The snooty London media kicked Rover when it was down

Steve
Dyson, co-author of a book on the Longbridge ‘rescue’ deal in
2000, says journalists on the nationals should be ashamed

I read with dismay last week’s analysis by Sunday Express business
editor David Parsley, whose article saw him attempting to shy away from
any blame for the way many believe he and the Fleet Street papers he
worked for tainted the future of Rover.

The arguments and story archives are there for any observer to see.
And I’ll buy a pint of bitter for anyone who spots a single report from
April 2000 to April 2005 with a Parsley byline that gives Rover a
chance of surviving.

We are not talking about John Towers and his
co-directors here. We all know they paid themselves very well; all
bosses do. And many papers – including those in the Midlands – have
reported all those details. An independent inquiry will soon reveal
whether that was in any way too much, improper, unethical or unusual.

What
we are talking about is the thousands of workers, suppliers and staff
at dealerships, the quality of their engineering and the blood, sweat
and tears that were poured into trying to develop Longbridge for future
generations.

It is to the families of those workers that the
London press should make their excuses – people who have had five years
of painfully reading the way Fleet Street so often decided to damage
their reputation for the world to see.

In the summer of 2000,
Press Gazette ran a feature taken from a book I cowrote on the 56 mad
days that led to the Phoenix “rescue”: We Ain’t Going Away: The Battle
For Longbridge (Brewin Books, 2000).

The feature was an abridgment of one of the book’s chapters, “The London Bias that Nearly Killed Rover”.

This
simply ran through the day-by-day coverage of BMW’s sell-off plans and
both Alchemy’s and Phoenix’s attempts to salvage something.

It told how almost every national paper ran story after story deriding Towers’ chances.

A
now infamous Sun splash headline read “R.I.P. Rover” a week before the
deal that secured five more years work for 6,000 employees and
20,000-plus suppliers.

If anyone wants to accurately analyse the
press coverage, read this chapter of cuttings and then just a selection
of Parsley’s stories that followed.

You may then consider how
those who scoffed at Rover’s initial chances in April and May 2000 must
afterwards have been so incensed that their analyses had been bared for
all to see as distant, snooty and, most importantly, wrong.

There were no “good luck Rover”

headlines
from the national papers. No “buy British” campaigns. Few positive
words in a plethora of barely restrained derision at the car firm’s
fate.

Many of them commented that Longbridge should be closed,
that thousands of workers should get a life and seek alternative
employment, that Britain should not continue trying to entertain an
idea that it could maintain a volume car producer.

Why are those
responsible for signing this death warrant five years ago now so
surprised that local journalists, with long memories and the wellbeing
of the communities they serve at heart, clearly recall who said what
about whom?

As a hack bred in the shadow of Longbridge who felt
ashamed at the London media’s coverage back in 2000 and thereafter, I’d
have loved to have been a listener when fellow Brummie Adrian Goldberg
pointed the finger on BBC Radio WM.

Rover’s current state is
tragic and there are many causes. The pound, the market and the
management are in and among the factors to be discussed. But so is the
London bias that, in my opinion, ended up helping to kill off Rover.

I’m
just glad that Teesside and some of the issues the local paper I now
work for covers, like the future of Corus and the rights and wrongs of
the “Ghost Ships” affair, are too far north of Watford to suffer much
from the southeast blinkered attitudes of national journalists.

Local
journalists, papers and media should always give their reasoned backing
to projects that mean jobs, health and aspiration to their readers.

Yes,
we should direct venom at greedy entrepreneurs when necessary, and we
do. But this should never be reason to pull the publicity rug from
under businesses that need some positive balance in the press to
survive in international markets.

Steve
Dyson is editor of the Evening Gazette on Teesside and has been the
industrial correspondent, head of news and deputy editor of the
Birmingham Evening Mail

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