Thursday, 17 February 2011

My fantasy British Press Awards from hell

This is a piece I've done for TheMediaBriefing on the British Press Awards. It is a fantasy but could become a reality.

One of my fondest memories of the British Press Awards is seeing a table of journalists standing on their chairs gesturing at an increasingly red faced Piers Morgan and his Mirror hacks while chanting “losers...losers” like a bunch of football hooligans.

And that was just the Guardian.

In 1999, when the Guardian won Newspaper of the Year, Neil Wallis, then editor of the Sunday People, stormed onto the stage, grabbed the microphone and said he found it a "shocking disgrace" that the judges thought the broadsheets were better than the tabloids.

When the News of the World, then edited by Andy Coulson, was named Newspaper of the Year in 2005, some of the quality papers threatened to boycott the event, horrified that a story as trivial as David Beckham shagging someone who was not Posh could sweep the NoW to victory. They suspected a bit of fat chequebook journalism was behind the torrid tale rather than a Wooward or Bernstein.

Which goes to show the national press is a broad church with a congregation that does not always get on. Some see it as a mixture of sinners (the “red-tops”) and missionaries (the “quality” press).

So how are the British Press Awards going to go this year under the new stewardship of the Society of Editors and the shadow of the phone hacking scandal?

I’ve come up with a fantasy scenario whereby the British Press Awards could make the New Year celebrations at Ford Open Prison (alcohol was taken and the jail burnt down) look like the Teddy Bears’ Picnic.

It goes like this.

Reporter of the Year.

Welcome to the stage the Guardian’s Nick Davies whose tenacity blew the phone-hacking scandal wide open by revealing that NI had made a secret payment to Gordon Taylor and whose investigations ultimately led to the departure of Andy Coulson from Number 10.

On the other hand. What about the News of the World’s Mazher Mahmood? He had more stings last year than a hive of bees. In 2010 the “Fake Sheikh” tucked up snooker star John Higgins, the Duchess of York and exposed the betting scandal by members of the Pakistan cricket team.

Newspaper of the Year.

Cheers please for the Guardian’s ground breaking WikiLeaks coverage – the “biggest leak in history”. Surely a shoo-in? But what about all those super scoops from the NoW? – especially the cricket betting scandal which has massive implications for the sport and has just led to lengthy bans on the players and criminal charges.

It’s going to be a very difficult one. A major scrap between the Guardian and the News of the World is probably not exactly what the national press needs at the moment as it tries to rebuild the trust of the great British public.

It would be a PR disaster if the British Press Awards descended into a drunken orgy of recriminations and bad losers.

Can I come?

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