The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

I'm really looking for the personification of the ideal, but I think there is a difficulty. Over a long time, the press has become more politicised. Instinctively, we say a newspaper is allied to this or that philosophy. It may not be to a particular Prime Minister, but they're allied to a particular philosophy. If you pick up any of your daily papers -- well, I tend not to read them much so I'm not able to judge much, but when I was reading them regularly before 2 May 1997, you could pick up a whole range of papers and read quite different reports of the same subject, and that shows the extent to which newspapers had become politicised and, in a sense, part of the political process themselves.

I think when you come to a general election, if the relationship between a political party or senior politicians and a section of the media is particularly close, there are some risks to the public interest. If I may define "the public interest", it is that the media report accurately, fairly and fully what the politicians are saying and what the impact would be on the public. That ideally is what I would like to see.

What we do in fact see is that worthy factual news like that, which may be relatively unsexy in news terms, is pushed aside in favour of more newsworthy dramatic copy or political stunts. How do the politicians get to the public? They get to the public through television or radio. On television they may get a one-minute slot, if they're lucky. On the radio, a bit longer, but usually with an adversarial interview: "Why are you proposing this when ten years ago you said something mildly different?"

So the press are very important in carrying the message to the public, but if the message to the public is perverted, perverted by the particular editorial stance of the newspaper, or perverted because hard news is omitted in favour of stunts and rather wild speeches which are newsworthy but not really very serious, then the public are given much less than they ought to have in making up their mind at a General Election.

Now, I have no solution to that. I see that political reporting is coloured by the natural instincts of the newspapers, their proprietors and editors. I see also that politicians will use the newspapers that favour them to launch things that are particularly favourable to them or particularly damaging, more often than not, sadly, to their opponents. All of this is part of the game of politics, no doubt, but somewhere down the middle, what about the public? The public gets lost. It gets all these stories, but does it actually get the clearcut information of what a government proposes and what it would actually mean to people so that they may make up their mind at a general election?

I honestly don't think they do, any more, and I think that's a loss because it's a huge and important role the newspapers could play, should play and don't play.

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