On the day that Independent journalists won the London Press Club Scoop of the Year award for their exposÅ½ of the infamous Jo Moore "bury bad news" memo, Nato’s Secretary-General conceded "nothing sells newspapers like juicy political scandal".
Lord Robertson, however, stressed that while politics and the press could not be separated, "our agenda and your agenda are not always the same and on bad days they seem diametrically opposed".
He pleaded for more coverage of important, if less immediate, stories. It was his challenge and the media’s, he thought, to make what people like him do worth reporting.
"I’ve never been a journalist but I’m well aware what the job demands – from dodging bullets in war zones to trying to put some substance into the careful ambiguity of a political speech," Lord Robertson said at the 12th London Press Club awards.
"The population wants to know what is being done by the Government in their name and turns to the media to find out.
"Much of what Nato does day in, day out, is not necessarily media-friendly but it certainly matters. It requires daily political decisions and engagements to actually succeed. But pictures of middle-aged men in suits shaking hands have never sold newspapers.
"Success can best be measured by peace achieved at a steady pace but no journalist wins many awards by covering the crisis that doesn’t happen."
Bloodbaths attracted the world’s press, he conceded, but when the fighting stopped and the peacemakers moved in "press interest dies and the final success of the mission too often goes under- or unreported." He added: "My challenge in Nato is to help the media finish a story, to cover security issues from bullet to ballot box, from crisis to peace conference and beyond," he stated.
"The press should have the confidence its readers will take the time to understand not just what is happening but why."
He said he believed September 11 changed not just the security landscape, but the media landscape as well. "I sense that some journalists also feel that and that maybe the Daily Mirror revamp is surely an admission that something has changed."
The Independent’s political editor, Andrew Grice, and its transport editor, Barrie Clement, collected the Scoop of the Year trophy for the "story that brought the whole question of government spin-doctoring into sharper focus" when they revealed Moore’s advice to the Department of Trade and Industry to "bury bad news" in the wake of September 11.
Ann Leslie of the Daily Mail won the Edgar Wallace Trophy for reporting of the highest quality; Jason Nisse of The Independent on Sunday was named business journalist of the year; the FT’s Moscow correspondent, Robert Cotterell, working for FT.com, took the award for new media journalist of the year; and Olga Guerin of the BBC was named broadcasting journalist of the year.
by Jean Morgan