Candidate Number: STWD7
BENVGPLB Urban Politics Essay
The Media: A Guide for Planners
An inquest of media relations at The Millenium Dome.
Pillars of Planning Topic 5 Investigate how the media has dealt with your case.
- Focus on newspaper articles and see how each newspaper approached the case. - Is there any difference among various newspapers? - What is the role of the media as a whole? (Look at academic literature.) - Is there anything planners can do regarding the media?
Critically analyse your case from an urban politics perspective. Also critical to your success is evidence of: 1) knowledge and understanding of the local political systems’ workings; 2) knowledge and understanding of a planning-related project or policy as a political issue; and 3) awareness of the relevant theoretical background and arguments.
"We will say to ourselves with pride: this is our Dome, Britain's Dome. And believe me, it will be the envy of the world" (Blair, 24 February 1998). Former Prime Minister Tony Blair wanted the Millenium Dome, a tent-shaped exhibition centre in Greenwich, to be a symbol of everything that was good about Britain. Instead, marred by financial problems, poor visitor numbers and a chaotic opening night, it turned out to be the opposite. In the British press, the Dome was almost always accompanied by a pejorative adjective: doomed, ill-fated, disastrous, costly etc. Every day, media organisations analyse their coverage from the previous day. At the Daily Mail it is known as the ‘inquest.’ This essay could be seen as an ‘inquest’ of the media coverage of the Dome. I will examine the role of the media, both from an academic standpoint of power relations and decision-making, and also from a very practical standpoint: to what extent were they merely reporting the problems that beset the Dome and to what extent were those problems exaggerated or even created by an aggressive media that was increasingly hostile to the Blair’s government? The Dome was “the biggest news story in Britain” (McGuigan 2003: 670) in 2000, inspiring countless stories. I have chosen to compare articles in national newspapers on key dates: Jan 2 2000, the first reporting of Millenium night celebrations and the first visitors; Feb 5 and 6 2000, which describe the firing of Dome supremo Jennie Page; and Dec 18 and 19 2001, when the government agreed a ‘pay-as-you-go deal to dispose of the Dome’ (The Telegraph). The assignment asks whether there is anything planners can do regarding the media. Answering this requires an understanding of the power relations as illustrated in three diagrams: Figure 1 shows the decision-making process at The Daily Mail on a political story. Figure 2 shows the different actors involved in decision-making at The Dome and their influence on The Daily Mail, and Figure 3 shows those actors from the point of view of The Daily Mail. For simplicity I focus on The Daily Mail, which I chose because it is profitable (and thus independent), and has one of the highest circulations in Britain. Similar set-ups will be found on most British newspapers. My insight is guided by twelve years of experience in political and business journalism (see references).
Elite theory argues that power is concentrated in the hands of a relatively small number of people (Harding 1995). In the case of the Dome, the decision to go ahead with the previous government’s plan was taken by Blair and his cabinet (Carling 1998: pg22), who could be considered an elite. But once the green light was given, daily decision-making was split
between three government departments, various quangos, and corporate sponsors (McGuigan 2003). This would fit the pluralist model described by Judge (1995: pg14) as “fragmented and decentralized” power extending beyond formal institutional structures. In terms of media coverage, it is interesting to look at the “mobilization of bias” (Bachrach 1962: pg952). Decision-making at a newspaper is shaped by a small number of people who set the tone from which all journalists take their lead. Unlike other newspapers such as The Sun where Rupert Murdoch calls his editor on an almost daily basis, the Daily Mail owner chooses not to meddle in editorial decisions (Independent 2004). Of course, that doesn’t mean it could never happen, but for the past 20 years it has been editor Paul Dacre who sets the tone.
Figure 1: Decision making at the Daily Mail for a political story
Controlling shareholder: Viscount Rothermere
Publisher: Associated Newspapers
Editor in chief (‘the boss’): Paul Dacre Deputy Editor
Production side: Night editor and the ‘backbench’ of sub editors
Daily Management of the paper: Deputy Editor and assistant editors who liaise with section editors
News Editor Political Editor
Journalists at competing publications ‘the pack’ 5
To be effective, an organisation seeking to influence the media will act at all levels (Figure 3). Daily decisions will be made by the deputy editor in consultation with a range of assistant and section editors, with input from the production staff as the stories are laid out on the page. Below cabinet minister and CEO level, senior officials could try to make connections at this level. Press officers and low-ranking officials should seek out journalists, who have the power to suggest stories and frame the reference. For a non-exclusive story, pack rules may apply, determined as a group by journalists from competing publications used to covering stories together. The media, whose influence will depend on its politics and circulation, has direct access to important decision-makers and that relationship means that journalists could be regarded as part of the ‘regime’ which Stoker describes as the fluid “cooperation and coordination between government and non-governmental actors” (1995: pg54). The relationship between senior politicians and the editor of the paper is important, reflected in the Labour-supporting Mirror’s much more positive coverage of the Dome. The right-wing Daily Mail was one of its fiercest critics. The woman in charge of the daily running of the Dome, Jennie Page, had as a career civil servant few of the wider regime networks that would have helped her deal with the media. She was replaced by “an unemployed 34-year old former vice president of Disneyland Paris, P.-Y. Gerbeau” (McGuigan 2003: pg676) who as a Frenchman also lacked connections at the outset. However he understood the importance of forging those relations and was given an easier ride because of it. Castells notes that “power relies on the control of communication” (2009: pg10) and that mass communication “is shaped and managed by power relationships” (2009: pg3). Figure 2 shows how the different agencies involved in the Dome interact with the Daily Mail. The government (in blue) controls the public agencies in red, but not the opposition or rival power bases in green or the corporate world in purple, who wield influence in other areas of the paper, such as the business section. Individual journalists are influenced by all of the above, but also by their own newspaper and competing journalists. They are under daily pressure to come up with stories, and if not fed positive ones they may be nourished by detractors. This crucially is something Page failed to understand.
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Figure 2: Millenium Dome actors and Their influence on The Daily Mail
Special Minister for the Millenium (Mandelson/ Lord Falconer)
New Millenium Exeperience Company (NMEC)
Minister for Culture Media and Sport (Chris Smith)
House of Commons Culture Media and Sports Committee
Daily Mail Camelot Group The reader Local paper Greenwich Time
Other competing media
Millenium Access Infrastructure Group set up by DETR to integrate major transport infrastructure projects (later absorbed into Millenium Access Steering Group)
Corporate Sponsors: L’Oreal, Manpower, BT, Ford, Boots, McDonalds, BAE etc
Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Prescott) Millenium Access Steering group chaired by Glenda Jackson, Minister for London Transport. Also includes London Transport Ltd, NMEC, London Transport buses, Association of London Governments Greenwich Council Developers
National Audit Office
7 Local people
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Blair PR: Alastair Campbell
Most common direct access to Daily Mail (from Daily Mail viewpoint)
Peter Mandelson Mandelson PR Gordon Brown
Opposit ion PR
John Prescott NMEC CEO Jennie Page (later PY
Brown PR Prescott PR
Bob Ayling, CEO British Airways
Daily Mail Editor Paul Dacre NMEC Head of PR
House of Commons Culture Media and Sports Committee
Corporate Sponsors: L’Oreal, Manpower, BT, Ford, Boots, McDonalds,
NMEC press officer
Dail Mail Deputy Editor
Camelot Group Daily Mail Political Editor Daily Mail Business Editor
Dail Mail News Editor
8 Daily Mail journalist
Planners in all of this
It should be noted that planners do not figure directly in any of these diagrams, and this is problem in terms of influence. However, planners operate within the wider environment and should understand how the media can impact planning decisions. Planners do exist under the banner of Greenwich Council in Figure 2, which approved planning permission for The Dome and thus has relations with regeneration agency English Partnerships, who owned the land, the developers, the government department responsible for transport and local government (DETR), the New Millenium Experience Company (in charge of running the Dome), the Millenium Commission (which financed the bulk of the project), and local people. In terms of direct contact with the media, the council (but probably not their planners) will have relations with the local newspaper (which will be read at The Daily Mail) and The Evening Standard. Planners at the DETR and the Millenium Access Infrastructure Group and the Millenium Access Steering Group would also have had indirect access to the media via the power brokers in these groups. None of these relationships are important enough to feature in Figure 3, which shows the actors The Daily Mail thinks are important.
This essay’s analysis of newspaper coverage begins after “the opening night fiasco” when VIPS were kept waiting for hours on a tube platform for security checks (The Independent 2000). Leaving star journalists on a freezing cold platform on Millenium New Year’s eve infused a sour note into coverage of the Dome, and symbolized for many its shoddy organisation. But not all the stories from that day are negative. The Mirror’s assertion that a coded threat to blow up the Dome explained the disorderly queues was generous to say the least. The Observer and The Daily Mail report favourable opinions by the paying public. A few months later, when Page was fired, coverage is more critical. The Sunday Mirror is calling the Dome a “disaster” and The Independent has let opposition MPs influence its lead which accuses Dome Chiefs of “fiddling” visitor figures. The Mail of Sunday has given voice to Dome critic Stephen Bayley, letting him write his version of events. Only left-leaning The Observer gives the event a positive spin by focussing on the new “whizz-kid” in charge. In 2001, once the terms of the deal to lease the Dome are known, coverage is even more negative. In is interesting to compare December 18 – when the terms were not known – and 19. The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Guardian run fairly neutral stories on the 18th relating how the deal might help the Dome bounce back. Murdoch newspapers (The Sun and The Times) are more critical. But when it is revealed that the new owners weren’t going to pay anything for the Dome, the move is universally condemned for what many see as a waste of £800 million of public money. In many ways, newspapers were only reporting the sorry facts. Although the Dome was the “largest development project in Europe,” Thornley (2000: pg689) claims it was divorced from the strategic planning context which led to difficulties and lost opportunities. He says
the short timeframe led to a focus on the Millenium event and not the legacy, which Mandelson admitted to a House of Commons committee he had not planned for (2000: pg696). In addition, the different transport agencies involved were fragmented and found it difficult to agree. Such confusion would now be avoided with the fusion of transport agencies into Transport for London and the creation of the Greater London Authority in 2000. With a single administrative body responsible for Greater London, and a charismatic figure with national appeal in the Mayor of London, there is a clearer structure for decision-making and responsibility. McGuigan (2003: pg670) says newspaper criticism was “remarkably superficial” given the extent of the Dome’s problems. He says the Hinduja scandal which led to the Mandelson’s resignation over allegations he offered passports in exchange for sponsorship of the Dome, “was only the tip of an iceberg” (2003: pg679), He claims that although corporate sponsorship at £150 million was less than one fifth the amount of public money, the sponsors were given almost carte blanche in the way they set up the exhibitions making their role “more important ideologically than financially” (2003: pg686).
It could be argued that media coverage of the Dome was shaped by the “national mood” which Saltzein (2008: pg158) argues has “important impacts on public agendas and policy outcomes.” According to The Times in 1998 "attacking the Dome is Britain's favourite sport" (Carling 1998: pg7). To what extent that mood was shaped by the media depends on whether you believe people are capable of making up their own mind when they read about the appalling management of the Dome, or whether media exaggerations warped their perspective. The truth is probably somewhere in-between. Certainly poor decisions were made from the outset. Gray (2003: pg450) says the choice of Greenwich as the site for the Dome was politically motivated as Birmingham had a better plan, sponsorship deals in place and a plan for the site after the exhibition was finished. When problems did occur, the government either sought to evade the issues or pass responsibility to the NMEC which “did little to still the baying press-pack" (pg452). And a failure to think about a long-term strategy meant the government was “reacting to short term problems and immediate emergencies rather than resolving the core issues involved” (pg452). Planners have traditionally veered away from the media, and many, particularly those in public service, prefer to remain under the radar. Journalists too show little interest in planners, filing planning under the ‘dull but worthy’ category that sadly too often gets overlooked. While many planners wouldn’t want to get involved with the dirty business of trying to influence the media, they should understand the influence of the media on decisionmakers. Planners can then think about their relations with those decision makers, remembering that it is not only journalists who have influence. In the end, the best way to ensure positive media coverage is to give journalists something positive to write about. Those who fear the Olympic Village runs the risk of becoming the new Millenium Dome should remember that it didn’t need to turn out that way. A lack of clear vision about what should be done with the Olympic site after the games risks “leaving behind a high profile masterplanned Olympic Village running up huge dents and maintenance costs” (Milles 2005: pg23). That would be a terrible pity, and not just in terms of media coverage.
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In addition the following newspaper articles were consulted via NexisUK on Jan 4 2011. Jan 2 2000 The Independent (Cole Moreton) The Big Day 2000: In the Dome – Queues and Crush Left Champagne Flat
The Observer (Robery McCrum) Magic and misery in crush of the century: Was it worth waiting for? The Observer (Vanessa Thorpe) Ain’t nothing like a Dome, enthuse the paying public Sunday Mail (no byline) Dome Good Value Sunday Mirror (no byline) Dome Chief get Pounds 292,000 Sunday Mirror (Mark Nicol) Millenium 2000: Brave Mark makes his dream trip to the Dome; courage of teenager who amazed his doctors: we give boy who beat a tumour the night of his life Sunday Mirror (no byline) Millenium 2000: Pounds 600M Hangover; the party’s over and the great clear-up begins: thousands held up by security checks after coded bomb warning at Dome Sunday Mirror (Colin Wills At The Dome) Millenium 2000: Love, love, love went the words of Lennon and McCartney. And everywhere around me people started to cry; The Dome finally bursts into life with a simple message of humanity Mail on Sunday (Fiona Barton) On the stroke of twelve, the Queen and Philip embraced like every other couple… this was their fiorst public kiss in 50 years of marriage Mail on Sunday (Christopher Leake, Fiona Barton, Dan Bridgett) The queues that barely moved Feb 5 2000 Daily Mail (Matthew Hickley) We can’t keep bailing you out, Dome told The Independent (Severin Carrell) Dome chiefs accused of ‘fiddling’ visitor figures The Independent (Severin Carrell) Dome told to cut costs or lose pounds 30M in grants The Mirror (David Pilditch) Dome is at half capacity The Times (Dominic Kennedy) ‘Tough love’ as Dome rescue cash is halved Fab 6 2000 The Independent (Comment) Now its Le Dome The Independent (Jonathon Carr-Brown Political Editor) The ‘curse’ that stalks Labour ambition The Independent (Simon Calder) Race against time for Monsieur Gerbeau
The Independent (Catherine Pepinster) Welcome to the exit zone: bad publicity, low attendances, and a financial crisis have finally proved too much for Jennie Page The Independent (Jason Nisse Business Editor) Dome Chief is ousted for Disney ‘Whiz-Kid’ (sic) Mail on Sunday (Christopher Leake) Dome Chief Fired Mail on Sunday (Stephen Nayley) A noisy mouse who presided over a disgrace The Observer (John Arlidge and Patrick Wintour) Dome boss quits as Disney moves in: French whizz-kid drafted in to rescue beleaguered Labour showpiece The Observer (Anthony Brown) How the dome dream collapsed: Gambling on a little Gallic flair’ The salvation The Sunday Times (Rupert Steiner and Richard Brooks) Disney takes over as dome boss sacked Sunday Mirror (Leader) Dome is now a real Mickey Mouse outfit
December 18 2001 The Daily Telegraph (David Millward) US oil magnate to turn Dome into sports arena Daily Mail (Tania Shakinovsky) Basketball boss to help Dome bounce back The Guardian (Jill Treanor and Kevin Maguire) Dome compromise could bring costly saga to close The Sun Dome for Rent The Times (Tom Baldwin Deputy Political Editor) Lease deal decides Dome’s future
Deecember 19 2001 The Daily Telegraph *David Millward) Taxpayers must wait years for Dome profit Daily Mail (Matthew Hickley) Dome giveaway Daily Mail (Edward Keathcoat Amory) Labour should end this sorry episode The Guardian (Jill Treanor and Kevin Maguire) New talks put dome deal on hold
The Independent (Marie Woolf Chief Political Correspondent) One Amazing deal: After 628 million pounds of lottery money, the Dome is handed over to developers, for nothing The Independent (Cahal Milmo and Andrew Gumbel) Millenium Dome: Billionaire with a poast as patron saint of lost cases; at last the future looks bright, after 150 approaches, 22 serious attempts and two ‘preferred bidder’ debacles The Mirror (Bob Roberts) Pleasure Dome: stars line up as firm unveils 500 million pounds music venue scheme The Mirror (Paul Routledge) Routledge on the shambles which stained our millennium
In addition, the following references were used specially for the following diagrams:
Figure 1: 1 Associated Newspapers website : http://www.associatednewspapers.com/. Consulted Jan 6 2010 2 Interview with Viscount Rothermere in The Indepedent September 2004 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/viscount-rothermere-the-lord-of-middleengland-547800.html Consulted Jan 6 2010 3 It was also based on my knowledge of how media organisations work from twelve years’ experience as a journalist (including three years as chief French political correspondent for Bloomberg and three years as head of the economic service for The Associated Press in Paris). The diagrams were also checked with a top executive at The Daily Mail, who asked not to be cited in this article. Figure 2 and 3: The sources above. 4 http://wwp.millennium-dome.com/dome/whos-who.htm. Consulted Jan 9 2010 5 Thornley A (2000), “Dome Alone: London's Millennium Project and the Strategic Planning Deficit,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 24, no. 3: pg 689-699 6 Gray C (2003) The Millennium Dome: ‘Falling From Grace’ Parliamentary Affairs 56: 441-455. 7 McGuigan J (2003), “The social construction of a cultural disaster: New Labour’s millennium experience,” Cultural Studies 17, no. 5 pg: 669