I was very interested earlier this week to read an interview with Private Eye editor Ian Hislop in the Press Gazette. Not many people realise that the Eye is the UK’s best selling current affairs magazine, with an average circulation of over 228,000.
Unlike many other publications, Private Eye extensively covers the public sector, albeit in a way that may not always show the sector in a positive manner. Among the regular features in the magazine are the Rotten Boroughs page which shines a light on local government and Medicine Balls which looks at the goings on within the NHS.
Given that all politicians are self publicists who love to see their names in print, it’s worth noting that none of them seem very happy when they appear in Private Eye! In particular I know that many Labour councillors here on Merseyside (or “Murkeyside” at the Eye calls it) have a great fear of appearing in Rotten Boroughs.
During my time in local government communication there were several occasions when I had to work hard to persuade Councillors that it really wasn’t a very good idea to respond to an article in Private Eye.
It is not just Private Eye which mocks politicians; many local newspapers have diary columns which take an irreverent look at local movers and shakers. One of the longest running of these is the Tom Shields column which has been a staple feature of the Glasgow Herald for as long as any of us can remember. Many years ago I was appointed as PR manager for a small local authority in central Scotland. On my first day in post the Chief Executive told me that in his view one of my main priorities was to keep the Council out of the Tom Shields column!
There is a very strong case to be made for saying that these sorts of columns are good for democracy. If politicians, and their press officers, don’t like it, then perhaps they need to lighten up.