Friday 17 March 2017
With the announcement that the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne is to become the editor of the Evening Standard, Matt Walsh, Head of Journalism at the University of Northampton gives his opinion of whether an MP can hold such a position in the media.
“The path between journalism and politics is well-trodden. Whether it is Michael Gove moving from a column at the Times to a fast track to the cabinet or Bill Deedes quitting as a minister to edit the Daily Telegraph, there’s always been a place for the journalist politician.
Yet today’s announcement that George Osborne, is to become the editor of the Evening Standard is still a surprise.
But if he wants to be an editor he needs to quit as an MP.
A free press is a cornerstone of democracy. Without a vigorous press holding political power to account we risk corrupting our democratic institutions.
While that does not mean editors have to be free of all affiliation, I think it does mean an editor can’t be a sitting member of the governing Parliamentary party. Especially when they still yearn for high office.
It’s a fundamental conflict of interest, especially as his reporters would be covering the impact of policies he proposed in government.
George does hold terrific qualities for the editor of a daily newspaper, especially a mid-market one like the Standard.
And he’s genuinely interested in journalism – at the start of his career he tried and failed to become a graduate trainee on the Times.
The Editorship of The Evening Standard may look like a powerful pulpit from which to hurl stones at Theresa May and build momentum for a bid for Downing Street.
But it would be an immense disservice to the million people who read the paper. And in the end, the readers have to come first.
Matt Walsh is Head of Journalism at the University of Northampton. He has spent more than 20 years working in the media, including as an editor at ITN and the Times. Matt has also worked as a communications advisor, including a brief period advising David Cameron and the Conservative Party leadership team on broadcasting strategy.