I reckon Tony Blair is pretty well spot on in his speech today. The media is as much to blame for the distortion of politics as politicians. The gleeful way that the press will tear into any public figure, whether a Z-list celebrity ex-reality star, a minister of the state or anyone in between should be compared with the grubby methods of the journos themselves.
Blair is right that Labour was too reliant on ‘spin’ in the early days of his leadership and premiership. However, the history of ‘spin’ is often forgotten by the critics of New Labour.
Before Blair came along, and even when he first appeared, the media, in particular the major-selling print media were clearly aligned with the Tories. Labour had also been pretty poor at press management and failed to keep up with the issues as they were raised.
The ‘spin’ was actually the way that the press will twist any message or policy or position. Many editors and journalists have a bias, even if they claim not to, and will emphasise what they think is good or bad. The ‘spin doctor’ was supposed to try to deal with the press in a way which limited the bias that could be applied by journalists.
By 1997, Labour’s spin doctors were aided by a press that was abandoning the Tories Ineptness and inertia are not entirely popular, and it was clear that the Major government was on its way out. On top of that, the PR dept of the Party was highly effective.
In the early years of the Blair premiership, ‘spin’ was overused to an extent in order to protect the nascent government. Now, I think that the perception of ‘spin’ has overtaken reality massively. A politician can hardly try and say anything without being accused of ‘spin’. Yet the media are barely held to account for their blatant politicking.
The example used by Blair, the Independent, is a case in point. Many times it has a front page which is almost pure hyperbole, covering a single issue from a particular point of view, calling for action or condemning those who disagree. It is pure sensationalism, no different from a screaming red top headline, or a Daily Mail / Express ‘tax bombshell’ hype.
Increasingly it is difficult to discern news from comment. The reason that the Indy should examine itself is that when it was founded, it was on the basis of strong journalistic ethics and a lack of editorial agenda.
Don’t get me wrong, I may well agree with the Independent’s views or conclusions. But presenting opinion and conjecture as fact is what undermines the integrity of the press – and as the press often has a major impact on the way that we view the world, distorts our perceptions.
You can understand, perhaps, why Blair has waited until he’s in is swansong phase to make his comments. The fact that he knew he couldn’t say them earlier would appear to help vindicate him.