Yesterday I posted twice on basically the same subject. Ruth Gledhill of the Times responded pretty fiercely to my first post and I was happy to accept that what I had written could have been handled without having a go at the press again. I accepted her rebuke (contributed to, I suspect, by earlier spats I had regarding the Telegraph‘s handling of MPs’ expenses and issues arising from that), but responded as follows:

You are right to issue a corrective. But I would also ask you to recognise the sheer frustration that many of us (and I don’t mean just bishops) feel in having constantly to disabuse people of impressions they have got from poor media representation. I am not convinced, however, that it is adequate to tell us to be grateful for whatever we get – I think journalists deserve to be taken more seriously than that and held to account as I am. You might not believe this, but it is my concern for the media and my commitment to media engagement that makes me respond as I do.

Ruth GledhillI am glad Ruth picked me up on this because it made me ask why I feel so strongly when journalists ‘get it wrong’. So, not wanting to stir up another hornets’ nest, but wanting to open up a less heated and more intelligent discussion, I offer the following points:

  1. A good democracy needs good media. This requires of the media a sense of responsibility in informing the public mind, analysing public policy and praxis, provoking public debate – all the while attempting to report honestly.
  2. Journalists need to be respected and supported when they engage in this rather bruising and competitive business.
  3. Journalism and journlaists are to be taken seriously – which means that failure to report or write accurately must be exposed and challenged. To do otherwise is to say that what journalists do doesn’t matter.
  4. This also requires of journalists a willingness to admit when they have got it wrong – as well as being celebrated for what is done well.

I think the root of my personal twitchiness (as exposed on various blog posts) is experience of injustice and misrepresentation that simply damages people, their relationships and their reputations – and all this without the possibility of adequate redress. Journalists need to understand what it feels like to be on ‘this’ side of the fence.

Ruth Gledhill was right to pick me up, but I would be interested in journalists’ response to my conviction that journalism and journalists are so important that, being taken seriously, they must be subject to the same scrutiny they apply to the rest of us. Perhaps a more respectful relationship between the media and the public might then be possible.

As the Government’s Digital Britain report is published today, these questions will become even more acute. (I’ll comment on the report later.)

Any views?