Balls: Global power of reporting can be “bigger than the truth”

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls, speaking at the Journalists' Charity annual lunch today, said: "The global power of reporting these days can sometimes be bigger than the truth."

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls, speaking today at the Journalists’ Charity annual lunch, said that “the global power of reporting these days can sometimes be bigger than the truth”.

In a speech that linked issues surrounding the free press with the economy Mr Balls said that in the economy “what matters is outcomes” and so in effect “the truth outs, as unemployment rises or living standards fall“.

This was contrasted with tendencies in the free press where Mr Balls said:

“On personal reputation in the modern world, the danger is that the ‘truth’ is what gets written down – whether it is based on fact or not.”

Mr Balls did not call for more regulation however, stating:

“I would rather live in a society where the press regulates itself – although, as my colleagues in the House of Commons will tell you, self-regulation is not an excuse for complacency.”

He also sympathised with the “understandable frustration” over the current situation where there appeared to be “one rule for national newspapers and broadcasters and another for twitter and the internet”. Going on to make  comments and predictions about the future of political reporting and the press in general, he said that:

“But for those at the frontline – in my view, with the proliferation of outlets and real-time blogging – the old days of ‘off the record and exclusive’ briefings are numbered…

“Today we are watched all time – and reported in real time on Twitter: ‘Ed Balls is on the night bus’ or – ‘I am sitting in the same carriage as Ed Balls – the b*stard!’ – how do you avoid looking up to check whether the only other person on the carriage is actually tweeting away on their blackberry ?

“Quite how that will hamper the next ‘Facebook generation’ of politicians remains to be seen… For now, I am relieved that my youthful indiscretions have only been captured in the odd grainy photo… I am very sure David Cameron and George Osborne feel the same way…”

Mr Balls made comments that were almost reminiscent of Tony Blair’s infamous “feral beast” speech, stating that:

“These days broadcasting is at least as much comment than reporting… perhaps too much?”

He went on to undermine any consensus in the press behind George Osborne’s economic policies. Drawing and wide and deep historical comparisons, Mr Balls said:

“The history of British policymaking in the last hundred years has taught us that on all occasions when major economic judgements had to be made by the government of the day there is a broad-based tendency in the political, media and financial world to row in behind the decision at the time, and ignore the dissenting voices of economists.”

He went on to cite historical examples of economic policies that went terribly wrong, despite enjoying widespread support at the time, from Winston Churchill’s return to the “gold standard” to Margaret Thatcher and John Major’s decision to join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.

Following up on the point as a parting shot – after mentioning his policies had the support of Martin Wolf, Sam Brittan, Anatole Kaletsky, Bill Keegan and Larry Elliott  – Mr Balls said:

“As for the economy, beware the consensus… And listen to your economic commentators.”

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