Former Take a Break editor John Dale has attacked the ‘grasping and the greed’of journalists who routinely accept freebies from PRs.
Writing in the October edition of Press Gazette, Dale highlighted a recent Asda fashion preview in which journalists were given a £30 voucher.
The fact they could spend it on anything at the store, including groceries, meant the company ‘might as well give the journalists £30 cash”, claimed Dale.
‘I’ve seen more outstretched hands than in an Oxfam poster,’he said. ‘The sad thing is they come with painted fingernails rather than skeletal arms and are not attached to hungry children but to some of my professional colleagues.”
He added: ‘Sometimes sleaze wears lipstick, carries a £500 handbag, gets £100 haircuts, dines at Michelin restaurants and goes cruising in the West Indies.”
Dale argued that while the press loves to act as moral arbiter ‘our practices are institutionally suspect”. ‘Don’t particularly blame Asda,’he said. ‘They’re innocent. They simply tune into the expectations of some journalists, that they should be rewarded merely for turning up and doing a nice, cushy number.
‘Refreshments? A goody bag? Oh, and here’s your giftcard. Enjoy, darling! Would anyone give £30 vouchers to police officers? Or MPs? And if they did, guess who’d lead the lynch mobs.
“Yes, journalists. This kind of corruption is so embedded that we cannot see it for what it is: behaviour widespread enough to shame a Pakistani cricketer moonlighting for FIFA.”
Dale believes that freebies and phone-hacking are on the same ‘continuum of moral corrosion”, but acknowledges there are ‘fine, brave journalists who do say no”.
The Asda fashion preview was held in London’s Covent Garden, near to the High Court where Lord Leveson is holding an inquiry into press standards.
‘With a quick adjournment, Lord Leveson could have strolled down The Strand and witnessed the grasping and the greed, this lack of journalistic self-respect,’said Dale.
”To be honest,’ one writer murmured to me afterwards, ‘a thirty quid voucher, it was less than I expected. Ah well, mustn’t complain. Do for the weekend groceries.'”
Dale claimed that asking journalists about freebies resulted in some people sounding like ‘finalists reeling off prizes at the end of The Generation Game. Diamond rings. Diamond pendants. Dream holidays. Cruises. Laptops. iPads. iPods. E-readers. Michelin dining. Bespoke suits. Designer clothes. Handbags. Shoes. Furniture. Home decorating. Car loans.”
‘How do I know? First-hand, I’m afraid,’he said. ‘As an editor for 20 years (of women’s weekly Take a Break), I was an occasional beneficiary. I took a cruise and I visited Florida but at least I wrote lengthy reviews.
‘That was in the 1990s. Everything else I raffled to my staff. Not an excuse, but, with therapy, I have climbed back on the straight and narrow.
‘You name it, we can get it. We’re not called the consumer press for nothing… one writer told me: ‘I’ve had endless dinners at top restaurants, a diamond ring, a loose diamond solitaire, concerts at the 02, Ladies Day at Ascot, a trip to Paris with spending money, hair cuts and beauty treatments at pretty much any salon I want, a £100 washbag, top of the range juicer, lots of trips to spas and hotels. Don’t name me. I’d hate to lose out!'”
Dale believes that in order to hold others to account journalists ‘must first hold themselves to account”, adding: ‘Journalism should be bursting, not with villains and villainy, but with heroes and heroism.