Posts Tagged ‘The Sun’

The Hillsborough Disaster and the Fresh Dangers of Media Manipulation

The long-overdue answers about police conduct during the appalling Hillsborough disaster have captured the media, and particularly the red-top, imagination. It’s small wonder- the tragedy is ingrained into our national psyche to a degree unmatched by any comparable event. Understandably, the families of the 96 have campaigned unrelentingly for justice, but the fascination extends beyond them through British working class and middle class culture.

Why? Well, the images shown on Grandstand and subsequently burned into the brains of a generation probably have something to do with it, as do the frankly peerless communication skills of bereaved father Trevor Hicks- a man of colossal dignity and humbling demeanour. For me, though, there is a deeper fear helping to drive this. Hillsborough laid bare just how easy it is for propagandists to manipulate the media. To an extent which only now becomes completely clear, publicity material and records of the event have been doctored and re-doctored to an extent which can only be described as Orwellian.

The results of this enquiry are on one level to be taken at face value: a much needed step on the journey towards transparency and justice following a black day in British history. However, on another, they should come as a warning. If this level of spin was possible back in the hard-nosed 80’s, think how vulnerable a post-Leveson press, facing an over-swelled PR industry, might be.

After the Phone Hacking: Networking Sociably on the Social Networks

Back in February, I wrote an entry about the ‘lost art of the long lunch’, which lamented an unfortunate consequence of the modern, social media-dominated environment and its ten minute news cycle. With most conversations now conducted via mouthpiece or screen, and quickly at that, it strikes me that the generations of hacks cutting their teeth from the late 80s onwards lack the highly sensitive interpersonal skills of their forbears.

The Fleet Street era of colossal expense accounts and booze-fuelled revelations couldn’t last, of course, but it had one thing going for it. When devious tactics were employed to extract information, more often than not they were employed face to face. It was open warfare of the kind where the loser probably deserved what was coming to them, if only because they’d had a few too many brandies with dessert. Perhaps if a generation of scribblers were not chained to their desks in the Wapping Gulag, the need for hacking might have taken a back seat. Worshipping the powers of a lunchtime claret, and its ability to make a contact sing, might have suppressed the lust for the dark arts.

Journalists have always done whatever it takes to get information. Nobody in the media industry has any illusions about that. Look at how readily Kelvin Mackenzie implicitly defended many of those involved in the phone hacking scandal in his 2010 spat with Chris Bryant, for instance. The point is, though he can sympathise with those who did, Mackenzie didn’t resort to the kind of invasive tactics employed at NI publications in the late 90s and early 00s when he edited the Sun. Sure, he didn’t have some of the technology, but he also didn’t have to. Read the rest of this entry »

Power PR: Matthew Freud and the Murdoch Empire

Many media commentators are speculating on who exactly has the most to lose from the precipitous events caused by the News of the World hacking scandal. The obvious casualties are the hundred journalists who have been pushed out into the cold. Murdoch has withdrawn from BSkyB bid. Other titles are in a definitive tailspin. Andy Coulson could be looking at some time in the slammer.

Arguably, the incandescent political damage done by the phone hacking has savaged the Prime Minister’s brand. Any scandal that needs to propel a failing opposition leader into a favourable light requires emergency PR council. Alas, Ed Milliband isn’t free to dance on the Prime Minister’s misfortune because he too is aided by an ex News International journalist.

Matthew Freud is perhaps one player who has even more to lose. I’ve been operating a PR company breathing the same oxygen as Matthew, but he’s been on an impressive mission and built a far bigger empire. Make no mistake, the omnipresent Freud, eminence grise, is held on high by the phantom in the wings. The PR industry gives credence to the fact that he is the country’s most powerful PR broker. His influence, aided by his marriage to the Murdoch family and his close friendship with Rebekah Brooks, simply cannot be ignored. He sits in the middle of the powerful circle to the advantage of many of his clients.
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Anarcho-Royalism in the UK

In 1981 serious riots swept the country, but the Royal Wedding still comforted and distracted the great unwashed with sumptuous street parties and lit beacons of hope.

30 years later, thanks to the digital enlightenment and the forces of social media, we might well find ourselves experiencing significant social unrest at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton – according to the Sun, at least, who lead today’s paper with the ever-so-slightly lubricious headline: ‘Anarchists Target Wills & Kate’.

So has the meticulously planned publicity stunt fallen apart already? Do anarchists rule? Is this pure hype – a cheap Monday morning headline – or have we significantly changed as a nation?

Read the rest of this entry »

Katie Price, Vengeful Goddess of the Tabloids

Ever since Tom Paine’s book Fame: From the Bronze Age to Britney came out, I have been looking more and more at the way celebrity and myth intersect – and now the news, and Katie Price specifically, has presented another killer analogy.

In Celtic mythology, the Year King would be feted and loved and cherished for one full cycle, drawn into the circle of the Earth goddess and made great. Then, to ensure the crops kept growing, he’d be destroyed.

So Katie Price, in her vengeful aspect of the goddess, has struck again Read the rest of this entry »

Leaders, Prime Ministers and the Next Generation

A couple of first nights have grabbed my attention in the last few days, and both of them have presented interesting conundrums to consider.

The first is the production of Yes, Prime Minister that has just transferred to the West End. It’s a great show; very funny, very well acted and rather more radical than one would have expected from a comedy institution that makes it to the stage 20-odd years after its heyday. Buy a seat now! Read the rest of this entry »

No More Heroes: The media, football and built in obsolescence

Today’s edition of the Sun features an exposé of Wayne Rooney’s recent night on the tiles as his team-mates “completed rigorous pre-season fitness tours”. It is a typically irked and excitable article, chipping away at the veneer of sporting heroism that has been liberally applied to Rooney and his sporting colleagues in the past.

The article is desperate to get people fulminating about spoilt football players in the wake of England’s World Cup flop, on the assumption that these football “legends” are heroes and idols for the nation’s kids who are betraying their legions of fans by going out and being normal. They are doing nothing of the sort. Read the rest of this entry »

Hauling England Over the Coles

There is no hope for the England team – every time one of them opens their mouth they put their foot in it and someone (usually the press) helpfully shoves the boot in too.

What do we really expect, though, when the players have too much time, money and self-regard on their hands? Take Ashley Cole, for example: Read the rest of this entry »

Election Stuntwatch: Gordon’s Gaffe on Tape

Finagle’s Law of Dynamic Negatives states that ‘anything that can go wrong, will—at the worst possible moment!’.

From now on, I suspect, any political instance of this law in action will be known as the ‘Brown Variant’, after unguarded remarks about a woman he had just spoken to on a walkabout were broadcast to the world. He condemned Gillian Duffy as a ‘bigot’ into a radio mic he didn’t realise was still live.

Unsurprisingly, the press have pounced. What is surprising is that this is the first serious gaffe on any side in a flawless, highly polished election campaign. Read the rest of this entry »

Who is Pulling Nick Griffin’s PR Strings?

The BBC have, without doubt, handed Nick Griffin and the BNP a potential PR coup by allowing him to appear on Question Time. It is very likely that Griffin will be working desperately hard to avoid belching racist bile, especially as the programme surrounds him – in the interests of the BBC’s “central principle of impartiality” – with Jack Straw (Jewish ancestry and, appropriately, Labour’s Justice secretary), Lady Warsi (Muslim Conservative peer), the critic Bonnie Greer (African American) and token Lib Dem Chris Huhne.

Griffin’s PR nous comes hard earned – the BNP’s Director of Publicity, Mark Collett, has had his share of run-ins with the television, having been caught on camera during Channel 4’s Young, Nazi, and Proud documentary in 2002 declaring his admiration for Adolf Hitler and calling homosexuals “AIDS monkeys” on Russell Brand’s Re:Brand show in the same year. Collett is highly unlikely to want Griffin to fall into the same trap, despite the strong likelihood that he will be mercilessly provoked.

So should we allow a thug in a well-cut suit on the TV to attempt to seduce the masses? Is Griffin likely to raise his status to that of statesman in the circumstances? Prohibition would, I suspect, be more likely to fan the flames of disaffection among voters – who have much to be disaffected about at the moment, hence the 6% who voted BNP in the European elections – and the last thing most people, let alone most politicians, want is to allow them more chances to snare votes.

The hope, then, is that Griffin will succumb to anger and show his dark side, which has been slathered in nice suits and careful spin for the last few years. Gordon Brown has gone on record this morning to say that: “it will be a good opportunity to expose what [the BNP] are about”. Russell Brand has said it with more style in The Sun. According to Brand it will help to let the BNP “gurgle up their chuckle-brained hate-broth” on Question Time. “The right thinking people of the Earth are on relatively safe ground when it comes to the ‘war of words’ with televised bigots,” he adds.

A few years ago Griffin told a meeting of the American Friends of the BNP (which included the then leader of the Ku Klux Klan) that: “Once we’re in a position where we control the British broadcasting media, then perhaps one day the British people might change their mind and say, ‘yes, every last [immigrant] must go’. But if you hold that out as your sole aim to start with, you’re not going to get anywhere. So, instead of talking about racial purity, we talk about identity.”

With this in mind, I think that Michael Corleone’s advice in The Godfather Part 2 – “Keep you friends close, but your enemies closer” – is the best bet. Let’s keep Griffin and his hateful, hate-full party close and hope that they deliver a horse’s head to their own bed, making it clear just how appalling their views, which they keep simmering under the veneer of careful PR, really are.