News of the World: victim and villain in the poisonous communication of public service

July 8, 2011

Most aspects of the News of the World’s demise have been picked over. But this is not, for all the headlines, a scandal of journalism, or proprietors, or mergers and acquisitions. Journalists are journalists, proprietors are businessmen and deals are what they do. This is a scandal of public service and public information.

The most serious aspect of this inquiry is what it says about the British police service, its culture of collusion and media “relationship management”.

Consider this line on Dick Fedorcio, the Met’s head of media relations, buried in a Nick Davies report about attempts allegedly linked to the News of the World to intimidate a senior police officer:

Scotland Yard took no further action, apparently reflecting the desire of Fedorcio, who has had a close working relationship with Brooks, to avoid unnecessary friction with the News of the World.

Note the “close working relationship”.

This scandal of goes beyond people like the police, of course, to Whitehall and its marketing of public service.

The toxic interdependencies which these “relationships” foster could easily have been bypassed at any time by governments brave or determined enough to address the issue of how the public should be informed of what is done in its name and on its taxes. In the case of the Met – Boris Johnson take note.

Instead government, and local government, press offices have outgrown newsrooms. Communication is not on the basis of information but on ‘quid pro quos’. It is the culture of embed, access and favour.

Let’s have a debate that goes beyond it, and that asks how we can put information provision and not spin control at the heart of public service. Ed Miliband claims the public want a “frank, free and fearless press”. Let the public sort the press out.

If politicians sorted out the way public bodies communicated they might reduce the incentives for journalists to pay public servants for information and the trading in what is effectively “inside information”.

In the meantime let us hear from the likes of Mr Fedorcio on his relationships, and how he manages them. In the interests of public service.

 

 

 

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