All posts tagged 'media'

Ann Barnes must take the blame for the youth commissioner saga

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, June 2 2015

When politicians are in a corner, they often try to deflect the blame for events that have gone wrong on third parties.

And a common target is the media.

So perhaps we ought not to be surprised that the Kent crime commissioner Ann Barnes has opted for this strategy to justify her decision not to continue with having a youth crime tsar.

It would, she asserted, be unfair to place a third young person under the intense media scrutiny that her predecessors were subjected to. 

What this overlooks - in a quite breathtakingly naive way - is that it was the commissioner herself who was responsible for exposing her proteges to the media spotlight.

Indeed, her very obvious determination to score a political PR coup ensured that the spotlight shone very directly on both, particularly the first appointee Paris Brown.

At the time, the commissioner and Paris, then just 17, willlingly toured every TV and radio station to spread the "good news," the pair sitting on sofas with breakfast show presenters in a very deliberate charm offensive which also garnered swathes of coverage in national newspapers. 

The commissioner could, of course, have declined the pile of requests for media interviews. She could have done them herself and kept her crime tsar out of the limelight.

But the desire to spin a good news story blinded the commissioner and her team to the dangers ahead.

Barely days later, the story unravelled spectacularly, triggering the first of a number of PR car crashes in the commissioner's tenure.

The Mail On Sunday, offering to do a profile piece, splashed a story concerning offensive comments posted by Paris on Twitter, some of which were construed as racist and homophobic.

How had they got them? Simply by looking at her account and timeline, which fatally, it later turned out, had not been checked as part of the recruitment process.

The story might have been a classic tabloid hatchet job but the cosy sofa interviews quickly became a distant memory.

What had started as a PR dream became a PR nightmare that ended just days later when a tearful Paris announced at a painful press conference that she was to stand down.

If that was not eonugh to alert the commissioner to the risks of over exposure in the media, it is hard to think what else could have been. A sensible strategy might have been to announce a period of reflection and then quietly drop the idea.

But politicians dislike compromise and positively loathe being accused of a U-turn.

The commissioner ploughed on, saying she would appoint another youth commissioner - perhaps considering that more stringent checks during the recruitment process would be enough to ensure nothing could go wrong.

Up to a point, they did and Kerry Boyd seemed to be a safe pair of hands. Until, that is, reports emerged of an inappropriate relationship with a former county councillor who had been a referee for her application.

She was placed on the equivalent of light duties and kept well away from the public eye to a point where very few seemed to have any idea what was actually being done.

So, after two youth commissioners, there will not be a third. Instead, a forum of young people will be set up to "engage" young people, ironically one of the recommendations members of the Kent crime panel made some time ago.

Have lessons been learned? Up to a point. 

But one thing stands out above everything. It was not the media that appointed the two youth tsars. It was the commissioner. It didn't work out quite as expected.

And no amount of shooting the messenger can disguise that.

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True stories buried in press release drudgery

by The Codgers' Club Friday, March 18 2011

by Peter Cook

When did so-called “media departments” of local authorities become so Orwellian and control-freakish?

I’ve always looked on council press officers as fetchers and carriers, employed to get you the correct spelling of a councillor’s name or to put you in touch with people who actually know something.

These days, they seem to see themselves as little Alastair Campbells who want to determine not just what is said, but how it is said and who says it.

A week or so back I had occasion to write a story that put the Medway Archives and Local Studies Centre in a good light.

They had won a nationwide award reflecting the helpfulness and professionalism of staff.

I use the centre a lot and can confirm that staff there are friendly, accommodating, helpful, knowledgeable and prepared to go the extra mile in assisting researchers.

The story, of course, required a quote from someone connected with the MALSC, so I called a senior member of the library staff. We had a pleasant conversation and she gave me just the quote I needed – bubbly, enthusiastic, and informed.

She wanted to run it past the Medway Council media people, more out of courtesy than anything else and, of course, I was fine with that. That was when the Monty Python foot descended, crushing this person’s excellent comments. “They would prefer to do their own story,” she told me.

Well, it was a shame, but no skin off my nose. I did my story, leaving out her quote, but ignoring the media department of course. They don’t tell me what to write.

Eventually, I saw the press release that emanated from this august media department. It was flat, uninspiring, dreary, and looked as if it had been written by someone in the council tax department.

The one thing that struck me was that in included a quote – but from Cllr Howard Doe, who heads up the committee responsible for the MALSC.

It was the usual waffle, probably written by the same person in the media department who compiled the press release. Quotes in press releases are always meaningless and usually made up by a press officer.

Now I have nothing against Cllr Doe, fine upstanding pillar of the community that he is. But what it tells us is that the so-called media department, staffed by highly expensive if lacklustre individuals, is there to promote councillors rather than reflect the work of the council itself.

Remember, you are paying – through your council tax – a lot of money for this department and its propaganda sheet, Medway Matters.

It is also worth remembering that, in the current climate of cuts, Cllr Doe may be the one who has to announce cuts to Medway’s library service. I’m not saying he will, but he might. If that happens, wishy-washy words of commendation to the MALSC will ring very hollow.

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