Michael Williams: Readers' editor

Don't blame the press for spreading election fever

Pity poor Gordon Brown. Just an honest God-fearing soul, trying to turn a decent day's work as Prime Minister. Then along come a bunch of unscrupulous political hacks with nothing better to write about, who flam up the idea of a general election and then dump on the poor chap when it doesn't happen. This is a scenario which several of you have outlined this week. It's not a picture of the "clunking fist" that I recognise. But what should I know? I'm just a journalist, guilty like the rest, according to reader Anthony Wong.

"The newspapers," he writes, "have been hyping the possibility of an election. Now they are disappointed there isn't one. This is just sour grapes. People should see this as media hype. Shame on you for not taking an 'independent' line on it; it is the media that has egg on its face now." In the 'IoS' blogs, "Gracey" fumes: "Gordon Brown is damned if he does, damned if he doesn't. It is the spin-obsessed media who once again stoked up the story." "JohnDunCo" agrees: "Some Labour spokesman produced a bit of spin and journalists took it and ran with it, demonstrating their gullibility once again. It was a cheap way to fill pages."

So are our political staff, in Tony Blair's words, just "feral beasts"? No, says Andrew Grice, political editor of The Independent. "The election frenzy," he reckons, "was not generated by the media, as grown-up politicians like Alan Johnson have acknowledged. At the highest level, Labour... let the speculation run during its Bournemouth conference and, on some occasions, deliberately fuelled it.

"Other media reports were the result of journalists finding out about Labour's hurried preparations for an autumn election.... Political journalists played and enjoyed the game, but there would not have been so many reports about the election that never was without the encouragement of Labour politicians." And Gordon Brown could have killed the speculation at any time.

Politicians blaming journalists is hardly new. "Power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages" said the Tory leader Stanley Baldwin, attacking 'Daily Express' journalists back in 1931, borrowing the phrase from his cousin Rudyard Kipling. But in the case of the press vs Gordon Brown, the verdict has to be a resounding "not guilty".

t Many readers have written to ask why we use the name Burma rather than Myanmar, which is how the country describes itself. The 'IoS', in common with parts of the media, does not use Myanmar because the UK doesn't recognise the legitimacy of the regime that introduced it, in 1989.

Corrections and clarifications

Jane Fletcher: On Sunday 7 October, we published an article headlined "Pressure Grows for more BBC Bosses to go over Crowngate". In a list of those who had resigned we named Jane Fletcher, who had been BBC1's Head of Press. Due to an error the accompanying photograph was of a different Jane Fletcher, the freelance executive producer of 'Live Earth' and 'Saving Planet Earth Live' who, of course, had no involvement in 'Crowngate'. We apologise to her for the embarrassment caused.

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