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Well done BBC Inside Sport. Shame on media for news blackout on Coulson bullying case

Posted on 26 November 2009 | 1:11pm

First of all, congratulations to BBC Inside Sport for its film last night on depression in sport.

Gabby Logan’s sensitive and revealing interviews with cricketer Marcus Trescothick, boxer Frank Bruno, footballer Neil Lennon and All Black rugby star John Kirwan were not just good TV. They will also help the continuing campaign to break down stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness.

As the programme explained, 92 per cent of people admit they would be unlikely to reveal a mental health problem in case it affected their prospects at work.

But surely we have to get to a position where people can be as open about mental health as they are about physical health?

Anyway, I suspect Gabby’s film is an early favourite for a Mental Health Media award this time next year.

Meanwhile at the other end of the caring, sharing, understanding-other-people employment spectrum, I ask you this question ….

If, while I was working for Tony Blair, it had emerged that whilst a journalist I had been responsible for a dreadful case of bullying, and that my paper had had to shell out more than three quarters of a million pounds in compensation to someone who blamed me personally for the bullying, do you think the papers might have covered it?

Yes, I thought so.

Do you think I might have been chased around by the media to explain myself? Do you think TB would have had to explain himself too? Do you reckon it might have been raised in Parliament by Tory MPs? Yep, so do I.

Or, to put it as the one journalist who seems to be taking an interest in it, The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade, says:

‘Imagine for a moment that a bank employee in the City of London was awarded £800,000 for unfair dismissal after a lengthy period of bullying by his or her boss. I haven’t the slightest doubt that it would be a major news item in every newspaper – from the Financial Times to the Daily Star.

‘Or how about this? Imagine The Guardian being required to pay out £800,000 to a journalist because its editor had been exposed as a bully. You can bet that would have made headlines in rival papers.

‘So why, I wonder, was The Guardian the only national paper to report on the fact that former News of the World football reporter Matt Driscoll was awarded £792,736 for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination by an employment tribunal?’

It is a very good question. Roy, my former boss at the Mirror, thinks that it is all part of the ‘you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours’ conspiracy of silence between the major newspaper groups, who do not wash each other’s dirty linen in public, whilst thinking anyone else is fair game.

But it is also part of the media’s growing bias against using stories that might be difficult or embarrassing for David Cameron.

Because the journalist-editor in question is Andy Coulson, ex News of the World, now Cameron’s communications director.

Even without the media angle, or the Cameron angle, this case should be big news because it is a record payout, the biggest ever ordered to be made to a media group.

But it is the media angle and the Cameron angle that has led to the virtual news blackout.

This in the week that several of the papers are screaming their indignation that the public inquiry on Iraq is deemed by them not to be open enough.

Not just News International, for which Coulson used to work, but the Mail, Mirror, Telegraph, Independent, Express, FT, the whole lot of them, decided a record payout for bullying and discimination made against someone who is now right-hand man to the man who could be our next Prime Minister, decided it was not worth a single line of copy.

As Roy points out, the Mail and the Telegraph are always reluctant to carry anything critical of Rupert Murdoch’s operations. But this one has gone right across the board.

And because the broadcasters tend to allow their agenda to be set by the papers, we have another ‘protect Dave’ news blackout. If we had a media that was genuinely free and fair, it is what they might term a scandal.

  • Colin Harper

    Amazing isn’t it … they so believe in freedom of information, but not in the freedom to inform about wrongdoing when it affects their own. For that kind of payout this must have been an appalling case, and it means Cameron is prepared to have appalling people on his inside team

  • Charlie Watson

    It always interests me re your own situation that I hear journalists who accuse you of bullying them, but whenever I hear interviews with people who worked for you – there was one such on a Mark Lawson programme the other day – they always speak very fondly of you. I think I would care more about how my staff felt about me than the press. I agree this is a scandal when disability is such an important issue

  • Trudi

    I watched the film. I am not yet ready to be open at work about having depression but it did make me think I might be able to be in the future

  • Em

    Much of the media is campaigning for Cameron that’s why. They are campaigning for Cameron because after twelve years, they are hard pressed to find new ways of criticising Labour. They want new faces to report on and to profile.

    Also, Cameron is the UK’s answer to Sarah Palin — what an easy target! A bit of censorship now and if Cameron wins and it’s going to be “this stuff, it just writes itself!”

  • Zelo Street

    This is a textbook example of what Nick Davies described in “Flat Earth Newss” as the idea that “Dog doesn’t eat dog”.

    But it is strange that the broadcast media has not covered it more thoroughly. Perhaps the Tory threats made to “tear up the BBC’s charter” are having an effect.

    Perhaps you could go on C4 News and bang the table a few times?

  • Joanna

    As someone who has worked for Alastair, I can confirm he was the most encouraging, enthusiastic and sensitive “boss” I have had. If only I could say the same about some of the newsrooms I’ve worked in.

  • Mark

    I have to agree with Joanna, having worked for Alastair too. You would be hard pressed to find a more motivating boss.

  • Liam Murray

    The apparent news blackout is worrying Alastair and your analysis on why is probably spot on. But I have a quick question which I think I posted here before (or perhaps on Twitter)…

    Is there any evidence that media servility to Cameron now (or hostility to the PM) is materially different to the media environment pre-1997? We know from your diaries the truth is more subtle than the Malcolm Tucker characiture but the point remains managing the news environment and Labour’s interaction with it WAS a part of your role and one you did very well.

    The implication of this post and a few others you’ve written recently is that the terms of your interaction with the media then were materially different from the way Coulson etc. interacts now. Perhaps that’s the case but there’s no discussion or evidence of that.

    If there is a material difference that has serious implications for democracy and people from left & right would be very angry about it. But by not actually making that case you risk coming across as simply bitter and resentful that the media focus is not where you want it to be and not surprisingly independent apolitical types (like me) will have little sympathy…

  • james huntingdon

    Alastair, while it’s good to see you bringing up the subject of depression and how it should no longer be viewed as a stigma, perhaps it’s worth referring back to an incident from one of the early Labour party conferences when Blair was still running the country. I recall the Daily Mirror had a front page story about an actress who was stalking you, with a sensational headline about her being nuts or something. The suggestion at the time was that Blair was having a bad day and you’d leaked the story to your old paper to keep him off the front page. wonder if you recall the incident?

  • Steve Marsh

    Just caught up with your last 2 blogs. Congratulations on your MH Media award. I used to attend these when I was full time employed and was a member of the Focus group- a forerunner of the the Time for Change project.The last one I attended was when Jessie Wallace(Kat Slater in East enders) got an award and the playwright who wrote the play with the late Thora Hird and Pete Postlethwaite about Dementia based on his own experiences also got an award.
    I also thought the Inside Sport programme was well done and hopefully will encourage sportsman and their coaches/managers to be more open.
    Hope to see you at Upton Park on Saturday.
    Up the Clarets!

  • Dave Macleod

    I sent an email to Iain Dale a couple of days ago challenging him to post something on this matter, using exactly the same argument that you have (ie. if it had been you that had been found guilty there would have been a media frenzy.)
    Still no reply, unsurprisingly!

  • Alan Quinn

    Spot on with the bullying story Alastair, so much so that even the non de plume mob haven’t been on to argue it.

  • Just sayin\’

    So, a moan about bullying from the man who wrote the book about it.

    As anyone with any knowledge of British politics knows, you ran a Downing Street operation that was prepared to harass, bully, lie and smear to get its own way. As Mo Mowlam, Clare Short, Gordon Brown – among many other victims of it in your own party – would confirm.

    As for people outside the party, history records – just to quote two out of many, many examples – your bullying and harassing of the commentator Anthony Howard in 1990 over his, as it turned out, accurate suggestion that you were advising Neil Kinnock while still working for the Daily Mirror and your phone call to the home of the BBC’s Head of News one night in November 1991.
    I quote, ““What the fuck’s going on with this Rageh Omaar report?” bellowed Campbell.”

    Now, as you prepare to return to action, this time harassing and smearing Gordon Brown’s opponents rather than him, you clamber onto your high horse and expect us be as appalled as you’re pretending to be.

    Well, bully for you.

  • David Kingston

    I wonder if Coulson’s bullying will be allowed on Question Time tonight?

    I agree with your comments about Inside Out. I am sure that it is no coincidence that these topics are covered in today’s blog. Bullying is often a cause of, or at least a trigger for mental health problems. The effects can be more severe and long lasting that physcal injuries caused by dangerous work place practices. Good employers recognise this. Bad ones can expect such punitive damages as meted out to NoW.

  • simon

    I wonder if we did a survey of the voting public who they would name as one of the nastiest operators in public life – coulson or campbell. hhmmm.

    Incredible Campbell crying wolf over a bullying culture.

    Another thing – at least there is no blood on Coulson’s hands.

  • Dave Macleod

    I really enjoyed Inside Sport too, and agree the light it shone on the issue of mental illness extremely welcome, particularly as it set amongst high achieving athletes as sufferers.

    I did however feel slightly frustrated at the lack of any overall context: all the different cases seemed to be thrown together into the same category.
    For example – Serena Williams was mentioned for the bereavement she suffered. Mental anguish yes, but illness surely not.

    Perhaps time contraints prevented it, but there seemed to be no differentiation made between those who suffer depression as an illness, a ‘chemical imbalance’ (such as you Alastair, perhaps or John Kirwan) and those who had difficulties adjusting to the ends of their careers – such as Frank Bruno.

    Perhaps this was intentional, but I found a little differentiation on the different types or causes of mental illness would have helped.
    And – with Marcus Trescothick, having read his book and sympathised greatly with his plight, I am left still wondering why it is that his illness seems only to be triggered by particular events such as foreign travel. Does his illness sit in between those who suffer random attacks and those who suffer only after some difficult life experience?

    Perhaps these issues were too difficult to discuss in an hour long program. I would hope that the BBC would return to look at this in some more detail in the future.

    But hats off all the same!

  • crookedmouth

    Not being a tiny bit self-righteous and hypocritical then AC? Coulson is no doubt an unpleasant character – it comes with the territory for that kind of job – and I am sure his time will come (once the Tories are in power and it all goes to their head); he is, after all, your Tory mirror image. Guido Fawkes sums it all up rather neatly in his blog today.

    Carry on old boy. I’m sure you’ll keep up the act at the Chilcot Enquiry – you have a raw hide that a White Rhino would be proud of I’m sure.

  • Nige

    Alastair, well done for taking up the mental health torch, a group of illnesses still burdened with the stigma of schoolyard jokes, media bias & lack of understanding, even from some in the medical community. My partner is bi-polar & it is heart breaking to watch her self destruct in the “high” phase and then crash into a frightened rabbit during the “low” – those closest often suffer more than the patient, you will understand. Thanks again

  • John Valentine

    I saw the interview with Mark Kermode where you both watched In the Loop…..AC 1 MK 0. The killer line “look politics is a lot harder than what you do” I saw Kermode shrink….priceless he takes himself far too seriously! No fan of “New Labour”, but well done AC…politics is a serious business for serious people. I’m all for farce, but come on get real the questions Kermode was puting to you were embarrasing.

  • Noodles

    So what do we have to do life this ban, Alastair?