'Riot police got tough to satisfy media'

Hilsum: "biggest problem is access"

Home Secretary David Blunkett’s promises of tough policing and the use of water cannon during the Oldham riots were made in anticipation of how the media would report the violence, it was claimed on Tuesday.

Speaking at the ICA in London at part of its News in the New Century series called Objectivity v Complicity, BBC freelance journalist Jake Lynch said draconian policies were drawn up in anticipation of press coverage that called rioters "hate-filled youths".

But reports that examined the causes of the riots, such as long-term deprivation and poverty, would bring about a different response, said Lynch.

Governments, PRs and leaders of small-time militias, know what facts to present in order to get them reported, argued Lynch, who believes that learning about conflict resolution would prevent journalists becoming complicit in stories or being manipulated.

But John Vidal, the Guardian’s environment editor, said everything a journalist does "is used politically".

"Greenpeace may invite me along when they are taking out a GM crop, and they know I’m going to report it, but what they don’t know is how I’m going to report it."

Lindsay Hilsum, Channel 4’s political correspondent, said that on the ground the biggest problem was getting access, particularly in troubled areas such as Zimbabwe.

"If a journalist says there’s anarchy in a country you can be sure they don’t know what the hell is going on. The thing we are always struggling against is a lack of knowledge and we are always running to catch up.

"The demands of 24-hour news and satellite have made it harder to trust what you are told. Someone tells you a story — you need to know by the end of the day if it’s true. You need two sources, but you can’t get them, but you can’t wait until the next day because the story’s gone."

By Julie Tomlin

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