Full of sound and fury

Now the dust has settled over the Government’s media select committee, many have been left wondering what all the fuss was about.

There was nothing surprising in its recommendations, other than what it had stood back from, and most of the salient points had already been covered by new PCC chairman Sir Christopher Meyer a few weeks earlier.

What’s surprising, then, from the transcripts of the oral evidence is how hostile some on the committee were towards the PCC from the start.

The fact that MP Chris Bryant felt comfortable penning a critical article for The Guardian while the proceedings were ongoing did make me wonder if they had not made up their mind in advance.

Add to that the day before the report was published, an unnamed member of the select committee was quoted on the front page of The Guardian describing the PCC as “an absolutely dreadful institution”.

With excessive language like that (something journalists are usually accused of), it’s not surprising that some paranoia might have started creeping in.

And that view would have been vindicated, I think, when witnesses gave their evidence.

With only the transcripts to go on – along with my knowledge of the personalities involved – it seems to me the witnesses fell into four camps and were treated accordingly.

First were the prosecution witnesses such as Max Clifford, who had a swimmingly good time. Next came the tabloid editors, where there was some friction but on the whole they were treated with a modicum of respect – or was that fear?

There then followed the knighted contingent (Sir Harry Roche and Meyer), who could have been given a hard time, but in fact the proceedings appeared very relaxed and conciliatory.

And lastly the PCC director Guy Black – who was singled out for the nastiest treatment.

In case you don’t believe me, although I have spoken to independent people who sat through the evidence and concurred, I’ll throw in a few examples, (although in the case of Black I would have to transcribe most of his evidence and exchanges).

MP Rosemary McKenna to Clifford: “Thank you for your honesty. You yourself have been at the receiving end of some pretty nasty stuff because of the job that you do, but that is all right because you are like us.”

MP Adrian Flook to Clifford: “(You are) protecting the interests of the individual against big, bad journalists. Do you think there could be more (like you), should be more?”

MP Alan Keen to Piers Morgan: “You have almost convinced me that things are getting better.”

Chairman Gerald Kaufman to Les Hinton: “Rebekah Wade came before this committee and made an extremely favourable impression as a straightforward, candid person.”

Kaufman to Hinton seconds later in response to Bryant’s Guardian article being brought up: “Order! Order! We have already received what I regard as an impertinent and offensive letter from you on this subject.”

Kaufman to Roche: “You ought to give training lessons in how to deal with a certain committee. I would like to thank you for your courtesy and patience.”

MP John Thurso to regional editors (Ed Curran, Paul Horrocks, Peter Cox, Peter Long and Ed Asquith): “May I say first of all that it is rather nice to have a panel of editors giving us such considered evidence after some of the carpet bombings we have endured in earlier sessions of this committee.”

MP Debra Shipley to Now! editor Jane Ennis: “May I say what a breath of fresh air it is to have somebody saying that they might be able to do that, or that they could do this. We met a stone wall with the other PCC people until today. How nice! Could you go out and suggest that some of your mates who might have other creative ideas come forward and start to sit on the PCC?”

I may be accused of being selective, or even biased, having previously sat on the PCC for four years, but it did not take a Big Brother psychologist to work out where the committee was coming from. In order to do this column I did plough through the whole report – a more entertaining piece of reading than you might think. So I thought I would finish off by highlighting my favourite quotes.

Clifford: “The PCC is jobs for the boys, it is editors looking after editors.”

Clifford: “We have, in my view, the most savage media in the world.”

Clifford: “Richard Desmond probably has more influence over his editors than most publishersÉ Paul Dacre is virtually a law to himself.”

Clifford: “I do not have enough hours in the day to do half the things I am paid to do.”

Dacre: “I am not a law unto myself. a) I work for a company but b) I am a law unto my readers and if I do not connect to my readers’ values and reflect their interests and aspirations, and if I offend my readers, they will stop paying 40p a day for the Mail – and if that goes on in great numbers, I will soon lose my job.”

Dacre on Clifford: “He has made his living out of the press, a very good living, for many years.”

Simon Kelner: “We are the most competitive newspaper market in the world, and the tabloid sector is the most competitive part of that market. We are very much driven by market forces. I am as well.”

Kelner on kiss-and-tells: “I find it distasteful, invasive, intrusive, as many adjectives as you want me to mention, but I do not see how you stop that.”

Morgan on being told that there were other witnesses waiting: “It is only The Sun and the News of the World. I wouldn’t worry too much.” Morgan on the PCC being regulated by Ofcom: “I thought Paul Dacre was – unusually for him – quite right on this one.”

Morgan: “I do not mind if the Government wants to run the media. That is fine. That is effectively what you are saying. They have it in Zimbabwe; it works very well for Robert Mugabe.”

Bryant to Morgan: “I think it must be one of the greatest ironies of the last 10 years for you, sir, to be accusing me of using emotive language.”

Kaufman to Morgan: “Mr Morgan, will you please stop this. I really find your discourtesy to this committee most objectionable. You are here as a guest. We are pleased to have you here. You are not here to put questions, you are here to answer questions.”

MP Michael Fabricant to Wade: “I never thought I would say it, but I think I preferred Piers Morgan.”

Wade: “I have been insulted in my time but, quite frankly, I do not think anyone has ever struck so low.” n

Alison Hastings is a media consultant and trainer and former editor of the Evening Chronicle, Newcastle. E-mail her at ajh@alisonhastings.demon.co.uk. She’ll be back in four weeks.

lNext week: Chris Shaw

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