Six in the City – 10 March 2008

Marcel Le Gouais finds common ground with Alastair Campbell when knocking the nationals

Mortgage regulation will be more crucial than ever this year. Brokers and lenders are already asking themselves how they can prove to the Financial Services Authority that its Treating Customers Fairly initiative is embedded in their day-to-day business.

The regulator recently warned that the TCF deadlines at the end of this month and December are non-negotiable. If only the same rigour could be applied to our national newspapers.

In a sector that profoundly influences public opinion, the press’ self-regulatory body – the Press Complaints Commission – remains weak, toothless and largely a token gesture to keep the wolves of genuine regulation from the door.

One of the PCC’s more vocal critics is Tony Blair’s former chief spin doctor Alastair Campbell. Speaking recently as part of the Cudlipp Lecture, an annual media event named in honour of former Daily Mirror editor Hugh Cudlipp, Campbell bemoaned broadsheet and tabloid reporting’s declining quality.

Much of what he said was spot on. He lamented a significant fall in standards and criticised the media’s homogeneous output, which is failing to do justice to the opportunities opened up by technology.

Campbell highlighted a report often cited by the late Robin Cook. It revealed that for every positive article in the nationals in 2002 there were 18 negative stories.

This compares with one positive story for every three negative ones in the 1970s.

“When a prevailing wisdom takes hold that news is only news when it is bad for someone – and especially someone in power – then it narrows and distorts our view of the world,” added Campbell.

Coverage of the so-called imminent housing crash in the Daily Mail and the Daily Express is a prime example of the hunt for bad news.

The Express recently ran a leader based on minimal house price falls in December.

“Is this the acrid stench of recession?” the headline ran.

For the subtext here, read “the experts say no but my news editor wants 400 words on this by noon”.

Perhaps the best rebuff would be for real experts – like HBOS chief economist Martin Ellis – to appear on Question Time instead of MPs.

In the meantime, we can only hope national newspaper editors begin to treat their readers fairly.