Gordon Brown goes into this election with only the backing of the Mirror among the national newspapers.
Yesterday in an interview in the Evening Standard he noted: “I’ve had a tough two years from the press. I’m not complaining because basically at the end of the day the people will make up their mind. A number of newspapers are trying to run the election, they are trying to dictate the election. I think they have made a mistake.”
In one sense Brown has a right to feel hard done by. In terms of standing up for the interests of journalists, he has had a pretty good record as Prime Minister.
In April 2007, then prime minister-in-waiting Brown personally sanctioned a move to shelve proposals which would have drastically watered down the Freedom of Information Act. Press Gazette had launched a high profile campaign against changes which would have allowed government departments to reject out of hand FoI requests which cost more than £600 to answer. It would have neutered an Act which has been the single biggest advancement in UK press freedom for a generation.
And in October 2007, Prime Minister Brown revealed that he would not just safeguard FoI he would look at extending it, he also revealed a review of the 30-year-rule and rejected Tony Blair’s call for statutory regulation of the press and proposals to limit media access to coroner’s courts.
As promised, in February this year the 30-year-rule for the release of secret government documents became the 20-year-rule.
And in April the Freedom of Information Act was extended to include the Universities and Colleges Admission Service, the Financial Ombudsman Service and the Association of Chief Police Officers.
The Brown administration has also made clear that it has taken on board media concerns about the lopsided libel system by introducing widespread libel reforms , which ran out of parliamentary time following the calling of the election.
And it has taken seriously concerns about the future of regional news, and the abandonment of regional public service broadcasting by ITV, with Digital Britain proposals to use the £130m of BBC licence fee allocated towards digital switch-over to help pay for new local news consortia.
Brown upset journalists early on by giving Andrew Marr’s BBC1 show an exclusive revealing in October 2007 that his proposed snap general election had been called off. And he hasn’t helped his cause with incidents like the “bigotgate” scoop for Sky News which all journalists, regardless of political bias, recognised as a great story.
But despite his problems with presentation, Brown has a pretty solid track record of achievement when it comes to standing up for press freedom and the interests of journalists.