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March 2, 2009

‘Journalists should swap patches to avoid cosiness’

By Julie Tomlin

The chair of the Scott Trust has suggested that political journalists should be forced to spend time covering another subject to prevent too cosy relationships with the governing class.

Speaking at the Convention on Modern Liberty in London on Saturday, Dame Liz Forgan – who chairs the Guardian and Observer owner – highlighted the danger of journalists becoming “too much a player”.

She cited CP Scott, the former editor of the Guardian between 1872 and 1929, who regularly had breakfast with then-prime minister David Lloyd George.

“A journalist needs to be an outsider,” Forgan said.

She suggested, light-heartedly, that this might be achieved if political journalists were moved to other patches from time to time.

Acknowledging the power of the blogosphere, Forgan said that CP Scott’s writings would be “picked over and analysed” if he had published them today.

Daily Mail and Spectator journalist Peter Oborne, who has written extensively about the fusion between the media and the political sphere, was sceptical about the role of the media.

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He said politicians had relied increasingly on the media to communicate to those they govern – and so the mainstream media was not in a position to challenge those in power.

In another debate on blogging and activism, Guardian science columnist Ben Goldacre described how “chaotic puerile disseminated investigative journalism” was possible using social media.

He said academics, statisticians and “obsessives” had collaborated online to expose vital information on medical companies.

Last month, Goldacre was forced to remove a 40-minute audio clip of an LBC radio discussion on MMR that he had posted on his blog.

A group of bloggers then compiled a transcript of the broadcast and it was distributed via Wikileaks.

The Convention on Modern Liberty was called by Vanity Fair London editor and Observer columnist Henry Porter and Open Democracy editor Anthony Barnett to address concerns about declining civil liberties.

Meetings were held in London, Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Glasgow and Manchester.

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