Cambridge Lecture 2: Optimistic despite press lies re Leveson, new social media oligarchs, Snowden/Wikileaks (and why Merkel is best)
Posted on 14 November 2013 | 5:11pm
Lecture 2 in my series of events as Humanitas Visiting Professor at Cambridge University’s Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, delivered today.
A few years ago, Carl Bernstein and I shared a platform at a conference in Italy. I was surprised how much we agreed about the modern media. But what struck me most was his description that Watergate was one of the greatest stories of all time but, he added, ‘a disaster for journalism.’ As the Redford/Hoffman film showed, Woodward/Bernstein were obsessive about facts, determined to go that extra distance to check. There are reporters today for whom an investigation means two phone calls not one, or the dubious and illegal practices of which we have heard so much. Watergate was the best of journalism because it slowly, systematically uncovered a terrible truth that the most powerful man in the world wanted hidden.
So why was it – Bernstein’s word – a disaster? Because, just as kids wish to emulate sports stars, so from then journalists felt the only real story is one that brings people down, the mightier the better.
Watergate’s hold over the journalistic psyche is such that any scandal must have a gate. At least with former Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell there was a real gate, the Downing Street gates at which the altercation with police took place, which is why it should not have been called ‘plebgate’ but plebgategate. We had many gates, most forgotten. Anyone remember Drapergate? More recently, Betsygate was something to do with Iain Duncan Smith’s wife; Camillagate was about her phone calls to Prince Charles; Sachsgate was the one that Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross climbed over; Bigotgate was about Gordon Brown and a microphone.
Great journalism requires time. Woodward and Bernstein were given it. Harry Evans had a team of Sunday Times reporters working for eight months before exposing the establishment cover-up of Kim Philby’s spy ring. Few editors today who would allow anyone eight months on a story. Too much space to fill, less time, fewer people.
Around Leveson, Evans’ Thalidomide investigation and Bernstein’s Watergate came up again and again as the kind of stories a new regulatory system would allegedly thwart. Not true of course, because of the obvious public interest, but also a reminder of how few great stories our self-styled seekers after truth have uncovered during the Murdoch-Dacre years. Today’s newspapers lack patience and investment. The gate has to be erected too quickly. Ironically, the one that bucked the trend was The Guardian’s investigation of phone-hacking, despite all media, police and political desire for it to go away.
Look back through recent UK ‘scoop of the year’ awards. MPs expenses, yes, was a genuinely big story, people went to jail. Cricket corruption – also important. A series on tax avoidance in the Times – not focused on various media moguls – was last year’s winner. But also on the list, David Beckham’s affair, John Prescott’s affair, Sven and Ulrika – in which I played a minor part, as I introduced them, and phone hacking possibly played a part too.
Yet when the press were defending their freedoms from the modest changes proposed by Leveson, following an inquiry established by the Prime Minister, after revelations which disgusted the public, leading to proposals overwhelmingly backed by public and MPs, for a system in which once it was established politicians would have no say at all, they compared the UK with Zimbabwe, Iran, China, North Korea, not just Putin’s Russia but Stalin’s. It was the kind of absurd self-serving bilge that would not have survived a moment’s analysis had any other industry put something like it forward.
The politicians have bent over backwards to accommodate what genuine concerns can be found amid press propaganda and, dare I say, spin – and have we not seen how handy it is to have the papers onside when you’re running a campaign? Have we not also seen – my first reason for optimism – that the public have seen through it all?
The press has rightly campaigned for regulation of banks, pension funds, MPs, doctors, lawyers, on and on we go. Only newspapers, it seems, despite trust ratings lower than any of those, should be considered exempt, and allowed to design their own regulation, despite so much evidence of their failure and untrustworthiness to do so.
Yesterday I said they lied about all this. They do. As Harry Evans said in his Cudlipp Lecture: ‘The misrepresentation of Leveson’s core report is staggering. To portray his careful construct for statutory underpinning as state control is a gross distortion.’ Harry Evans, a journalistic giant, his views reported in just one paper, whereas hacks or politicians opposed to Leveson have free rein.
Press freedom is over. A lie. Politicians will decide what you read. A lie. Investigations into stories like MPs’ expenses could not happen. A lie. There will be pre-publication censorship. A lie. Editors will go to jail if they don’t sign up. A lie. This is about protecting politicians and celebrities. A lie. It is about protecting people without power or wealth or fame who can have their lives destroyed by inhumane and illegal journalistic activity.
What Leveson proposed, and what the Royal Charter now says, does not even come close to establishing regulation of the press: it proposes a body to certify that any new self-regulator is independent. That is underpinning, not ‘State control.’ The body would be independent of press – so they cannot control or water it down; and independent of politicians so that a future government cannot randomly make it more draconian
There are other advantages. The new body would have investigative powers to deal with papers which keep breaching the code of practice; and an arbitration procedure, which will be cheaper for both people and publishers to use, rather than going to law.
It will have a new code but it will surely retain much of the current editors’ code of practice, which promises accuracy and respect for privacy. That code was a good piece of work. It has just never been adhered to, never been implemented, and that was always the Murdoch-Dacre plan. The PCC has been a body of the press, by the press, for the press.
Just ask yourself what those same owners and editors would have to say if any other walk of life had been exposed for so much wrongdoing, given rise to so much public disgust, and then still made a claim to be capable of a self-regulatory system authored by the likes of Paul Dacre and Guy Black, a Tory peer and one of the succession of press groupies who ran the PCC. They would be insulted, hounded, vilified.
The press have thrown every false argument in the book and still – though this poll got even less coverage than Harry Evans’ lecture – more than seven out of ten readers want Leveson-style independence for a new regulator. The papers want nothing that gets in the way of business as usual. The good news is that despite their attempts to grind the politicians down, they are not getting their way. The even better news is that when finally this new system happens, none of their Big Lies will come true. Both press and public will gain. That is why I am optimistic, despite the publishers trying to ignore the Royal Charter at the moment, hoping their alternative, the Independent (sic) Press Standards Organisation, will be deemed acceptable. It won’t, as anyone who has read Leveson will see.
Indeed tomorrow the Media Standards Trust is publishing an external analysis of IPSO, which establishes that of Leveson’s 38 recommendations for a self-regulator, only 12 are met by the Dacre-Black proposal.
It fails on the very first test in the very first word of its misleading title. It is not independent. It is almost entirely dependent on the industry which influences virtually every aspect of what it does, and in many cases has a veto. Through the funding body, it institutionalises the power of the big publishers, just as its predecessor used money to grip and control the PCC, and will control budgets, rules, code, investigations, sanctions for breaches. It is not independent of politics either, with a provision for peers and MEPs to be on the regulator – hard to know whether ‘Lord’ Black or ‘Lord’ Hunt, the latest Tory peer to run the PCC, wrote that bit.
It also fails the central Leveson test, since it does not provide access to justice for ordinary members of the public via low cost arbitration.
The complaints system is virtually the same as the utterly discredited PCC. Leveson called for a ‘simple and credible’ investigations process. Dacre, Black and Hunt have gone for complicated and incredible instead, allowing for up to six interventions by the publisher, and none by the victim
It makes a complete mockery of the claims they made in adverts in their own papers that IPSO ‘will deliver all of the key elements Lord Justice Leveson called for in his report’. More lies. It leaves me thinking: either they are incredibly stupid, or they think that everyone else is. And one thing of which I am certain: you will read very little about this report in the papers. Another planned news blackout: because it doesn’t support their lies and their bogus arguments.
They claim of course to speak for the public, hence another news blackout on the recent Transparency International report which showed British people viewed the media as the most corrupt of 12 institutions surveyed – 69percent felt so, up from 39 three years ago.
I am pleased the politicians have thus far held reasonably firm – with a few wobbles, a bit of opportunism by Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, and confused statements by Culture Secretary Maria Miller. It is almost a year since Leveson reported. Time to get it done.
Here is what I think will eventually happen, and another reason for optimism. Dacre, Black and Co will push their luck and overplay their hand on IPSO. It will be clear to anyone who can read that it is not Leveson compliant. As politicians, public and the victims of media abuse lose patience, so will sections of the press less wrapped up in the Dacre-Black Lie Machine. Some will then set up a self-regulator to meet Royal Charter standards. Other newspapers will join because the costs of staying out – eg paying both sides of a libel case – will be so high. The system will settle down, and we will all look back with utter bemusement at their warnings of an end to civilisation as we know it, and contempt at their machinations.
Yet still the Lie Machine cranks on. Repressive Britain, I read recently. So let’s talk about repression. Turkey had 49 journalists imprisoned last year, followed by Iran on 45, China 32, Eritrea 28, Syria 15, Britain well down the table, on zero.
There is only one big point put forward with which I have sympathy. The suggestion that countries which DO repress the media will say Britain is doing so, therefore why shouldn’t we? But they can only pose the question because of the lies told by our press. And for further evidence of lies and hypocrisy, go to Ireland, where UK titles have signed up to a similar system without any skin falling from their Pinnochio noses.
The threat to journalism comes not from politicians, but from within. From arrogant and overweening industry leaders who love editorials saying ‘wake up and smell the coffee,’ but cannot smell it for themselves; cannot see that falling sales are about more than technology, they are about falling credibility, and rising public awareness about their methods, and abuse of power.
Once this debate is settled, journalism can start to look at how it rebuilds its reputation.
As I said yesterday, it can only be done by the next generation. This is one of the biggest reasons for optimism – the Murdoch-Dacre generation has had its day. You do not have to have a Masters in corporate history to suggest that the post Murdoch era will lead to substantial change in his companies. Politicians who have been so reluctant to tackle standards, might then see, as the Empire moves and separates in different directions, that the real issue, ducked by successive governments, is ownership.
The leadership of this generation have been Murdoch, Dacre, who shorn of the moderating David English and exploiting the weakness of Rothermere, became a different animal, the Barclays to a lesser extent, all of an age and reputation where influence and strength are waning. They cannot see, not least since Leveson, their similarity with union leaders in the Thatcher era, desperately clinging on to power and systems being overtaken by people demanding change. The change is happening, and will happen, in part because of public anger, campaigning by victims and activists, and also because a younger generation is better at reading the rhythms of change.
I mentioned Zuckerberg yesterday, 29; Google’s Larry Page a veteran at 40; the owners of twitter thirty somethings. Of course these are exceptional people. But it is exceptional people who become leaders, and it is in these who have made their millions, and more so those of the same age being driven as much by idealism as by profits, who give me hope there will be change. How remarkable to pick up last Friday’s FT and read the Business Life profile of online magazine editor, Tavi Gevinshon, aged 17.
It could be, of course, that the new media will simply create new oligarchs, less interested in good journalism – which costs money – than in the financial power the platforms and advertising give them. Let’s be very wary of billionaire techies thinking algorithms and blogs are all you need for journalism. Let’s see how Amazon founder Jeff Bezos handles the Washington Post. Let’s see if the sense develops that the Facebook Twitter revolution is really only about the flotations, not a more democratic media. Let’s keep an eye on so-called ‘Demand Media’ – aka advertorials – gaining hold. Let’s be wary too of the danger of a new rich-poor divide which further weakens journalism as a pillar of democracy – on the one side free news in short blasts, on the other ‘proper’ journalism, reserved for those willing to pay for it. But for now let’s be optimistic, and try to ensure that social media is a counterweight to oligarchism, not a modern, sexier version.
We see its benefits too in the way the press find themselves at the centre of storms they are more used to creating. Jan Moir when she wrote what many felt to be offensive and homophobic remarks. The Guardian when some felt it overstepped the balance between security and freedom of information. The Mail with its attack on Ed Miliband’s father. I was pleased when Dacre was finally forced into print with his lame defence, and pleased that he felt I was orchestrating the campaign against him. I wasn’t, but certainly I was playing a part, seeking to ensure, just for a few days, he was subject to the sort of scrutiny he expects others in powerful positions to endure every day.
Once, they could control the content, its presentation, and the response. Now they can be challenged more openly, even those who block comments merely find them ventilated more loudly elsewhere. This is changing the relationship between journalism and the public, largely in the public’s favour.
At the other end of the income scale from Zuckerberg and Co, campaigns like Everyday Sexism and No More Page 3 have been interesting additions. Page 3’s centrality to the Sun’s success reflected prevailing cultural winds at the time. But culture changes. The campaign for its removal uses social and conventional media to engage directly with the paper about its content, and in so doing is actually part of the journalistic process.
The thing to be clear about is that journalism isn’t dying, and that is a good thing. It’s just that technological advance means the print platform is gradually, very gradually, disappearing. But print journalism didn’t die when radio came along. It adapted. Radio didn’t die when TV came along. It adapted. The web is forcing all forms of media, and politics, to adapt.
More optimism – the new delivery systems can be more democratic even if at times they seem anarchic, and they offer the opportunity to pioneer a journalism less influenced by corporate interests. Rightly the media corporations are doing all they can to build online audiences for their journalistic content, but previously tame audiences are harder to corral. Political and business elites will always fight hard for themselves. But there is at least a chance that in the next generation, media ownership and control will be, to coin a New Labour phrase, for the many not the few.
The new technologies empower a growing army of citizen journalists, bloggers, readers and commenters to construct more pluralistic debate. A monopolistic industrial model of journalism where the agenda was formulated by journalist elites is shifting towards a networked model based on profit and non-profit, individual and organised journalistic practices. As the Murdoch-Dacre generation fades away, that is grounds for optimism, but this generation has to make it happen.
Witness also the way that those who believe in investigative journalism are doing something about it. Here is another irony: for all the talk of Watergate and Thalidomide, the Murdoch-Dacre generation no longer really does the journalism they claim to be defending. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism was born of the fear that media which used to do proper investigations either don’t want, or can’t afford to. Pro-Publicca in the US. The Knight Foundation. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a network of 160 reporters in 60 countries who collaborate on big investigations, like the illegal trade of human tissue, or the dangers of the global trade in asbestos. The Centre for Investigative Journalism, a charity committed to training journalists in in-depth reporting and defence of the public interest. These are important steps, again grounds for optimism.
Before his death, Robin Cook used to cite a report which suggested the positive to negative ratio in our papers had moved from 3-1 in 1974 to 1-18 in the early 21st century. It reflects the widespread belief that negativity, hysteria, sensation and crisis are all that sell. In fact, I believe the press made a collective strategic error with this approach. The positivity around London’s Olympics was a rare example of public mood overwhelming the usual negativity and desire for failure of the media. The negativity, overblown hype and lack of balance have helped turn people away from the press as a prime source of news. The rise in social networks is in part based on the concept of ‘friends’ – we do not believe politicians as we used to; we do not believe the media; we believe each other.
The papers think their decline is about technology. I think it is as much about their values and their journalism. Even at the Mirror we had a network of foreign correspondents, all gone. Are people becoming less interested in the world – I doubt it given how much more people travel – or is it simply that modern journalism cannot afford the investment needed to cover the world as opposed to those issues it deems newsworthy,and which are easy? Like what’s on TV. Even the big global news agencies like Reuters, AP and AFP leave vast swathes of the world uncovered.
Specialist journalism within many mainstream outfits is dying. We had health, defence, education, environment, transport correspondents, all areas of national life covered by someone dedicated to developing expertise and contacts. Without them, should anyone be surprised that so much copy now comes from PR material? Nor are we just talking about tabloids and celebrity PR. The Columbia Journalism Review established that in one edition of the Wall Street Journal, half of the stories were based on press releases.
The press claim reverence for democracy, and regularly attacked us for ‘marginalising Parliament.’ The real marginalization of Parliament comes from the failure to report it. Jack Straw showed that between the 30s and the 80s, quality newspapers, when Parliament was sitting, ran 800 lines of copy per day on average. By the early 90s, it was down to fewer than 100. Even on the Mirror, we had two fulltime gallery reporters. Now most papers have none, and Parliamentary coverage is by joke-smiths writing sketches, occasional clips from PMQs on TV with the question usually not what was it about, but who ‘won’? They might argue that it doesn’t sell. But in a democracy, the answer to that is ‘so what?’ A dedicated Parliament channel does not mean mainstream news should relegate Parliament as it has done. Perhaps sixteen gallery reporters for the Times was overmanning but these days, wander into the public gallery and regularly you’ll see a lone Hansard reporter recording proceedings.
It is the same in local government, where local papers have been hurt by cuts in investment in journalism, often when the papers themselves continue to make a profit. It is the same in the courts. There used to be more than twenty reporters working for agencies out of the High Court. Now down to a handful. The media are pushing for cameras in courtrooms. Every day there are courts operating without any media coverage at all. It is all about getting to the new and sensational not actually about covering what happens. Those who have run the industry have done so as though they were making cars, cakes or fridges, but journalism is not the same, because of its centrality to the democratic process, national and international dialogue.
A word about the public. It is not easy for politicians or media to criticise the public. I can, and I do. It is too easy just to blame politicians and press. Of course the media has a responsibility to inform, but the public has a responsibility to want to be informed sufficient to play a role, at least the act of voting. Perhaps previous generations had less choice how they spent their time, much less entertainment, but also I think they had a higher sense that they should be informed. People thinking it matters who they vote for in X Factor, but not in the choice of their MP or Prime Minister; who ‘can’t be bothered’ to find out what the choices are. The Reuters Institute did an interesting piece of work using focus groups, which showed most people did not actually understand the stories they were hearing reported. For example, in half a dozen UK groups shown reports on the primaries leading to Obama’s election as Democrat candidate, every person in every group thought the primary was the presidential election itself. And in the States, recently comedian/presenter Jimmy Kimmel did a wonderful report on Americans passionately saying they preferred The Affordable Care Act over Obamacare – not realising they are the same thing. Media and politics make massive assumptions about public knowledge. Google it, laugh and then despair.
The negativity, disinterest and apathy call for politics to do a better job of defending itself. It also requires more political education, from a positive standpoint. Just as we teach kids that sport is good for them, we should teach that politics at its best is a good thing, and public service something they should aspire to not sneer at. We should lower the voting age, and introduce compulsory voting- with a ‘none of the above’ option – in local and national elections. Russell Brand’s performance with Jeremy Paxman was electrifying TV, but dangerous. People should get involved. They should vote. And they should get into politics in whatever way can make a difference.
So journalism matters. It always will. Politicians will always need to be wary about it. But the fact that media brands have less control is a good things for viewers and readers, and the fact that politicians cannot control the agenda as they could, even in my time, is no bad thing either.
I am often asked – was Malcolm Tucker based on me? To which I say ‘what – a sweary Scottish spin doctor trying to maintain strategic cohesion among ministers, and set the government agenda across the media?’ Fuck yeah!
But the new media landscape and its relentless pressures actually mean that politicians should focus more on strategy, less on the day to day, minute to minute. Angela Merkel is technically not a great communicator, if judged by Clinton charisma, Obama rhetoric, Blair delivery of a message,Thatcher drama. But say the name and you know who and what she is. That is effective strategic communication over time. Too many respond to this chaotic new media landscape by being tactical. The right approach is to focus ever more sharply on strategy, make the weather rather than just respond to the squalls.
Since researching these speeches, and trying to say something I did not say at Leveson, I have perhaps surprised myself in wanting to speak up for journalism, despite despising much that the Murdoch-Dacre generation has done to our culture. Democracy needs good journalism. None of us should want a journalism that is under invested, lacking in proper standards, not counting. Nobody benefits from the phrase ‘you can’t believe what you read in the papers’ moving from something people say to something they actually believe.
Journalism, defined so much recently by its own scandals, celebritisation, at times a moral depravity in which all that matters is the story, true or false, no matter how it is got, has to regain its place as a recognised and respected source of inquiry, a mechanism of accountability, a watchdog for protecting the public interest. It will take time. But I think provided a new generation comes through that does have moral codes, does have respect for people and for learning, does understand the wrong turn this fading generation took, then it can happen.
Princeton professor Paul Starr gave this argument for journalism:
‘One danger of reduced news coverage is to the integrity of government…News coverage is not all that newspapers have given us. They have lent the public a powerful means of leverage over the State, and this leverage is now at risk. Newspapers have helped to control corrupt tendencies in both government and business. If we are to avoid a new era of corruption, we are going to have to summon that power in other ways. Our new technologies do not retire our old responsibilities.’ For all the bad in journalism, I found myself agreeing with that.
Which brings me, finally, to Wikileaks, and Edward Snowden. I know people in senior positions who argue convincingly that both these mass dumpings of important, often secret information, have done fundamental damage to our and others’ security and interests. Journalists argue that they handled them sensitively, mindful of the risks. Security people say they cannot possibly know.
The former journalist in me would like to side with the papers. The former government spokesman in me sides with the security services and the politicians. The experience in me says that there have to be mechanisms and relationships, and the capacity for serious and meaningful dialogue, to agree a framework of rules and to discuss specific issues as they arise.
None of this is easy. Snowden produced much we should know (as did Wikileaks) but the effect was to put journalists in the position of deciding what should and shouldn’t be secret – with surely no full knowledge of what could be harmful, even deadly. These two positions – 1, we should know what’s done in our name, and 2, publication could kill agents, harm methods, cause a terrorist massacre – can’t be dissolved by one side asserting that it must be got out because it’s an outrage if it doesn’t, or a blanket condemnation of anything coming out on the other. This is one of the biggest questions facing contemporary journalism.
Back to Bernstein. Most journalism of any depth depends on ‘leaks’ – someone in a position of authority, who tells a journalist what’s going on behind closed doors. This can be an ‘authorised’ leak, which is common: or an unauthorised leak, which stems from a variety of motives – one of which might be disagreement with something within a given organisation and a desire to disclose as a way of bringing about change. Ironically, the film Fifth Estate is based on ‘leaks’ from within Wikileaks.
WikiLeaks opened up huge questions of responsibility. What is being released? How? Who is affected? What are the consequences? Does the release of the information contravene norms/values/law? Has all this affected diplomacy? If a country is fearful of secret views and facts being tapped and published, are they prepared to disclose important information to their allies? Is a long-term consequence that there would be less not more transparency because of resulting changes in diplomacy?
On the other hand, does WikiLeaks not conform to ‘everyone’s right to freedom of opinion and expression; which includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontier’, as championed in the First Amendment of the US Constitution, or Article 5 of the German Basic Law or Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
These are big questions, with two strongly contrasting views.
That of the revealers – that the care taken to redact compromising material leaves the presentation of the rest in the public interest.
Of the governments and security services – that the journalists cannot possibly know what to redact and it is in the public interest – for security reasons – to keep secrets.
It is clearly in our interest to know how much investigation is encroaching on our personal communication and information – and on politicians such as Angela Merkel and Dilma Rousseff – though personally I feel more uncomfortable about what the new media corporations know about us, and constantly try to sell us, based on our digital footprint.
It is clearly in our interests to have security services who keep us secure. But one thing I know: the self same people who attack the security services for gathering information will be the first to ask ‘why didn’t they know?’ when someone gets through the cracks and blows up a bus.
What Greenwald, The Guardian, the NYT and others have been close to saying is that journalists are as if not more able to decide on public interest and safety than the state and its security. That is a vast claim which cannot be made with confidence. Wikileaks is a source. Snowden is a source. The fact that he is a source with a treasure trove of damaging, sensational, secret information – with legitimate questions about why he had access to it all by the way – does not make him God, even for The Guardian. It makes him a source. Less deep throat than deep technology. But a source. Editors then have to decide what to do with the source material, and that is best done in a journalism framed by an agreed regulatory framework, moral codes of behaviour, and mature dialogue.
As the post Leveson press make ludicrous comparisons with China or Iran, ask yourself this – would a Snowden type story even see the light of the day there? Here is where the press should be optimistic – because political, cultural and technological trends are all towards openness and transparency. When I was a journalist, ‘we never comment on intelligence’ was the standard line. Spy chiefs could not be named. Now they appear live on TV, quizzed by MPs. The Spycatcher saga, in which the State prevented publication of a book, is almost unimaginable today. One or two Tory MPs called on The Guardian to be prosecuted over Snowden. President Obama meanwhile rang colleagues to apologise and called for a debate on the balance between privacy and public interest, secrecy and disclosure.
It will never be a perfect relationship between state and media, and nor should it. But here’s why I see grounds for optimism
– because people are more media savvy, fed up with what they get served up, and that is driving change.
– because there will eventually be a new and better system of regulation, serving the public not press or politics.
– because the Murdoch-Dacre generation is fading out, and new media and a new generation are eroding their power and influence, democratising our media.
– because the trends are all towards openness and transparency.
– because however painfully, politics and journalism are adapting to the new age.
– and because politicians can afford to be more strategic.
The force of the media age, and above all the deadline-destroying 24 hour news channels and the border-destroying Internet, have brought changes which are difficult for both old government and old media. But both will adapt best if there is clear understanding of the different jobs they do, and mutual respect for that difference. That is what was eroded when ‘spin’ became a catch all term of abuse for all communication. It is time a bit of mutual respect and understanding of differing responsibilities returned. The press seeing that the proposed new system of regulation is not the menace they claim, and recognising that amid the threats of technological change have been huge opportunities too, would be a good start to the process. And politicians being more not less strategic, less not more tactical, focused on long term challenges and big issues, ignoring the day to day noise, would improve public debate more quickly than they might imagine.