Media: Plumbing the depths in the search for sleaze

Press coverage of John Prescott's visit to the Maldives to inspect dying coral was a travesty, argues Roger Harrabin

AFTER WADING through the press coverage of John Prescott's whistlestop visit to the Maldives I have developed an unfamiliar and unexpected sense of pity for some of Britain's senior politicians - and a sense of despair at the failure of the media to explain to the public the big picture of what on earth is really happening.

Here are the facts: the world has experienced the most pervasive and destructive death of coral reefs that scientists have ever registered. On some reefs in the Maldives, 95 per cent of corals are dead. In Vietnam, some ancient corals thought to be more than 1,000 years old have been killed. Some sober scientists are referring to the episode as a global catastrophe. And this month the US State Department asserted that climate change fuelled by the air pollution we create was probably partly to blame.

This massive and worrying upheaval in nature has scarcely been reported in the British media. Mr Prescott travelled to the Maldives at the end of an official visit to India to discuss the issue with the President and to gather ammunition for future global negotiations by witnessing the coral destruction for himself.

Here is the story as it was spun by most of the media: After years of condemning Tory sleaze, Labour are now up to their necks in it. John Prescott has taken an extravagant holiday at the taxpayers' expense. He is staying in luxury hotels, sipping pina coladas, getting a suntan, and having fun scuba diving on the coral reef. And by the way, he is fat ... so he is fair game for ridicule if he wears a wetsuit.

Of course, any ministerial visit to a paradise such as the Maldives was always rich in "junket story" potential and the Fleet Street die was cast when The Sun concocted a fictitious postcard from Mr Prescott to Tony Blair, apologising for missing the Budget while farting his way through a plateful of samosas. The news editors put political correspondents or "colour" reporters on the case and kept at a distance the environment correspondents who were best able to judge the value of the mission.

The result for Mr Prescott was a very mixed blessing. He will go to forthcoming UN environment negotiations with increased personal clout, and may capture the imagination of his fellow ministers as he describes his dive in a "graveyard" of coral, and pleads for more action to cut pollution. He has also helped tell the coral story to millions of BBC listeners and viewers at home and abroad. But his integrity has been called into question.

This is a high price to pay, and Mr Prescott felt it sharply. Mr Prescott was indeed thrilled by the fish life he saw on his dives, but the dive itself was disrupted by potentially dangerous problems with his scuba equipment because he had not had time to try on the gear beforehand. And for the rest of the two-and-a-half day visit, Mr Prescott sweltered through visits and meetings in a full suit and tie in an attempt to deny a short- sleeved photo opportunity to a member of the British paparazzi.

With hindsight the Government's spin doctors could have avoided the easiest media hit by moving the story location from the honeymoon destination of the Maldives to the lesser-known Indian coral islands of the Laccadives. Presentationally this would have been safer, but the impact of the coral story would have suffered. The richer fish life in the Maldives made more powerful TV, and the "Paradise Lost" story of the Maldives had much more listener appeal.

I have returned from the trip with a burning anger at media trivialisation of a major environmental issue. Do the people who make news decisions really believe that the public do not care about such things as the future of the planet? And who in their right mind will want to lead the nation if we continue to hound all politicians as if they are all rascals and cheats?

Roger Harrabin travelled to the Maldives with the Deputy Prime Minister to report on the recent global swathe of coral death. He is Environment Specialist on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits