ICE blogs

November 4, 2009

How saying sorry plays into the hands of the spin doctors

Filed under: Blogroll, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism, conferences — news_editor @ 5:45 pm

Journalists’ obsession with winning apologies from politicians and bankers is playing into the hands of the spin doctors and the public relations industry, according to Nicholas Jones.

Jones, for 30 years a BBC industrial and political correspondent, told the annual conference of the Institute of Communication Ethics, at Coventry University on 28 October 2009: ‘The priority is always to work out who is to blame and who should say sorry. All too often journalists put that question at the top of the list when interviewing victims and aggrieved members of the public. And the blame game is speeding up thanks to the internet, the blogosphere and social networking sites.’

He continued: ‘By giving so much emphasis to such story lines journalists play into the hands of spin doctors and the public relations industry and as a result they find it easier to mislead the media, a process which invariably ends up giving another push to the downward spiral of highly-personalised news coverage.’

Looking back on the Blair years the routine of saying ’sorry’ was taken even further and subsequently used to protect the Prime Minister. If a damaging story was running out of control, his chief press secretary, Alastair Campbell, knew it was essential to try to close it down before Blair went to the House of Commons each Wednesday to answer PM’s questions. Blair had to know that the crisis was over: that there had been an apology or resignation, which he could say was the end of the matter. ‘That is why Tuesday became the day for saying “sorry” - so that Blair would have a clear run at the despatch box.’

The apologies of the Blair years were essentially mechanisms for defusing personality-led stories which had got out of control and had to be closed down. ‘But the apologies didn’t result in a change in behaviour. Blair did not stop taking ill-considered donations from suspect businessmen; ministerial special advisers such as Jo Moore went on abusing the rules that apply to temporary civil servants; and Cherie Blair continued her buying spree, building up an impressive property portfolio.’

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