Tag Archives: Alastair Campbell

‘Perfect timing’ for HuffPo UK, says Alastair Campbell

The Huffington Post is launching in the UK at the perfect time, says Alastair Campbell.

Speaking at Millbank Tower on a panel for the official launch event, Campbell said the British public are facing up to what newspapers have become – positioning Arianna Huffington’s news website in the perfect place to cause disruption.

Newspapers in this country are going further and further down the barrel until they reach the bottom, like the Sun. We’ll still have newspapers in future, there’ll just be fewer of them.

The panel (moderated by Richard Bacon) comprised of HuffPost founder Arianna Huffington, Kelly Osbourne, Jon Gaunt, Celia Walden and Shami Chakrabarti. Key themes that emerged throughout the debate were phone hacking, superinjunctions, the public perception of journalism and the issue of trust.

Huffington responded to claims from Toby Young that the launch was ill-timed by saying the website has “a phenomenal reach”, and its social nature would set it apart from other more well established UK sites.

Huffington Post is a combination of constant updates. It’s not about sitting on the couch and passively consuming, it’s about constantly passing on information, sharing and liking.

We employ 1,300 journalists, editors and reporters, but ulimately Huffington Post is a platform for our 9,000 bloggers. We promote linking, original reporting and making information available, people blog for us because they can use our huge audience and because they have something to say.

Jon Gaunt agreed with this, saying Huffington endeared herself to her bloggers by making her website very open. But he also criticised many newspapers’ forays into digital journalism.

Lots of newspaper websites are useless, because they’re made and look like newspapers. They’re created by people who’ve worked in newspapers their whole lives, and look terrible.

One thing the panel agreed on was the issue of trust and the role it would play in the future development of journalism. Summing up, Campbell said:

The single most important piece of communication regarding the death of Osama Bin Laden was still Barack Obama’s words, despite the thousands of articles written about the event.

Politicians still have ability to set the agenda, but people don’t trust politicians, journalists or economists – we still trust each other.

That’s why social news works – we talk to people we trust.

Alastair Campbell and Kelvin MacKenzie to speak at HuffPo UK launch

The Huffington Post has announced full details of tomorrow’s UK launch event, which will consist of a panel discussion moderated by Richard Bacon.

Speakers on the night include Alastair Campbell, Kelly Osbourne, Celia Walden, Kelvin MacKenzie, Shami Chakrabarti and Arianna Huffington.

The panel will debate the media’s impact on the Self-Expression Revolution.

Today Huffington Post UK told journalism.co.uk it has more than 300 bloggers signed up for the site, with more expected to sign up after launch.

UK editor-in-chief Carla Buzasi said today: “It’s a really interesting mix of people. Alastair Campbell is blogging for us on day one, and hopefully the others on the panel will be following suit shortly afterwards.”

The event is taking place at the Curzon Millbank, with the panel debate beginning at 7pm. An open invitation has been sent to the site’s bloggers-to-be to attend the launch.

Currently the url huffingtonpost.co.uk is password protected, but will be unveiled and made public this week.

The Chatham House Rule in the age of social media

Writing in the Financial Times earlier this week, former government communications director Alastair Campbell made the following comments when asked if business leaders should be wary of speaking out:

If you are in a senior position in politics or at the very top in business, it is probably as well to assume that life is on the record. When the organisers of any event you are speaking at tell you it is being held under “Chatham House rules”, and that everyone in the room is utterly discreet and trustworthy, it is best to nod and smile. Make a mental note that it is difficult for Chatham House rules to co-exist with Twitter, Facebook and the 24/7 media culture. Part of the art of after-dinner speaking is giving a sense of indiscretion without saying anything that you would not wish to be used against you in a different context. It still leaves lots of scope for revelation, candour, frankness and wit, but it is done on the speaker’s terms, not the terms of someone putting out a garbled or gossipy version afterwards.

But in a letter to the FT published today, Keith Burnet, communications director of Chatham House, says Campbell is wrong in his point about Twitter and Facebook:

The Rule can be used effectively as long as the person tweeting or messaging reports only what was said and does not identify – directly or indirectly – the speaker or another participant.

Perhaps part of Campbell’s point is the use of social media to “broadcast news” by a wider group than trained journalists familiar with Chatham House Rules. While a reporter at an event might not directly or indirectly identify participants is it possible for some kind of “jigsaw identification” to take place with updates from organisers, members of the public and speakers themselves filtering into coverage of the event?

Sky News’ version of the Campbell-Boulton row

If you read Metro, or the Mirror or even the Murdoch-owned Sun, you might be forgiven for thinking it was Sky News political editor Adam Boulton who lost it with Alastair Campbell during a live interview yesterday (video below).

But according to Sky News, which issued this statement yesterday evening, Boulton was “strongly” defending his – and Sky News’- journalistic integrity:

In the course of an interview outside Westminster this afternoon [10 May], Sky News political editor Adam Boulton defended his integrity and, by implication, Sky News’, against an attack by Alastair Campbell.

Mr Campbell had said, “You’ve been spending the last four years saying Gordon Brown is dead meat and he should be going anyway.” Adam Boulton strongly defended his impartiality, saying “I’m not saying that, show me where I said that once.”

Mr. Campbell went on to say, “You’re obviously upset that David Cameron is not Prime Minister”  to which Adam replied, “I’m not upset, you are, you keep casting aspersions.”

When challenged by Adam Boulton to substantiate his assertions, Mr Campbell failed to provide any evidence.

Meanwhile, former Downing Street director of communications Alastair Campbell has blogged his own thoughts here:

I was somewhat taken aback to be the only Labour figure trending on twitter an hour or so after the announcement and the reason – Adam Boulton – was trending all night. Justin Bieber eat your heart out.

Adam gets very touchy at any suggestion that he is anything other than an independent, hugely respected, totally impartial and very important journalist whose personal views never see the light of day, and who works for an organisation that is a superior form of public service than anything the BBC can deliver.

Boulton’s Wikipedia page has already been edited to include the incident, with a certain amount of creativity. ‘Falling of Love: The End of My marriage to Alistair Campbell (2010) Simon & Garfunkel’ seems an unlikely source for the entry.

The transcript (issued by Sky News):

JEREMY THOMPSON:
I’m joined here in Westminster by Alastair Campbell, good evening to you.  A lot of people trying to make head or tail of what the Prime Minister said, your colleagues say it’s a dignified and statesman like offering from him, those on the other side of the House saying it is a blatant piece of party gamesmanship and has nothing to do with dignity.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Well it is. I think it brings sense to this very, very complicated and difficult situation which the election result threw up.  No party won, no party leader got a very clear mandate. The Tories got most seats, they got the biggest share of the vote and the options remain a minority Tory government, some sort of deal between the Tories and the Liberals and they can carry on their discussions with that but what’s happened today is that Nick Clegg has indicated to Gordon Brown that there may be sense in actually a discussion developing, there has actually been behind the scenes discussions going on but a proper policy based discussion developing between Labour and the Liberal Democrats to see whether the basis for a coalition government can be formed and I think actually a lot of people will feel that’s not a bad …if that materialises is not a bad outcome for this election.  Let’s just go back a bit where we were …

JEREMY THOMPSON:
Do you think that’s what the British people really voted for?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Well they certainly voted for change of some sort, no doubt about that … let me finish, they voted for change of some sort …

ADAM BOULTON:
I thought you wanted to have a discussion.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
No, I wanted to answer Jeremy’s question if I may.

ADAM BOULTON:
Oh right.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
They want a change of some sort, they did not go for David Cameron despite the utterly slavish media support that he got, despite all the money from Lord Ashcroft and his friends, despite the fact that we’d had the recession and so forth, they didn’t really want Cameron.  There obviously has been, Gordon accepts that there was also …

JEREMY THOMPSON:
Well this was their least worst option.  They certainly didn’t give Gordon Brown an endorsement did they?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
What I said was no party leader and no party won.

ADAM BOULTON:
Let’s just look at the facts of the election. In the election you take three main parties …

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Yes.

ADAM BOULTON:
… there is one party that lost both in terms of share of the vote and seats, that is Labour.  There is one party that is behind the Conservatives and on top of that we have now got a Prime Minister who wants to stay on for four months but is saying  he is going to resign in four months time. Now none of that, with all due respect Alastair Campbell, can be seen as a vote of confidence by the voters in the Labour party.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
But nobody is saying that it is, in fact that’s the whole point …

ADAM BOULTON:
But you’re saying nobody won, what I’m saying is if you just look at the results there is a party that is clearly not …

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
What you are saying though, look David Cameron didn’t do that much better than some of his predecessors but I accept he got more seats and a bigger share of the vote but my point is …

ADAM BOULTON:
A much bigger share of the vote.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Right, okay, but my point is that constitutionally …

ADAM BOULTON:
And the second point if I can just …

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Can I answer the first point?

ADAM BOULTON:
The second point is if you put together the percentages of the vote or the parliamentary seats a Lib-Lab combination doesn’t do it.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
No, you’d then have to look at other parties …

ADAM BOULTON:
It doesn’t have a majority so …

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
But nor has a minority Tory government.

ADAM BOULTON:
Yes, but a Lib-Conservative coalition clearly has got a majority and a majority of seats.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
And that may happen, and that may happen, all that’s happened today …

ADAM BOULTON:
Well why not do what Malcolm Wickes says and just go quietly, accept that you lost this election?  Why not do what David Blunkett says and accept that you lost this election?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Because I don’t think that would be the right thing to do because I don’t think that is the verdict that the public delivered.

ADAM BOULTON:
What, national interest is what you are seriously thinking about in this?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Yes, it is actually, yes.

ADAM BOULTON:
The nation needs four more months of Gordon Brown limping on until he retires?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Adam, I know that you’ve been spending the last few years saying Gordon Brown is dead meat and he should be going anyway …

ADAM BOULTON:
I’m  not saying that, show me where I said that once.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Adam, I don’t want to …

ADAM BOULTON:
But are you saying in the national interest what the nation needs is four more months of Gordon Brown and then resign having lost an election?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
I am saying, I am saying there are three options. One is a Tory minority …  none of the are perfect, one is a Tory minority government.  That would be perfectly legitimate, okay.  It wouldn’t be terribly stable, it might not last very long but it is legitimate.  The second is a Lib-Tory deal either …

ADAM BOULTON:
It could be stable.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
… which could be stable but what’s absolutely clear Adam, you can’t tell the Liberal Democrats to do things they don’t want to do.

ADAM BOULTON:
I’m not telling anybody to do anything.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
But you’re sort of saying it is an easy option for them and it’s not and what’s coming through loud and clear from a lot of the Liberal Democrats is that their activists and their supporters are saying, hold on a minute, we did not vote to get you to put David Cameron in power, we voted to stop that happening.

ADAM BOULTON:
Did they vote to keep Gordon Brown in power?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
They voted …

ADAM BOULTON:
Did they vote to keep Gordon Brown in power?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
No, they didn’t and Gordon has accepted that today which is why…

ADAM BOULTON:
Exactly, so on that basis you …

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
What does he do, what does he do?  Just sort of says here you go, David Cameron come on in, you didn’t actually get the vote you should have done, you didn’t get the majority you said you were going to do …

ADAM BOULTON:
He got a lot more votes and seats than he did.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Yes, I know, you’re obviously upset that David Cameron is not Prime Minister.

ADAM BOULTON:
I’m not upset, you are, you keep casting aspersions and …

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Calm down.

ADAM BOULTON:
I am commenting, don’t keep saying what I think.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
This is live on television.

JEREMY THOMPSON:
Alastair, Alastair …

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Dignity, dignity.

ADAM BOULTON:
Don’t keep telling me what I think, this is what you do, you come on and you say you haven’t won the election …

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Jeremy …

ADAM BOULTON:
… you talk to me, I’m fed up with you telling me what I think, I don’t think that.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
I don’t care what you’re fed up with, you can say what you like.  I can tell you my opinion …

ADAM BOULTON:
Don’t tell me what I think.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
I will tell you why I think you are reacting so badly.

JEREMY THOMPSON:
Alastair, you are being a bit provocative here and unnecessarily so.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Well sometimes politics is about passionate things.

JEREMY THOMPSON:
I understand that.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
He is saying Gordon Brown is no longer legitimately in Downing Street, I’m saying he is.   He is.

ADAM BOULTON:
No, I’m saying look at the performances in the elections, Labour did worse than the Conservatives, will you accept that?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
I know.  They got more seats, of course they did, the Tories go more seats…

ADAM BOULTON:
So you do accept it?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Yes.  Equally Gordon Brown is constitutionally perfectly entitled to be Prime Minister and …

JEREMY THOMPSON:
Alastair, just tell me how …

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Let me finish this point.  He has managed this situation I think perfectly properly.  He has today announced he will not be the Prime Minister …

ADAM BOULTON:
Can I ask you a simple question?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Yes.

ADAM BOULTON:
Why hasn’t he had a Cabinet meeting before making this offer?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
He is about to have a Cabinet meeting now.

ADAM BOULTON:
Yes, but now he has made the offer, what can the Cabinet do, why haven’t you had a meeting with the parliamentary Labour party like the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives have had?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
He’s having one tomorrow, he’s having one tomorrow.

JEREMY THOMPSON:
Gentlemen, gentlemen.

ADAM BOULTON:
In other words it’s you, totally unelected have plotted this with …

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Me?

ADAM BOULTON:
Yes.  You are happiest speaking about him …

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
That’s because the Ministers are going to a Cabinet meeting …

ADAM BOULTON:
He has got a parliamentary party, you’re the one that cooked it up, you’re the one that’s cooked it up with Peter Mandelson.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Oh my God, unbelievable.  Adam, calm down.

JEREMY THOMPSON:
Gentlemen, gentlemen, let this debate carry on later.  Let’s just remind you that Gordon Brown said a few minutes ago…

ADAM BOULTON:
I actually care about this country.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
You think I don’t care about it, you think I don’t care about it.

ADAM BOULTON:
I don’t think the evidence is there.

JEREMY THOMPSON:
… let’s listen to Gordon Brown’s statement.

Hacks beat Flacks to knockout in Pall Mall debate

Normally it is very sedate – the Pall Mall world of the Gentlemans’ Clubs. On Monday night it was a bare knuckle fight to the finish as the hacks took on the flacks in a Media Society/CIPR debate at the Foreign Press Association on whether this union was a marriage that would ever work. The Hacks won, for a change, persuading some of the 80 strong audience, mainly PRs, to change their mind between the beginning and the end of the session.

Both sides have been reeling since the runaway success of Nick Davies’ book ‘Flat Earth News’ and its unearthing of acres of ‘churnalism’ – PR disguised as journalism – in the press. The Hacks were ably represented by three Terracotta Tigers: Rosie Millard of the Sunday Times, Roy Greenslade of City University and the Guardian, and Maggie Brown, the distinguished media writer. Up against them Peter Luff MP, once and still a PR man, and Jo Tanner whose PR skills helped elect the Boris Johnson as Mayor of London last year.

The whole match was taking place in a rather significant setting. It was here in January 2004 on the stairs of the Foreign Press Association that Alastair Campbell announced his ‘victory’ over the BBC after his PR ‘triumph’ on the Hutton report.

Sue Macgregor, late of the BBC now of national treasure status, refereed the whole shooting match. Millard played the men from the start accusing Flacks of ‘getting in the way of the truth’ week after week after week in her Sunday Times work. She reserved her especial ire for the PR machine of Buckingham Palace, ‘a venal institution’ whose spinners ‘bamboozled the public’ on Royalty.

Peter Luff, only lightly mired in the recent MPs’ expenses scandal was having no truck with the journalist as saint. “Which journalist ever got the sack for getting it wrong?” he asked. On that current PR Disaster, Jon Stonborough, the former ‘spinner’ for Speaker Michael Martin was in the audience and was called upon to advise him. He was less than warm in his praise and less than generous in a forecast of career longevity for the embattled ‘Gorbals Mick’! [Ed – John submitted this piece this morning, timely given Martin’s announcement today that he will step down]

Hacks and Flacks agreed that they were all ‘truth’ tellers and that there was an inverse relationship between the number of PRs now employed and the number of journalists unemployed. That was not a healthy sign.

Greenslade, the sage of the internet and soi-disant conscience of British journalism, was equally punchy, producing a roll call of journos killed in the last two years.

He then very effectively contrasted this with a blank sheet showing the number of PRs killed in action. The opposition was put firmly on the back foot by this low punch.

Jo Tanner pledged, as they all did, to always tell the truth (however they defined it) and delighted in recalling the story of how she had exposed Baroness Jay as not the product of an ‘ordinary grammar’ as she claimed on television but a prize product of Blackheath Girls School. Good journalism for a PR.

Maggie Brown revealed a trick of her trade – a simple device to get round the PRs who controlled access to celebrities and powerful people in the media and elsewhere. She simply ignored them and went round their backs. She cited the example of Jay Hunt, the controller of BBC One whose PR blocked her access. Maggie simply interviewed her proud Professor father instead!

It was left to a super hack Phil Harding, former Today editor and Controller of BBC editorial policy to point out the idea of a marriage between the two was a pure chimera: “We do different jobs.” We do and did. Not a marriage more a friendship of distrust.

After their defeat – smiling as always – it was simply left to the Flacks to buy the drinks for the Hacks…

BBC’s Nick Robinson admits he toed government line on Iraq too strongly

Yesterday saw the BBC’s economic editor Robert Peston taken to task for his influence on the UK’s economy and his cosy relationship with the government:

The Guardian’s Matthew Weaver is worried that his blog might have too much influence, and the Daily Mash joked that Peston had reached a state of transcendence.

Meanwhile the House of Lords Communications Committee asked a panel of leading political journalists if they thought Peston was setting the reporting agenda.

Another BBC editor whose influence has been much discussed is the corporation’s political editor, Nick Robinson, who last night admitted he had toed the government line too strongly during his reportage of the Iraq War, and admitted that he didn’t ‘do enough’ to seek out dissenting views.

Participating in a debate entitled ‘Political campaigners and reporters: partners in democracy or rats in a sack?’ at City University, Robinson said: “The biggest self criticism I have was I got too close to government in the reporting of the Iraq war.

“I didn’t do enough to go away and say ‘well hold on, what about the other side?’

“It is the one moment in my recent career where I have thought I didn’t push hard enough, I didn’t question enough and I should have been more careful,” he said.

“I don’t think the government did set out to lie about weapons of mass destruction. I do think they systematically and cumulatively misled people. What’s the distinction?

“It was clear to me that Alastair Campbell knew how what he was saying was being reported, knew that that was a long way from the truth and was content for it so to be,” Robinson said.

“They knew it was wrong, they wanted it to be wrong – they haven’t actually lied.”

Politicians ‘actively want to avoid a debate the public wants to have’, he said.

For example, he said, Labour was reluctant to debate the implications of a single European currency.

“[The government] wanted to limit the debate to being the five tests. It wanted to avoid divisions, it simply did not want to enter a political debate,” he said.

The Conservative Party are now doing the ‘exact same thing’, Robinson said.

“They don’t want a debate on whether they will tear up the Lisbon EU treaty, they don’t really want a debate about if they will put taxes up or down, or in what way.

“These are active decisions by politicians to keep you ill-informed, and it is our job as journalists to try to fight against that.”

It isn’t the job of a journalist to ‘pick a constant fight with people in power’, he said.

“I don’t see it as a badge of pride to have endless arguments with politicians, although with Peter Mandelson they usually are.”