The industry I have loathed and loved for more decades than I care to remember is going through the sort of public beasting which was reserved for witches in medieval England. No doubt there were excesses and a few individuals will no doubt find themselves before the courts. Should it emerge that they were indeed guilty of criminality, and not have a legitimate reason for their actions, then I am sure they will be punished.
The trouble – as many tabloid journalists like myself see it – is that there seems to be a rampaging to desire to flay all of us, and do so now, without any form of trial or jury. Unsurprisingly those at the forefront of this campaign – take a bow Labour member of parliament Tom Watson – are politicians who rarely see eye-to-eye with the media. Many are indeed still recovering from the trauma of having their dodgy expenses laid bare before their constituents courtesy of the press. Mr Watson, for example, claimed the maximum food allowance and had a penchant for food shopping at Marks and Spencer on the taxpayer. The excuse that they doled out was they were told it was OK to do it, yet the same MPs now deny that explanation to journalists working for News International.
But the attacks have not just come from MPs. The Guardian newspaper has also been revelling in reminding us what they have been saying for years – namely that tabloid newspapers are “just awful”. The fact that many of their most senior journalists came from those self-same tabloids – and indeed feature in the Motorman Report – is blatantly over looked. Who can also have failed to notice that the paper – which already has readers leaving it in droves – is so much duller without the News of the World to re-write on Monday.
However, one of the most remarkable features of recent months has been the emergence of the so-called Media Standards Trust, a registered charity, which also runs the Hacked Off campaign group. Few journalists who have covered the Leveson Inquiry at the High Court will not have run into one of the trust’s staff – tweeting from the hearing but most definitely not tweeting all of it. Indeed if you want a fair and accurate report of each day’s evidence I strongly suggest you look elsewhere. Ben Fenton, of the FT, is an excellent example of someone tweeting all the evidence – without bias or slant.
The open hostility this group shows towards tabloids is all there for all to see – sweeping generalisations such as “you all make things up” are liberally espoused by its co-ordinator, a former local newspaper reporter whose only experience of working at a higher level was as an intern at the Independent. Martin Moore and Brian Cathcart, the most public faces of the campaign, are further examples of the anti-tabloid agenda which sadly categorises the trust.
Recently I decided to take a further look at the Media Standards Trust – particularly keen to see if it was meeting the standards it was now apparently requiring of the rest of us. According to its website it is independent – yet has board members from the Scott Trust, which owns the Guardian, and also from the Pearson Foundation, which is the charitable arm of the Financial Times.
Equally against this independence claim is the powerful presence of one Charles Manby, the former worldwide head of Goldman Sachs. This bank has more reason to fear the media than most, after it was revealed that it playing a leading role in the sub prime mortgage collapse, which in turn has seen economies hit around the world. According to the charity’s accounts he was the largest individual donor back in 2007/08 – the same year that his bank was involved in the scandalous sub prime mortgage fiasco.
Perhaps mindful of the sort of image this conveys, or perhaps because Mr Manby and other secret donors were keen to keep their contributions private, the Media Standards Trust has not published details of who gives what since then. So, for example, the 2010 accounts show donations and gifts of £45,059 without any explanation of who, what, or why.
One would imagine that an organisation such as that run by Messrs Moore and Cathcart would be keen to explain all of this – particularly as they regaularly lambast tabloids for a lack of openness and hidden agendas. Last week I tweeted Mr Moore a whole series of questions – Hacked Off’s initial response was to suggest that because I don’t reveal my name then I am not entitled to the answers. Thankfully others pointed out that this was hardly an example of transparency – and its co-ordinator promised Moore would answer when he returned from holiday.
On Sunday he responded to the tweets at 8am – saying he would be addressing the issue once he had un-packed. Sadly this proved to be something of a false dawn – all he has done in two further tweets is post a link to accounts dating back to 2010. Then on Monday I put to him Mr Manby’s contribution and asked for a breakdown of who has given what since – the silence back from the organisation which wants “openness” and “accountability” has been deafening.
It appears that a charitable trust does not think it should be answerable to anyone – least of all the media it now seeks to change and – wait for it – make more open. No answers then to why a banker is on its board, what donations, if any, it has received from banks, how much it has been receiving on donations from unspecified individuals, or why it is claiming to be independent when the Guardian and the FT are involved.
My colleagues in the tabloid media say they have now lost all respect for Mr Moore and his cronies – so quite how they expect to garner our support is beyond me.