Are we just extras in the Tony Blair Show?

More disturbing than war between press and government is peace between press and government. Off guard, we are unlikely to be serving the public interest.

So hallelujah for the current outbreak of hostilities. It is healthier for journalists than rolling over for the spin machine to tickle our tummies and pop sweeties into our mouths.

We exist to be informative critics of establishments. Neglect that function and we are simply in the entertainment business.

An example of the awful fate available is the Wednesday matinee entitled Prime Minister’s Questions. It has become hardly worth reporters taking their places in the gallery.

The show is now meat only for sketch writers, as was the first of the PM’s televised White House-style press conferences. Was the big idea to address what Cabinet ministers describe as the pious, hypocritical and insane newspapers? Of course not. It was to go over their heads into the homes of the great British public.

It might have come off if Mr Blair had something new to say in his 75-minute performance. But PMs are wary of the wrath of the Commons when important announcements are made elsewhere. And no reporter with an exclusive-inducing question is going to put it in front of rivals.

So the print journalists were just a bunch of extras summoned to fill the stage and help the TV cameras make the show look real.

Press conferences are designed to assemble us to take dictation. But this was over-controlled, with admission refused to such disrespectful questioners as Peter Hitchens whose only offence, in an earlier incarnation as a Daily Express election Rottweiler, was to launch at the throat of Neil Kinnock.

Even genuine press conferences, when the promoter really has something worth our time, are the enemy of competitive journalism. But phoney press conferences such as Mr Blair’s are an insult.

Russia’s President Putin reckons it enough to risk one televised press conference a year. He is clearly getting wiser advice than is Mr Blair.

This government’s spin machine is now held in universal contempt. Voters are on to the game of burying bad news. There is unrest among unfavoured editors about officials conspiring to preserve exclusives for favoured editors.

What right have people on the public payroll to distort public information, fly political kites and wield party stilettos? That’s our job.

 

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