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FEATURES - PRESSGANGED

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The media is given a roasting, while the Underground press puts a price on free speech...
The media is given a roasting, while the Underground press puts a price on free speech

The year has started with a rash of self-examination on the part of the media. A poll by YouGov for trade publication Press Gazette found 52% of people believe 'journalism makes a positive contribution to life in Britain'.

The Guardian also ran a special report on what the great and the good in the public, private and voluntary sectors thought about journalists. The idea followed a Reuters lecture last October where writer and editor John Lloyd accused journalists of living in a 'parallel universe', detached from the real world.

This is a conclusion with which many in the public sector, bruised by encounters with the Fourth Estate, might agree. As Lucy de Groot, executive director of the Improvement & Development Agency, commented in the survey: 'The media could play a powerful role in generating public debate about the value of local democracy to influence people's lives', instead of focusing on 'stories about banning conkers and creating silly jobs'.

But the opportunity to put the boot in left many respondents in a quandary. Should they say what they really thought and risk the wrath of those in the parallel but also powerful universe? Howard Davies, former head of the Audit Commission and now director of the London School of Economics, decided to tell the truth. 'In the City,' he said, 'many pay very little attention to the press. No one says so of course, in case the reptiles exact revenge.' But ever the consummate professional, he added that 'education correspondents are a different kettle of fish. Fine, upstanding men and women - kind to animals, and invariably accurate'.

The Guardian also reported on London mayor Ken Livingstone's plans to take on Associated Newspapers, publisher of the London Evening Standard. Relations with that paper's editor, Veronica Wadley, are not so much frosty as arctic. On her appointment, Mr Livingstone wrote to her suggesting lunch, but Ms Wadley didn't reply. A few weeks later, her paper ran a story, never substantiated, that Mr Livingstone had been involved in a drunken brawl at a party.

Now Mr Livingstone has intervened in a dispute about the market for free papers. Associated currently has an exclusive arrangement to distribute its free Metro newspaper to passengers at London Underground stations. The deal is worth£1m a year - not exactly big money when you calculate how successful Metro has been in attracting advertisers to its lucrative young readership.

Express Newspapers publisher Richard Desmond is now challenging the Standard's monopoly via the Office of Fair Trading and the mayor has entered the fray, according to The Guardian, to engineer a lucrative auction for a contract to distribute a free afternoon paper. If successful, the proceeds will be invested in the capital's transport system. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Carol Grant

Partner, Grant Riches Communications

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