A NotW writer confesses

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I HAVE a confession to make: I once worked for the News of the World.

It was a while ago and I’d like to make it clear that at no point did it involve using information illegally obtained by paying corrupt police officers or from using a private investigator to hack into a member of the public’s telephone.

For my brief stint as a NotW journo was merely to file a report on a football match here (which immediately dates it back to a time when the Isle of Man football festival used to feature English sides in pre-season warm ups).

I can’t even remember the teams that played, nor the result. But I do recall the pay was quite good for filing 150 words within an hour of the final whistle.

In the same era, I was asked to file a report from a similar match for the Sunday Sport. I never received the cheque.

Over the past week, it has been impossible to avoid the furore over the News of the World hacking scandal.

Not many people are coming out of it that well.

The News of the World has come out of it particularly badly, of course and those who joined the paper after the practices were apparently commonplace have every right to feel hard done by.

Politicians aren’t coming out of it much better.

And even some celebrities have managed to irritate with their sanctimony.

Am I the only person who, even though much of what they have said may be fair, has found the crusading roles of Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan a little hard to stomach? Neither can be said to be entirely objective about the press.

The Prime Minister hasn’t come out of it too well. Particularly if the Guardian’s claims are correct that he was forewarned about the impending firestorm was heading towards Andy Coulson at a rate of knots.

Rebekah Wade is another who doesn’t look too good.

Even her good friend David Cameron has started to stick the knife in and you can’t help but feel that, once it becomes convenient to do so, Rupert Murdoch will drop her like a hot stone.

Presumably not before that stone has absorbed much of the heat that would otherwise be directed at the Murdoch family itself, although one suspects things aren’t going to cool off in that area for quite some time.

The subject of public relations and press officers is due to come up on the floor of Tynwald this week, although don’t expect anything like the revelations that have come out about Andy Coulson.

I suspect it will have more to do with some begrudging departments spending money on PR.

Like it or not, though, the truth is that government departments do need to invest some money in public relations.

Ask anyone in the media about which government departments get their messages across better and you’ll usually find they’re the ones who invest in public relations.

That doesn’t mean it’s all cosy coverage, particularly as certain departments will always find themselves in the firing line, but there are plenty of examples where things could have come across a lot worse were it not for the assistance of an able press officer.

And the ones who don’t make the effort tend to be the ones who find things a lot more difficult when the fan is hit by the proverbial.

Im this day and age, when just about everyone has access to some information about virtually everything, it is important for government departments to ensure that the correct information is available – even when it’s not great news.

And that’s where a good press officer can help make a politician realise the best thing is to get the truth out and front up.

Clearly, in these constrained financial times, it is only right that the government’s PR budget comes under the spotlight and undoubtedly there may have been occasions when money has not been put to good use.

The government can’t win on this one: it either spends too much on PR or commits PR disasters in the eyes of many.

Don’t forget, though, the PR disasters tend to stem from a political mistake in the first place.

In many instances, were it not for the intervention of a press officer, a minister could have ended up with even more egg on their face.

And one can’t help but think that if the powers that be had bothered in some thoughtful local public relations on the film industry, we might have avoided the ludicrous situation we now have where, effectively, the public has been asked to take the government’s word for it that actually it is of a huge benefit to the economy.

Government’s PR has been so poor on this issue that, despite the fact that this newspaper gave plenty of column inches to CinemaNX to give its side of the debate, there have still been dark mutterings from the corridors of power that this newspaper has caused irreparable damage for having the temerity to report parliamentary proceedings where the validity of the film industry’s success has been brought into question.

Frankly, any press officer worth his or her salt would have been running up those corridors of power and telling whoever needed to be told that the worst possible thing a government could do for its credibility is to give the impression that a major plank of its economic planning was based on something they’d rather not have anyone talking about.

Be up front and kill the conspiracy.

Behave like furtive kids in a sweet shop and people are bound to get suspicious about the humbug you produce.

Of course, I should declare an interest in these comments about press officers.

A number of people involved in public relations for the government – whether directly employed or through an agency – are former colleagues of mine.

And while there may have been occasions when some of them might have bugged me in a different sense of the word, I’m quite certain none of them has ever either hacked into someone’s phone, or known someone else who might have done so.

So, in that area at least, the Manx Government is a step ahead of those in Westminster.

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