Taking on Trump’s war on truth

I’ve read thousands of words this weekend about the new leader of the free world.

And yet, in so many ways, words have failed us.

Even us journalists.

An air of utter disbelief has greeted the Trump administration’s first weekend in power, with extraordinary untruths from his key aides.

ITV News quite rightly made the most of the concept of the ‘alternative facts’ term used by Kellyanne Conway, while the BBC bravely waded into the cackhanded attempt at recreating 1984 by Sean Spicer.

It’s clear this is a deliberate and calculated tactic by the regime to muddy every possible water so that voters view the truth as something that can never quite be known.

When CNN was singled out for particular abuse by Trump a couple of weeks ago, the channel’s rivals didn’t all exactly leap to its defence.

But this weekend, CNN got it right.

It didn’t broadcast Spicer’s press conference live, instead choosing to report it later, after analysing and underlying those blatant rewrites of history.

One of my favourite quotes – from the tireless peace campaigner Martin Niemoller – seems particularly telling here.

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Journalists – in the USA and beyond – must stand together.

If Trump refuses to take CNN’s questions – or any other media’s – then the press corps should walk out.

If he continues to attack the fourth estate, they should boycott his press conferences – or at least refuse to show them live and unexpurgated.

As we mourn the passing of American journalist Wayne Barrett, who beautifully described reporters as ‘the detectives of the people’, we must commit to follow that mantra.

If we don’t rise to this challenge, we might as well all pack up and go home.

 

The new president may not have started a military conflict yet.

But Trump has launched a war on the truth.

And we must stand together and fight back.

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‘Putting on your happy face’: journalists suffer from anxiety more than we let on

It’s a profession where stereotypes abound.

They may be outdated, living on only in TV dramas and novels.

But in the minds of most ‘civilians’, many of whom will also have long memories of the phone hacking scandal, journalists will always be brash, overconfident and in your face.

Some are.

But most aren’t.

And an awful lot would seriously struggle to summon up the sort of assertiveness and self-belief that is at the heart of our industry’s popular image.

Which is why it was so refreshing to see a reporter writing about her battle with anxiety today.

Daily Post journalist Amelia Shaw has opened up about the exhausting reality of living with an anxiety disorder.

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There are Amelias in a lot of newsrooms – as well as, I suspect, on every journalism course in the country.

That happy face which Amelia paints on every day – with the help of medication – is one worn by countless other journalists up and down the land.

Some of my friends are among them.

Theirs is a secret known only to their closest colleagues: to all intents and purposes they will appear to be fully functioning media professionals.

This is more than just self-doubt of the sort that some of our top writers regularly experience.

This is destructive, debilitating and damaging stuff.

That Amelia is able to meet it head-on – not just as a journalist, but also as a mum and a partner – is a huge credit to her, her family, her friends and her newsroom bosses.

 

I hope her story encourages more journalists to come forward with their own.

And that students whose journalistic aspirations appear threatened by anxiety disorders can look forward to a more optimistic future.

Endeavour and the case of the Messy Press Regulation Plan

 

 

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I do love a bit of Endeavour.

The Observer called it ‘the best crime drama of the week’ – a big claim when Sherlock, No Offence, Prime Suspect and the brilliant Unforgotten are also on parade.

But last night’s opener for a new series was two hours of class.

One of the many pleasures of the 1960s drama is its depiction of the journalists of the Oxford Mail.

Admittedly there was a clichéd dig last night, with a reporter with Fleet Street ambitions nicking DC Morse’s notebook to help her with her triple murder splash.

But there is also the rather more nuanced character of Mail editor Dorothea Frazil.

She would have been a pioneer at that time, with journalism still very much a male-dominated profession.

And she also spends more time out of the office than most editors would have done 50 years ago – and than many do now.

For, if the truth be told, a lot of editors keep a pretty low profile.

For a job which theoretically calls for the larger-than-life qualities of character, leadership and confidence, some of the ones I’ve come across over the years have been shy and retiring.

Not this week, though.

You can’t move for editors in their papers and websites at the moment.

Every day, my Twitter feed brings me a new editor having his or her say in first person pieces filled with doom-laden warnings about the future of an independent media.

I opened my copy of the Wiltshire Gazette and Herald last week to find my old friend Gary Lawrence peering out at me, and asking me to imagine life ‘without my Gazette and Herald’.

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I couldn’t, Gary. I just couldn’t.

From Yorkshire to Sussex and Devon to Maidenhead, where Theresa May’s local paper devoted its front page to the issue, editors are all at it. And it’s not just them.

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The editor of the Sun, Tony Gallagher, and his counterpart at the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, have been busy, too, along with – God help us – Jeremy Clarkson and Rod Liddle.

Whenever any one of those four start pontificating about the importance of a free press, I reach for that quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons.”

This tweet rather nails the Mail on this, I feel.

Never mind the butts, though.

There is a but.

And that’s that they all have a point.

What’s prompted this outpouring – which has also included heavyweight warnings from two of my journalistic heroes, Andrew Norfolk and David Walsh – is the continued threat of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act.

This is a piece of legislation which, if enacted, would force media organisations not signed up to a Government-recognised press regulator to pay the legal costs of anyone who sued them – whether those people won or not.

Campaigners from Hacked Off – set up in the wake of the phone hacking scandal that led to the Leveson Inquiry – claim that Government recognition for that regulator is no more sinister than the MoT test for your car.

They point to the existence of Ofcom as a very much alive Government-backed regulator which somehow allows broadcasters to get on with the job of holding power to account.

The very practical issue for the Government is that not a single significant news organisation has thrown its lot in with the one regulator which has been approved, Impress.

Hundreds of papers are signed up to IPSO, which will not be seeking recognition.

I’m afraid I took an instant dislike to Impress when I attended a conference at which two of its representatives talked rudely through the contributions.

I don’t like the fact that it’s funded by Max Mosley, either.

And I’m un-Impress-ed that it has failed to come up with any improvements to the tried and tested editor’s code of practice currently overseen by IPSO.

I admire the people who run IPSO, particularly its chairman Sir Alan Moses.

I’m concerned some of its recent decisions have lacked bite – from its acceptance of the odious Kelvin Mackenzie’s right to be obnoxious about Muslim newsreaders to its approval of the naming of young school uniform refuseniks.

But it’s in there, with its sleeves rolled up, dealing with knotty issues, day after day.

So we’re in a mess, with legal action from reform campaigners and the media alike, a Culture Secretary sitting on her hands, and an industry in financial crisis.

And when there’s a mess, there’s one place where one can always find solace.

Private Eye.

No friend of Fleet Street, in fact no friend of anyone in power, bless it.

But it is powerfully opposed to Section 40.

 

I don’t like the Mail. I don’t like its nasty, inward-looking, cynical outlook on life, or its lazy, stereotypical, writing by numbers news values.

I don’t like the thought that families whose lives were trashed by heartless journalists feel shortchanged.

But the reason Ofcom wouldn’t work for the rest of the media is that a free press has to be opinionated, campaigning, difficult, awkward and mischevious.

It’s an argument well made by Professor Tim Crook in a piece for The Conversation.

In the end, we must ensure that the law can deal with criminality – as it did with phone hacking, eventually.

In the end, we must ensure that IPSO can deal with inaccuracy and intrusion with speed and strength, and that it searches its collective soul to do more to enforce its discrimination clause.

And in the end, freedom of expression – and the ability of scores of regional newsrooms to do work inspired by the polar opposite of the motivation behind phone hacking – must prevail.

It’s a campaign that old Dorothea would be shouting from the Oxford rooftops.