July the 9th following lengthy media reports about what was being cut from the final edition. Journalists have focused not on what Campbell included but on what Campbell left out, speculating that the extent of the alleged disagreements and antagonism between Blair and Brown were being hushed up to avoid damaging the new Prime Minister and his government. But it is not only this suspected protection of current political leaders that enrages the press. The fact that Campbell leaves out most of his dealings with prominent figures of the British Press have the journalists in an uproar. His loathing of the press is apparent and yet details of his spin techniques – though admitted generally - are not explored further.

Reading the coverage these days there is only one quintessentially English expression that comes to mind: The pot called the kettle black. To the outsider the row between Campbell and the media is nothing more than two extremely similar parties battling it out to see who's going to come out of this messy relationship smelling of roses. Campbell accuses political journalism of being obsessed with immaterial details and journalists accuse Campbell of feeding journalism’s degradation.

What everyone seems to be missing is that Campbell was a one-man show compared with multinational News machines. Anyone who thinks that Campbell weaved a complicated and effective spin machine must be extremely confident is a government's ability to conspire. Considering any government's record in effectively covering anything up it is doubtful that this is the case. Campbell was fighting his own personal war as a hired hand, doing exactly what he was good at; keeping the media at bay and at the same time taking full advantage of their abilities to his employer's advantage. I wonder if that is as deplorable as the press would have us think.

One would be excused to think that what vexes journalists most of all is that they became part of Campbell's communications master-plan and at times unwittingly so. In one of the numerous TV programmes being broadcast these days about Tony Blair, a journalist recounted how Campbell called him and gave him a story. He didn't mean just 'here is the subject, go investigate'. He meant that Campbell gave him a full article, ready for publication. Contrary to most journalists, I don't find Campbell's tactic unethical. If the journalist actually published the story verbatim then it is not Campbell’s ethics that one should doubt.

Being 'in the loop', maintaining good relationships with No. 10's press office and working to extremely short deadlines are all concerns I understand - having been there in the past. Yet the press will not admit that most of the journalism around today is dictated by commercial needs and not coverage needs. Having a newspaper out on time, networking with officials you will need and getting advertising revenue are just a few of the things that have become more important than getting a real story. And I doubt that Campbell can be accused of all of them.

Admitting that journalism standards are sharply falling is encouraging and billing Alastair Campbell with having a hand in that fall, understandable. Yet believing that the solution is in attacking the Campbells of this world instead of re-evaluating some of journalism's practices is exactly what, to my eyes, puts any spin doctor and any journalist in exactly the same spot. A low one.

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Paparella2007-07-16 10:37:40
Indeed, the lowdown is that"1984" has long come and gone but Big Brother's spin doctors survive as permanent fixture of a shabby political landscape. on both sides of the Atlantic pond. Currently in the US we the people have been gifted with Tony Snow, a sycophantic spoksperson for the Commander in Chief who every day delivers a snow job to his fellow journalists and the American people rationalizing an indifensible war. Welcome to the Brave New World of Machiavellian real-politik.

Asa2007-07-16 11:34:27
At least Blair has united the Middle East in their dislike for him.

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