Stephen Glover on the Press

No fear. No favours. No Boris appeasing the powers above

When I first wrote a media column some 12 years ago, there were very few of us labouring in this vineyard. Roy Greenslade had recently embarked on his highly esteemed
Guardian press column, but I do not think there were any other regular practitioners. Now, serious newspapers and even some magazines bulge with media columns and media diaries. The modern media take themselves very seriously, and since they wield a great deal of power in this country - some would say too much - this self-awareness should be welcomed. The activities of the powerful, new media class must be written about in the same way that politicians and business people are put under the microscope.

When I first wrote a media column some 12 years ago, there were very few of us labouring in this vineyard. Roy Greenslade had recently embarked on his highly esteemed Guardian press column, but I do not think there were any other regular practitioners. Now, serious newspapers and even some magazines bulge with media columns and media diaries. The modern media take themselves very seriously, and since they wield a great deal of power in this country - some would say too much - this self-awareness should be welcomed. The activities of the powerful, new media class must be written about in the same way that politicians and business people are put under the microscope.

But anyone can see there is not an exact parallel. When journalists write about politicians, they are writing about another estate. Of course, a close friendship between a reporter and a member of the Government may influence the way in which a journalist does a story. Editors are sometimes leant on by ministers. But whatever pressures are applied by politicians to journalists behind the scenes, there are at least no commercial considerations. The same cannot be said when journalists write about other journalists. If, for example, the highly esteemed Greenslade should inveigh against one or other newspaper group in his admirable column, how can we be sure that he has not been subtly and, no doubt, sub-consciously influenced by the commercial interests of the paper for which he writes?

The question came into sharp relief for me last month when I resigned from The Spectator magazine, where I had written a media column for nine years. Boris Johnson, the editor, had refused to publish an innocuous little item I had written about The Daily Telegraph, whose proprietors, Sir Frederick and Sir David Barclay, also own The Spectator. Boris apparently lives in fear of these highly secretive Barclay twins, who acquired newspaper and magazine in June. Fear turned to terror last in November, when the abrasive Andrew Neil was installed as chief executive of The Spectator. In this unhappy mood, even the most fleeting reference to The Daily Telegraph was apt to provoke a fit of the vapours in Boris. Before he spiked my little item, he took the highly unusual step of telephoning Murdoch MacLennan, the chief executive of the Telegraph Group, and reading it out to him.

Many people assume that Boris is a bumbling fellow, er-ing and um-ing his way through life, and somewhat slow to get his thoughts in order. How wrong they are. When cornered, Boris changes from a comatose, shaggy old sheepdog into a highly alert greyhound. Somewhat embarrassed by my resignation, he declared that the media columns are a corrupt form, in which columnists settle old scores. He must have forgotten how he would sometimes urge me to attack his enemies; invitations I would not take up. Once, when his friend, the journalist and would-be Tory MP Michael Gove, was touted as a possible editor of The Spectator, Boris pleaded in vain with me to write something disobliging about him. One wonders why, if he believes that media columns are so defective, he put up with mine for so long.

Boris also came up with a second line of attack - namely that I was a kind of secret agent for the Daily Mail, for which I also write a weekly column. He complained to the press that I never attacked the Mail, a paper which he loathes. All I can say in my defence is that I never praised the Mail in my Spectator column, and that, whenever I mentioned it, I always declared an interest. If Boris thought my failure to attack the Mail was such an appalling dereliction of duty, he might have mentioned this when we had lunch in November (only the second occasion on which we had done so in nearly six years), but he did not. In a long (and almost embarrassingly laudatory) letter about me sent by Boris to Aidan Barclay, the chairman of the Telegraph Group, at the end of December, he nowhere touches on the suggestion that I was an agent of the Daily Mail.

Still, when all due allowance is made for Boris's breathtaking politician's talent for dreaming up arguments that are to his advantage, does he have a point? Are media columns innately corrupt? Isn't every media columnist liable to lick the hand that feeds him? These are questions that have been vexing me for the past few weeks. I don't think it can be claimed that the form is entirely pure. But I have decided to set up my stall at The Independent, because its editor, Simon Kelner, has assured me that I can write whatever I like, with no regard for the newspaper's interests. If, for example, I should admire The Guardian's new Le Monde-type format when it emerges this autumn, I shall say so. Equally, if I should attack The Guardian, it will be because I want to, not because it may suit Kelner to have a rival criticised. All I can promise is that I will strive to write whatever I believe without fear or favour. And if the Daily Mail annoys me, I shall say so.

Diary damages convention

Piers Morgan's diaries have attracted much notice. They provide an unappealing, if somewhat predictable, portrait of the Court of Tony Blair: an overbearing and deceitful Alastair Campbell; an over-sensitive and acquisitive Cherie Blair; and a slippery Prime Minister in thrall to Rupert Murdoch, and happy to pay obeisance to red-top editors such as Morgan. Those, like myself, who are no great admirers of Mr Blair may have been cheered by Morgan's account. But happy though part of me is to see all this in the public domain, another part of me registers an objection. Morgan's many meetings with Blair over the years were private. The most recent, which he describes in great detail, was a dinner he enjoyed with the Blairs in their Downing Street flat at the end of June. We are not talking ancient history here.

It is a generally observed convention that journalists do not publish details of private meetings with ministers. Information acquired in such a way can be made use of in some indirect way, but it should not be attributed soon after the event. Morgan has abused this convention more shamelessly than any other editor or journalist in living memory. No one would complain if, like Alan Clark, he had published his diaries after the administration he wrote about had passed away, but he has published private details about people still in power. Ministers reading Morgan's diaries may wonder whether they should be so open in future.

Of course, one could say that if Tony Blair consorts so freely with red-top editors such as Morgan, he deserves what he gets.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Graduate Media Assistant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...

Guru Careers: Solutions Consultant

£30 - 40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Solutions Consultan...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before