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Blair’s jibe is not without substance

So what about Tony Blair’s recent rounding on the media – big deal or no deal? Notwithstanding the hypocrisy of the man – surely the first Brit-ish Prime Minister to immerse his tongue in Goddard’s Silver Dip at the start of every week – his criticism of comment eclipsing news is not without substance. In fact, I hold my hand up to joining in the fun. But if the government’s doing it for a living, why not me?

At least politicians and commentators know the score. But whether this holds true for the public is debatable. And accusations of some media bias and distortion are difficult to deny, especially when such reporting is packaged as investigative journalism and presented as an aid to consumer protection.

Little changes. I am reminded of the Aylesbury Associates affair in the late 1980s. This Bromley-based brokerage marketed equity release schemes to the elderly. Unfortunately, it wasn’t only its brochures that were over-glossed. The interest returns projected for the annuity investments involved were wildly overstated, leaving hundreds of pensioners facing penury.

At the forefront of the lenders facing the wrath of the pensioners and the ire of the media was Cheltenham & Gloucester which, along with West Bromwich, had picked up the lion’s share of the lending. Hardly surprising that this jewel in the crown of the building society movement attracted the attention of the consumer champion of the time, Roger Cook .

His TV programme, The Cook Report, highlighted the plight of the pensioners and captured them on camera as they picketed the Bromley branch of C&G with banners and placards. Shame on you C&G.

Well, not quite. On the day of filming, an in-terview was sought with C&G’s regional man- ager. A dozen pensioners were ferried to Bromley by coach 20 minutes before the cameras arr-ived. Shepherded into a café over the road from the branch, they were fed tea and biscuits until big Rog arrived. His presence signalled an exodus from the café to the rear of the coach where posters and placards were distributed from the boot.

On command, the pensioners assumed forlorn faces and circled round on the pavement while the cameras rolled. Cook bustled through the throng into the branch and hurled half a dozen aggressive questions at junior staff who could not be expected to answer them.

Two minutes of footage captured, Cook left the office, the banners were collected and the pensioners re-entered the coach and zoomed off. Did this staged footage make compulsive viewing? Yes. Did the public get an accurate interpretation of the facts? No.

Some 20 years on, Blair criticises the media for much the same thing. Does he have a point? Is the Pope Catholic?

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