The Damien McBride affair was result of the incestuous relationship between Westminster and lobby journalists, political blogger Iain Dale said yesterday.
Speaking at a debate held at the Foreign Press Association, Dale told the assembly of foreign press that journalists had failed to expose McBride earlier because they had become too close to the politicians they are meant to keep in check.
Also on the panel were Paul Staines, aka Guido Fawkes, the anti-establishment blogger who broke the recent “smeargate” scandal and Nick Jones, a former BBC correspondent and author of several books on the dark world of political spin.
“It’s now possible for anyone to get a scoop” said Staines, explaining that that the reason the “smeargate” whistleblower had come to him was because he is not constrained by internal lobby politics.
Staines, who says that he blogs from 6am-11pm every day, describes himself as a journalist who happens to blog. With bloggers like his around working for next to nothing – his own site costs £100 a month to run – he argued that traditional media’s costly business model is defunct.
However Dale, a self-confessed Tory, argued that he saw the remit of bloggers as political commentary, rather than to report news. “I don’t regard myself as a journalist; my blog’s not there to break stories”, he said.
In the end, all of the panelists agreed that the key to survival, for any journalist, is trust: “If people don’t trust me then they won’t read my blog, so I care about what I write,” said Dale. Yet they also argued that current regulations are stifling the traditional media’s ability to break stories.
“We have a very politicized media”, said Nick Jones, arguing that an increasing number of newspapers are using the internet to post multimedia content, such as Telegraph TV, presenting severe problems for broadcast outlets which cannot compete with the far less regulated press.
Taking the video footage of Iain Tomlinson being attacked by a policeman minutes before he died at the G20 protests as an example, he argued that newspapers such as the Guardian, who broke the story, are now able to post footage on their websites that the BBC could not broadcast due to the severe legal restrictions imposed by Ofcom.
But it was Paul Staines who went the furthest in advocating freedom of expression: “In a sense, pornographers are the greatest defenders of freedom of the press”, he said.