The press is throwing a toddler's tantrum over Leveson

Much of the press seems to be belly-down on the supermarket floor, punching the linoleum, kicking out and screaming WAAH WAAH BUT I DON’T WANT TO BE REGULATED. Here are ten truths the media needs to hear.

Recently I read some advice on dealing with a toddler’s tantrum. Try to ignore it, was the suggestion, by walking into another room. If ignoring doesn’t work, say something like “Time to stop now – I’ll count to 10”.

Much of the press seems to be belly-down on the supermarket floor, punching the linoleum, kicking out and screaming WAAH WAAH BUT I DON’T WANT TO BE REGULATED. Ignoring hasn’t worked, so . . .

ONE – The lack of self-reflection is truly staggering. The Leveson process is not something which was done to us. Nobody woke up one morning and thought “I know what I’ll do today – curtail the freedom of the press.” This is something entirely caused by the industry being, on the whole, out of control; engaging in occasionally illegal and often unethical practices. Take responsibility.

TWO – We had several chances at self-regulation which was not independently assessed and externally supervised. We made a complete arse of it. To ask for yet another round of the same sounds like an abusive alcoholic promising never to beat their spouse again, bathed in the light of the X-rays of their partner's latest fractures. The credibility, goodwill and trust necessary for self-regulation to work are just not there.

THREE – Attacking the individuals involved in the Hacked Off campaign with ad hominem and below-the-belt articles, only serves to prove the point that regulation is necessary now as much as ever. It is like waiting round the back of the school to beat up the kid who reported you for bullying. Publishing articles illustrated with Hugh Grant photoshopped to look like a pig only serves to make journalists look stupid and petty. Not to mention that, annoyingly, Grant makes the whole porky thing work and is still pretty sexy as a pig-man.

For comparison, here is a pig with the nose of Hugh Grant.

FOUR – Regulation of professional standards is part of modern life. Embrace it. Every profession on the eve of regulation has warned that it will be destroyed be it. None, that I can think of, has. Many have been reputationally enhanced. We keep complaining that we are crowded out by social media and blogs. A system of kitemarking quality, standards and ethics could be the unique selling point the industry desperately needs.

FIVE – Publications owned by Murdoch, the Barclay brothers and Lord Rothermere complaining that the Hacked Off campaign has secretly lobbied politicians is off the irony scale. Hacked Off’s agenda is completely public. They are saying what they have been saying all along, to anyone willing to listen. To claim that this somehow is tantamount to, for instance - a secret and unminuted tea date or dinner party with the Prime Minister on the eve of launching a huge takeover bid - is ridiculous.

SIX – If you wish to preserve your independence, you could start by demonstrating it. For example, you could do a hard-hitting piece investigating how and why David Cameron has arrived at his current position after promising to implement the Leveson proposals in full, unless they were “bonkers”. By not taking up the opportunity – because it is against the industry’s interests – and toeing the editorial line, you demonstrate the opposite of independence.

SEVEN – Prove your talent for factual and balanced reporting with factual and balanced reporting. Calling what is proposed “statutory regulation”, when you know it is not and everyone knows it is not and everyone knows that you know it is not, does not do you any favours. Stop claiming the world will cave in if this is allowed. Nobody believes it.

EIGHT – Listen to your professional union. "It is hugely ironic that those owners and editors who vehemently opposed Leveson's recommendations for an independent regulatory system, have so lost perspective in the collective hysteria that has gripped them in recent months, that they've colluded in a Royal Charter fudge that could risk opening the door to future political meddling in our press.”

NINE – Understand change. Invariably the players who do best in a situation where change is necessary are the ones who accept it the earliest and get involved in contributing to how it might best come about. Heckling and sulking is the worst possible strategy in a climate where public opinion is overwhelmingly – and rightly – in favour of change.

TEN – Most importantly, please stop suggesting that campaigners, by allegedly bullying politicians, have “become what they despised”. First, this involves an admission that the industry does bully politicians.

Second, you may intend to aim the slur at Hugh Grant, but the buckshot hits people like the Dowlers and the McCanns and Chris Jefferies – and they have suffered enough in this industry’s hands.

Campaigning for a piece of legislation is not the same as taking long-lens shots of families in grief at a funeral. It is not the same as naming an innocent person as a murderer based on no evidence. It is not the same as accusing the parents of a kidnapped girl of killing her; getting a paediatrician's home spray-painted with the word "paedo" after the Name and Shame campaign. It is not the same as hiding a note in a five-year-old’s schoolbag to browbeat her novelist mother into giving an interview. It is not the same as hacking a dead girl’s phone. This is the behaviour that has brought us to this point – not campaigners. Our behaviour.

Time to stop now.

Hugh Grant: more attractive without the pig snout, but only just. Photo: Getty

Greek-born, Alex Andreou has a background in law and economics. He runs the Sturdy Beggars Theatre Company and blogs here You can find him on twitter @sturdyalex

Photo: Getty
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Arsène Wenger: The Innovator in Old Age

As the Arsenal manager announces his departure from the club after more than two decades, the New Statesman editor, Jason Cowley, appreciates English football’s first true cosmpolitan. 

How to account for the essence of a football club? The players and managers come and go, of course, and so do the owners. The fans lose interest or grow old and die. Clubs relocate to new grounds. Arsenal did so in the summer of 2006 when they moved from the intimate jewel of a stadium that was Highbury to embrace the soulless corporate gigantism of the Emirates. Clubs can even relocate to a new town or to a different part of a city, as indeed Arsenal also did when they moved from south of the Thames to north London in 1913 (a land-grab that has never been forgiven by their fiercest rivals, Tottenham). Yet something endures through all the change, something akin to the Aristotelian notion of substance.

Before Arsène Wenger arrived in London in late September 1996, Arsenal were one of England’s most traditional clubs: stately, conservative, even staid. Three generations of the Hill-Wood family had occupied the role of chairman. In 1983, an ambitious young London businessman and ardent fan named David Dein invested £290,000 in the club. “It’s dead money,” said Peter Hill-Wood, an Old Etonian who had succeeded his father a year earlier. In 2007, Dein sold his stake in the club to Red & White Holdings, co-owned by the Uzbek-born billionaire Alisher Usmanov, for £75m. Not so dead after all.

In the pre-Wenger years, unfairly or otherwise, the Gunners were known as “lucky Arsenal”, a pejorative nickname that went back to the 1930s. For better or worse, they were associated with a functional style of play. Under George Graham, manager from 1986 to 1995, they were exponents of a muscular, sometimes brutalist, long-ball game and often won important matches 1-0. Through long decades of middling success, Arsenal were respected but never loved, except by their fans, who could be passionless when compared to, say, those of Liverpool or Newcastle, or even the cockneys of West Ham.

Yet Wenger, who was born in October 1949, changed everything at Arsenal. This tall, thin, cerebral, polyglot son of an Alsatian bistro owner, who had an economics degree and was never much of a player in the French leagues, was English football’s first true cosmopolitan.

He was naturally received with suspicion by the British and Irish players he inherited (who called him Le Professeur), the fans (most of whom had never heard of him) and by journalists (who were used to clubbable British managers they could banter with over a drink). Wenger was different. He was reserved and self-contained. He refused to give personal interviews, though he was candid and courteous in press conferences during which he often revealed his sly sense of humour.

He joined from the Japanese J League side, Nagoya Grampus Eight, where he went to coach after seven seasons at Monaco, and was determined to globalise the Gunners. This he did swiftly, recruiting players from all over the world but most notably, in his early years, from France and francophone Africa. I was once told a story of how, not long after joining the club, Wenger instructed his chief scout, Steve Rowley, to watch a particular player. “You’ll need to travel,” Wenger said. “Up north?” “No – to Brazil,” came the reply. A new era had begun.

Wenger was an innovator and disrupter long before such concepts became fashionable. A pioneer in using data analysis to monitor and improve performance, he ended the culture of heavy drinking at Arsenal and introduced dietary controls and a strict fitness regime. He was idealistic but also pragmatic. Retaining Graham’s all-English back five, as well as the hard-running Ray Parlour in midfield, Wenger over several seasons added French flair to the team – Nicolas Anelka (who was bought for £500,000 and sold at a £22m profit after only two seasons), Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pirès. It would be a period of glorious transformation – Arsenal won the Premier League and FA Cup “double” in his first full season and went through the entire 2003-2004 League season unbeaten, the season of the so-called Invincibles.

The second decade of Wenger’s long tenure at Arsenal, during which the club stopped winning titles after moving to the bespoke 60,000-capacity Emirates Stadium, was much more troubled. Beginning with the arrival of the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich in 2003, the international plutocracy began to take over the Premier League, and clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City, much richer than Arsenal, spent their way to the top table of the European game. What were once competitive advantages for Wenger – knowledge of other leagues and markets, a worldwide scouting network, sports science – became routine, replicated even, in the lower leagues.

Wenger has spoken of his fear of death and of his desire to lose himself in work, always work. “The only possible moment of happiness is the present,” he told L’Équipe in a 2016 interview. “The past gives you regrets. And the future uncertainties. Man understood this very fast and created religion.” In the same interview – perhaps his most fascinating – Wenger described himself as a facilitator who enables “others to express what they have within them”. He yearns for his teams to play beautifully. “My never-ending struggle in this business is to release what is beautiful in man.”

Arsène Wenger is in the last year of his contract and fans are divided over whether he should stay on. To manage a super-club such as Arsenal for 20 years is remarkable and, even if he chooses to say farewell at the end of the season, it is most unlikely that any one manager will ever again stay so long or achieve so much at such a club – indeed, at any club. We should savour his cool intelligence and subtle humour while we can. Wenger changed football in England. More than a facilitator, he was a pathfinder: he created space for all those foreign coaches who followed him and adopted his methods as the Premier League became the richest and most watched in the world: one of the purest expressions of let it rip, winner-takes-all free-market globalisation, a symbol of deracinated cosmopolitanism, the global game’s truly global league. 

(2017)

Postscript

Arsène Wenger has announced he is stepping down, less than a year after signing a new two-year contract in the summer of 2017. A run to the Europa League finals turned out not to be enough to put off the announcement to the end of the season.

Late-period Wenger was defined by struggle and unrest. And the mood at the Emirates stadium on match day was often sour: fans in open revolt against Wenger, against the club’s absentee American owner Stan Kroenke, against the chief executive Ivan Gazidis, and sometimes even against one another, with clashes between pro and anti-Wenger factions. As Arsenal’s form became ever more erratic, Wenger spoke often of how much he suffered. “There is no possibility not to suffer,” he said in March 2018. “You have to suffer.”

Arsenal once had special values, we were told, and decision-making was informed by the accumulated wisdom of past generations. But the club seems to have lost any coherent sense of purpose or strategic long-term plan, beyond striving to enhance the profitability of the “franchise”.

The younger Wenger excelled at discovering and nurturing outstanding young players, especially in his early seasons in north London. But that was a long time ago. Under his leadership, Arsenal became predictable in their vulnerability and inflexibility, doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes, especially defensive mistakes. They invariably faltered when confronted by the strongest opponents, the Manchester clubs, say, or one of the European super-clubs such as Bayern Munich or Barcelona.

Wenger’s late struggles were a symbol of all that had gone wrong at the club. The vitriol and abuse directed at this proud man was, however, often painful to behold.

How had it come to this? There seems to be something rotten in the culture of Arsenal football club. And Wenger suffered from wilful blindness. He could not see, or stubbornly refused to see, what others could: that he had become a man out of a time who had been surpassed by a new generation of innovators such as Pep Guardiola and Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino. “In Arsene we trust”? Not anymore. He had stayed too long. Sometimes the thing you love most ends up killing you.

 

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.