IoS radio review: Enquirer, Radio 4, Friday Free Thinking Festival, Radio 3, Tuesday

The press condemned by its own mouth
  • @cmaume

We beleaguered hacks are having a bad enough time of it without the Scottish National Theatre weighing in: "Journalism is a sexy profession full of ugly people"? You speak for yourself, mate.

Free-ranging and plotless, Enquirer was based on interviews with 45 journos, and every word in the production was taken from them: the British press condemned out of its own mouth – a neat trick, deftly done. It conducted a thorough investigation into many of the ills of modern journalism – although having worked with some of those who are depicted, I should say that it also showed how even verbatim quotations can be made to twist things subtly.

Roger Alton, a former Independent editor, might reasonably feel he was stitched up good and proper by the simple expedient of being given the accent of a moustache-twirling villain from Victorian melodrama, which gave everything he uttered a patina of cynicism and menace. Had I never met him, going on the evidence of Enquirer I'd want to punch him in the face if ever I did.

The most effective passages came from Ros Wynne-Jones (with a Scots accent, oddly). One story she did for the Mirror was spiked because it was about "Pakis"; her account of how her Express piece about a massacre of women and children in East Timor was held over because of a minor royal wedding was similarly scandalous. We gentlemen and gentlewomen of the press got one good line: "Most journalists … really give a shit." Sadly, I'm not sure how true that is.

Some of the first outpourings of my great and noble profession were the crime pamphlets that gripped the nation in the late 16th century, and Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival continued with an entertaining talk by the academic Nandini Das. Some of it sounded remarkably modern: "counterfeit cranks", who pretended to have epileptic fits in the street in order to exploit the kindness of strangers, and "freighters", who went around with false licences pretending to be collecting for charity. At the time that travel writing was becoming popular, as Das observed, the crime pamphlets opened readers' eyes to a seedily exotic world on their own doorsteps.