31 Mar 2010

My Ministerial Bashing Agenda

I am grateful to David Raynes for his response to yesterday’s Snowblog concerning the way politicians deal with bad news.

He’s quite right. It is quite possible that the reason the Minister doesn’t want to give me, or anyone else, an in depth interview about the ‘shambles’ in the Home Office drug area is because he thinks that I, or we, have an agenda.

Actually I don’t think I do have an agenda beyond that of the democratic principle of Ministerial accountability and the media’s inalienable role in that area. I do not believe the word ‘shambles’ betrays any agenda, but represented a deliberately provocative mechanism to try to persuade a Minister to address an issue he didn’t wish to. It was successful in this case.

The point Mr Raynes, is not that the Minister denied ME an interview. It is that, as is increasingly the case, a minister denied ALL interviews whilst allowing the IMPRESSION that he was freely available to answer questions about Mephedrone and about the resignation of yet another of the Drug advisory panel.

It may very well be that what you say about Professor Nutt and Dr Taylor is justified, I do not know. The point is that the Minister had every opportunity to put the record straight himself.

Here, I may leave myself open to accusations of ‘having an agenda’. I may be a simple non-scientist myself, but scientifically I would have thought the resignation over six months of no fewer than six different scientists from any scientific advisory forum is even slightly unusual – against the scientific norm.

Given that the Home Secretary appointed each of them; wouldn’t it be a good idea for him to answer a question or two about it – given that he is giving the IMPRESSION of openness and transparency? Or is it better for us in the media to go along with it and assist him to batten down the hatches on the basis that each of the resigned scientists are mad anyway?



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29 reader comments

  1. margaret BrandrethJones says:

    Of course you have an agenda Jon, however that does not undermine the gut feeling you had when either resignations (or people who have been given no other option desert the ship) continue in numbers. There is a covert problem and you, as always want to uncover… that is your job.

    No doubt as we know things eventually reveal themselves with enough pushing and shoving . Your reputation is to work close to the edge on all accounts which makes you desirable in the eyes of the public , yet I bet it gives you indigestion.

    As far as the scientists being mad , no sensible person would believe that.How many of those are there?

    Your supposition that you yourself do not have a scientific brain gives more credance to those who believe that only those working in a lab can analyse ,synthesise and work out in a reasonable fashion that observable occurences stem from something which is unobservable and synthesised either sloppily .. in the case of lies… or are facts representing the truth.

    Continue.. that is what makes you you

    1. margaret BrandrethJones says:

      What really P’s me off is that everyone who makes a comment about anything , including Jon Snow is said to feel PASSIONATE about it . That overworked word surely only refers to the things which really stir one.

      Kids dying… anyone dying unecessarily is ultimately cruel. I for one cannot bear cruelty. I believe in democracy, I believe in openess, but surely there are time constraints on ministers to get things done without being interrupted by the media at every turn.

      I myself have had dealings with Alan Johnson when he had Andy Burnhams’ job and I wasn’t satisfied with the service as no one took a blind bit of notice of my warnings and the unfortunate truth eventualised.

      What really gets to you Jon is that you did not get your own way.You are competitive and since the cause it serves is by nature good , there isn’t any problem with your apetite for digging. Is every journos instinct motivated similarly or do some have the Diana motive?

  2. Pink Zoe Realm says:

    AH the Proverbial “MAD SCIENTIST” well the way Britains Ministers behave esp & shockingly this Labour Party that quote may well soon change to them, as for you haveing an agenda, YOU DO & you should not be ashamed of it, it is to help People all over the World have better lives, after all is that not the point to the press, it cant be to gossip as a Certain Australian would have us to believe, for we Brits can do that down the Pub if any left, no Sir you keep a VERY tight hold on to your agenda, we ordinary People NEED IT, oh & on the subject of Pubs did you know its the origin of the saying “A Cock & Bull Story” in fact Birmingham is the birth place, I wonder how many Ministers have been In & Out of Ye Old Cock & Bull, Pleasant Holidays to You & all you Know. X

  3. Meg Howarth says:

    Your last para’s spot on: that six members chosen by him have resigned demands an answer to a simple question: why. (Mr Raynes’ attempt at character-assassination is unhelpful, in my view; nor is his suggestion that failing to toe the conventional line indicates an – implied unhelpful – ‘agenda’

    Politicians still don’t get it: democracy is a work in progress which demands a move from representative to participatory politics – in which blogging as well as regular journalism have vital roles to play. The age of lese-majeste is over.

    1. Meg Howarth says:

      And now a seventh member of the advisory team has resigned! Two prescient pieces, Jon.

  4. tanya spooner says:

    I’m afraid, Jon, that elevation to the Home Office has seriously exposed the inadequacy of Alan Johnson. I could never understand how he was taken seriously as a minister when all he ever did was slavishly follow the party line and manage to avoid falling out with anybody over anything. I did wonder whether my own attitude was more to do with snobbery than logic, but now it is obvious that Alan Johnson is certainly not up to being Home Secretary, (he makes Jackie Smith look like sparkling intellectual) and the party dare not let him be confronted by journalists who are significantly more intelligent and more informed than he is, himself.
    I think you should stop frightening the poor dear and show more understanding.
    If you have an agenda, it is surely only the need to get at the truth of a very worrying situation.

  5. Anthony Lawton says:

    One person’s agenda showing (David Raynes’s phrase) is another person’s ‘speaking truth to power’. I viewed and read here about an attempt to do the latter, and perceived no agenda showing apart from that, which is precisely why I watch Ch 4 news and Jon Snow, and what I want from the media. (I have already commented re yesterday, that the processes Jon Snow blogged passionately about are not just re this advisory committee or the media: they are about the resistance to truth, by power)

  6. Brenda Wright says:

    I live in a democracy.I expect the free press to hold the government to account.I am a member of the PUBLIC. Alan Johnson is a PUBLIC SERVANT.I want an explanation from him please. Simple! Please try again Jon.

    1. Steve Willis says:

      Brenda, I don’t suppose you fancy standing in the General Election. Your comment is spot on. People like you could improve things.

  7. Jim Flavin says:

    it would be strange if Jon Snow did not have an agenda – for his job as a journalist – and a specific one for each case he deals with . The idea that Ministers and their closeset civil servants are transparent is a normally joke . What is transparent is that they are not transparent / open . They give their version of events – which may even be correct in some cases . But these statemments still have to be examined – followed up – and the ” truth ” found .. There is an incresing tendency -[ coming I think from USA ] to accept whatever the govt . says – and that then is the News . Such an approach basically need no journalists in reality – . Ministers need to be questioned – and when they are in a rush – or trot out excuses eg the old ones – ” important meeting or ” security ” – then it is time to get stuck in . What are they hiding – if anything – and why – surly these are the basics of a journalist dealing with politicians or anyone or any situation . Question and Question again – in itslf a rewarding task . Richard Feynmann [ US physicsist ] oce wrote a book ” The Joy of Finding Thing s Out ” – he got it right .

  8. Journo's Eye says:

    I really should permanently link to this blog because it is one of the few places where traditional, good-quality journalistic principles are being defended.
    Whether you agree with Jon’s views or not, you cannot argue at his approach to the job, which puts most other journalists to shame. I applaud you Jon Snow and continue to try to follow your example where others simply accept their orders and recycle their press releases.

  9. adrian clarke says:

    God Jon , how can any Labour Minister accuse you of having an agenda?? You treat all Labour spokes persons with kid gloves and let them get away with murder .It is the Conservatives who should accuse you of having an agenda.Opposition politicians receive a much more searching interview than any Labour spokes person.
    The attack on you Jon can only be that they have something to hide , which their control of questioning procedure supports.I really believed we used to live in a democracy .I think all bloggers on here aught to read 1984 and see how far Labour has gone down the forecast road , with their big brother controlling attitude

    1. the-Richard-of-Nottingham says:

      It’s a fair point Jon. It’s the first time that I’ve ever seen you get ratty with a NuLabour drone. You really ought to do it more often. They’ve been getting away with it for far too long. In fact if you do requests then I’d like you to ask Gordon Brown & Jack Straw why they have such selective memories (the Iraq enquiry being a good example). And if their memories are so bad why is it they think they should hold positions of high office.

    2. adrian clarke says:

      oh my god , There you were again tonight,Jon.Gordon Brown yet again uses dodgy statistics and you let Phil Woolas sit with a sneering supercillious look and say what drivel he likes without interuption , and you have Damien Green in the studio and interupt constantly so he can hardly get a word in.If that wasn’t bias those pigs really have taken off.

  10. Mudplugger says:

    When most of the dead-tree press is beholden to particular party loyalties, accompanied by some of the more prominent broadcast media, it is essential that we, the paying public, have some independent journalists asking the big questions on our behalf.

    I may not agree with all Jon Snow’s personal positions (when visible), but I want him to continue to represent me and the other silent millions in holding our elected, and appointed, officials to account.

    In a diminishing window of scrutiny, the forensic microscope of Snow at least offers us some remaining hope of occasionally casting a little light onto the increasingly shadowy world of our otherwise unchallenged rulers.

  11. phil dicks says:

    Exactly. Politicians are slow to react to sticky situations (every broadcaster’s used to saying “was not available to appear”),but they’re out-there pronto if it makes them look good (like Sports Relief and things).
    However, the resignation of 6 ‘scientific advisors’ in 6 months might mean these scientists hadn’t understood the word ‘advice’. If someone advises me to wear pink knickers, I really, really, honest-to-God don’t have to take that advice.
    Scientists aren’t media-stars; they’re boring people doing boring, pedantic jobs. Nutt et al over-stepped the mark.

    1. Jim Flavin says:

      I have rarely read such rubbish – except perhaps in a political manifesto – which are works of fiction anyway . I do not know the exact deatils of the resignations but to me Nutt seemed ok . But to say ”Scientists aren’t media-stars; they’re boring people doing boring, pedantic jobs. Nutt et al over-stepped the mark.”. These boring pedantic people made the TV u see C4 on , Radio , The Internet , – the anti biotics u may use if u get flu , the abaility to grow enough of the food you eat , Flew men to the moon , discoverd the Earth was not the Centre of the Univerese, . The list is nigh endless – There appears 2 b a ” flight from Science ” – happens in uncertain times , people regress into basically tripe eg Tarot Stones , Astrology , religion etc .

    2. phil dicks says:

      You don’t understand the difference between science-as-a-process and science-as-headline. We’d be lost without science, but science requires an obsessive focus on detail/equation/programming code etc. You infantilize the scientific community by reducing thousands of years of boring (yes, boring) intellectual rigour to the fact that your Xbox looks shiny.

  12. adz says:

    I believe powerful business men make big money from the sale of illegal substances.
    They don’t sell them themselves and in most cases don’t know the people that do. We are talking wholesale here, shipments ect..
    In the world we currently live in, big money means more big money, so lots of different people profit because that is how the financial markets work.
    adzmundo The Venus Project & CND

  13. phil dicks says:

    It’s off-topic, but could Cameron be flailing because, far from being ‘with-it’, he hasn’t understood that, in the blog-age, people are more critical of news-spin than 1997? Which isn’t to say Brown’s net-savvy, but pre-net-savvy; in other words, reassuringly shambolic. Cameron wants to be the heir-to-Blair, but in 2010 that may make him Obama’s grandad.
    Is it better to be yesterday’s modernity or today’s wisdom (if that makes any sense)?

  14. Jerry says:

    The reason that the minister would not give any interviews is that the Home Office is not in charge of drugs policy in the UK. Why is it not made clear that before banning meow meow the UK has to get PERMISSION from the EU to ban it. That would take at least 3 months. An “instant” ban by the government is poppycock.

    As for mudpluggers comment about Jon Snows “forensic microscope of scrutiny” is so funny as to be hysterical. Last night he had the Labour and Shadow ministers talking about what their parties would do to limit immigration. What they were both proposing was reducing the number of immigrants from the Commonwealth whose parents and g’parents died for this country in two world wars. In addition, he did not make the point that BOTH parties were lying about reducing numbers of immigrants (as does the Lib Dems) because they are quite happy to give 580 Million EU residents the legal right to live in the UK. In addition, all 3 of them have said they want Turkey to join the EU. This will give another 70 MILLION people the legal right to live in the UK. Reducing immigration what a lie and Jon Snow went along with all of it.

  15. Mel says:

    If I didn’t believe Jon Snow was our best and most trusted journalist I would not watch C4 news or read this blog. But these constructed contrived interviews have been in existence during the full breadth of a journalist’s career so why tell us now and why not make this clear to the public through national TV? If it is all in the name of truth then that is a fundamental truth the public should always have been told. It isn’t just the ministers that keep things away from us. We forget the influence and power journalists have over opinions that sway the running of things. For a journalist to reach the top they must be highly ambitious and quite ruthless – two things you can’t have without your own agendas. We dangerously rely on journalists to ask the right questions because we can’t access these people ourselves but who is asking the journalists the questions? I may trust JS more than the others to deliver the truth but I don’t believe even Jon has not had his own personal agenda in his career, missed things out that we should have been told and done deals for interviews that could have sometimes jeopardised our big picture. Democratic principle of JOURNALISTIC accountability?

    1. Meg Howarth says:

      We have increasing access to those in power, Mel, via the internet etc, and we should use it if we want to continue democratic progress. I suspect many have become dangerously dependent on others to root out the truth for us. While that may sometimes be unavoidable, surely we all need to become less supine if we’re to move from representative – and therefore more easily abusable – to participatory democracy? Together with investigative journalists like the excellent (to date) Ch4 team, we can more easily stem misuse of authority. Why this is necessary is illustrated in a small way in a recent response to a question from me (over expenses, I believe) by my MP. She suggested that as she was my elected representative – whether or not I voted for her – she expected me to trust her. Enough said, I believe.

    2. Mel says:

      Meg – understand what you are saying and agree but there are certain things I can’t do that I have to rely on journalists to do e.g I can’t walk in to government offices. You are absolutely right – together with investigative journalists we can more easily stem misuse of authority – but the journalists do have the power to access places I still can’t.
      The point you illustrate reminds me of the time I was in London with a friend when the ministers were due to leave through the gates on their way home – two guards at the gates telling us we can’t cross because the ministers were due out – they hadn’t even reached the gates! I took no notice and crossed with my friend commenting you mustn’t do that you must show respect – I told him he was off his rocker – they are nowhere near the gates, they are not gods they are people no more special than the rest of us and thus deserve no more special treatment than the rest of us it is just that they have chosen a particular career. There must of been 20 people there in the cold with me the only one crossing-it amazed me – they expect to be treated as something higher than the rest of us and we are stupid enough to let them.

  16. tanya spooner says:

    I don’t know why I’m surprised that people should use Snoblog to get at Jon Snow, but all I can say is, if you don’t like the way he and the Ch4 team do things, try watching some of the other news services. You’ll soon change your minds, I promise.

    1. margaret BrandrethJones says:

      I am a fan of Jon Snow and C4 . It is seen as a challenging programme.I really am not convinced that many want to “get at” Jon Snow but rather can see his personal power and want to emulate it.

      In any collection of animals, including humans, the silverback is regularly challenged… genetic continuation of the strongest and all that stuff.

    2. Mel says:

      I agree Margaret – I don’t find anybody on here trying to get at JS. Sometimes maybe we will criticise but that is what debate is all about. and we woulddn’t be here if we didn’t believe in JS and the C4 news reporting. We make the comments because we know that if there is any journalist who can push it it is JS and because if he didn’t want our healthy criticism on some aspects he would not be blogging in the first place. It is an environment for debate and freedom of opinion which means that we don’t always have to agree but hopefully when we don’t we will always think – JS included.

  17. margaret BrandrethJones says:

    Mr Dicks.. what came prior to science.? observation..

    From observation arose the need to analyse.

    Whilst analysis continues as an evolutionary process and we find out more and more about particles and how they work, other theories are discredited.

    No doubt some scientific projects are a bore.. as many from Manchester University hospital would qualify, but my past communication with these people spoke of the fallability of their work and confirmed that going back to the drawing board of what can be seen by the naked eye is just as valuable.

  18. j hill says:

    Did not see the interview being blogged, but can agree with all the comments on the ability of Jon Snow.
    For one in depair at the depths our politics has been taken bt New Labour, I always recall the old Jimmy Tarbuck joke of the sixties, about how can you tell when a politician is lying.Answer? His lips move. Surely as true today as 40 years ago. What a shame that politics has not kept up with the rest of society. Well done Mr Snow for plugging away om behalf of viewers. (However Paxman holds the prize when he interviewed Howard.13 times persisting til demonsrtably NOT getting an answer was a masterpiece which takes some beating.

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