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Blair attacks "feral" media he once tamed

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s media is like a “feral beast” that tears people and reputations to shreds, Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Tuesday in his parting shot at journalists after a decade in power.

Once known for his slick and sometimes obsessive media management, Blair accused the media of sensationalising facts, breeding cynicism and attacking public figures.

Blair, who steps down on June 27, said he was not blaming the media for the “damaged” relationship with politicians but pointing the finger at the changing nature of modern news.

“The fear of missing out means that today’s media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack. In these modes it is like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits,” he said in a speech at Reuters headquarters in London.

Journalists are “increasingly and to a dangerous degree ... driven by ‘impact’, and this is driving down standards and doing a disservice to the public, he said.

“The damage saps the country’s confidence and self-belief ... it reduces our capacity to take the right decisions,” argued Blair.

Britons became increasingly cynical about Blair’s reliance on public relations “spin” to nurture favourable headlines and his relationship with the media and voters deteriorated during the divisive Iraq war and its aftermath.

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Opposition politicians blamed Blair’s media handling for the sour relationship between politicians and the press.

“A fairer analysis would point to his own culture of spin,” said Don Foster, a Liberal Democrat MP.

Blair joked to reporters he was “poking them in the eye” but could do so because he was standing down. He advised his successor, Chancellor Gordon Brown, not to do the same.


Blair said his government had focused too much on persuading the press: “We paid inordinate attention in the early days of New Labour to courting, assuaging, and persuading the media.”

He also made no apologies for assiduously wooing media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his influential newspapers and broadcasters.

Prime Minister Tony Blair gestures during a Reuters Newsmaker event at the company's headquarters in London June 12, 2007. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Such close ties had been vital because the media had attacked his Labour Party with “ferocious hostility” during its 18 years in opposition until its 1997 election victory, he said.

Blair said many newspapers had become “viewspapers” with opinion overtaking fact and it was rare to find balance.

He suggested the way the press is regulated would have to be revised soon as new trends, such as newspapers producing podcasts and TV channels having Web sites, blurred the once-clear distinction between newspapers and television.

“It becomes increasingly irrational to have different systems of accountability based on technology that can no longer be differentiated in the old way,” he said.

TV channels have one regulatory body, Ofcom. The British Broadcasting Corporation is governed by a trust and newspapers are overseen by the Press Complaints Commission.

Asked if government should do more to improve regulation, and prevent one group having a monopoly, Blair said the media were better placed to bring about change themselves.

“I think politicians would find it very hard to do this without a strong sense that there is a movement within the media itself to bring about change,” he said.

additional reporting by Kate Holton