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David Heath on Reporters Creating, Not Reporting the News

Friday 21 January 2011, 14:02
By David Heath

David Heath, MPAm I upset by the widely reported sting operation on myself and some of my colleagues by the Daily Telegraph shortly before Christmas? You bet I am. Not by the content - it will not come as a great revelation to anyone who regularly reads these columns that, for instance, I still would prefer a system for university finance which did not involve tuition fees, even though I recognise the good work that was put in to producing a very good package which will help a lot of less well-off students, a position which I supported for very good reasons. Nor will it be a surprise to many that I believe some, but certainly not all, Conservatives have little experience of how ordinary people live their lives. I would, and have, said the same about some Labour ministers in the last government, and even of some in my own party.

No, what appals me is the sheer dishonesty. Two people come to my weekly advice surgery in Langport, purporting to be constituents, sisters from Frome coming to see me on behalf of their mother. I spend twenty minutes of valuable time with them, carefully explaining policies of the government and listening to their "concerns", in the process keeping genuine constituents with real problems waiting. Of course, we now know that, far from being constituents, they were reporters working for a daily newspaper and secretly recording my responses. I am told it is naïve not to check they were who they say they are. Sorry, I'm afraid I am still prepared to take my constituents on trust. There is also a salacious undertone that perhaps we were unguarded because we were silly middle-aged men dealing with young, relatively attractive, women. Again, sorry, I'm afraid I deal with all my constituents in the same way, were they to present as svelte super-models or warty old men of ninety-eight. If they ask serious questions, they will get serious responses.

That would be bad enough, not because it is fundamentally dishonest (which it is) and illegal (which it also is), but because it undermines the fundamental relationship between an MP and their constituents in the surgery. Without wishing to sound too pious about it, the advice surgery is a little like a confessional. It is based on total confidentiality on my part, and a readiness to be candid and honest. I am not prepared to change that just because of some journalists on the make.

But what displays further dishonesty is the highly selective extracts printed. It is very instructive that the recording put on their website contained nothing that I haven't said many times in public and in print. It is entirely predictable that the nineteen out of twenty minutes I spent carefully explaining why I felt that government policies, however difficult, were justified, necessary in the national interest, and enjoyed my support, did not feature in the articles. Nor did the references I made to the very good relationship I enjoy with ministerial colleagues, which I value. Instead, the reporters repeatedly expressed a desperate desire that I say something disobliging about the Chancellor of the Exchequer. When I conceded that he was not everyone's cup of tea, something which I think even he would concede, while robustly defending his policies, the first bit is what they, of course, reported.

It reminds me of a few years ago when a television programme ran a light-hearted quiz in which MPs were asked questions about their constituencies. I was asked ten questions, and got seven of them right. When the item was televised, there were just five questions, and I had only two correct. Reality didn't fit their agenda, you see.

Reporters used to report. Now they see it as their function to create news, and to do so, not in the national interest, or fairly, but to pursue their own narrow ends. It stinks.




Comments

James Phillips
Posts: 1
Comment
Re: David Heath on Reporters Creating, Not Reporting the News
Reply #1 on : Fri January 21, 2011, 20:03:52
Very good stuff. To be honest, I hope david heath realises that most people think the telegraph acted disgracefully. I think it actually strengthened lib dems by showing their real views.

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