It’s the business of journalism to afflict the comfortable

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Derek Bernard accuses this newspaper of sitting in judgment on the issue of Health boss Mike Pollard claiming expenses with his ‘what on earth happened to the JEP’s normal championship of innocent until proved guilty?’ jibe in the last sentence of his recent letter.

But by then Mr Bernard had probably forgotten that he had done precisely the same thing just a few paragraphs earlier by judgmentally asserting that the piece about Mr Pollard ‘did not qualify as a story at all, much less a front-page story’.

Quite what qualifications Mr Bernard has to make such a comment about a profession that I suspect he actually knows precious little about is unclear but, to give him the benefit of an enormous doubt I have about his possessing the necessary expertise, he will know that generally speaking, journalism seeks to fulfil one or more of three simple functions in everything it does. In short, it should inform, educate and /or entertain.

It might further interest him (or anyone else who believes that the editor of this newspaper should be hung, drawn and quartered next Saturday morning in The Square for having the nerve to run the piece) to know that in the pub I frequent the comments among the clientele there appeared to me to qualify the story on all three counts.

According to most of the old lads in our corner, it informed because it told us something we didn’t know, it educated us because we learned that if the next generations want to latch on to a gravy train in terms of employment then they could do worse than join the civil service, and it entertained us because we all laughed as we considered what our erstwhile employers would have said had any one of us had the brass neck to ask them to pay such a claim.

But on a more serious note, I have always held – and this is very much a personal view and nothing to do with any particular newspaper’s policy – that there is a fourth and more important function of journalism and that is that it should seek to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

As far as I am concerned, and simply because Mr Pollard is where he is in the pecking order, he is very much among the comfortable who should be afflicted, rather than the afflicted who need comforting.

As has been said elsewhere, the matter was considered important enough, not only for one of that lot in the big House to consider it of sufficient gravity to raise by way of questions, but also important enough for the Prime Minister himself to get on his feet to answer it.

Yet, according to Mr Bernard, it ‘did not qualify as a story’. I tell you what, pal, when journalists (and independently minded politicians) stop asking questions that reveal matters like this, then we will without doubt be on that slippery slope to the sort of big brush, big carpet, days which, if you listen to some folk, have already arrived in many places, not least until very recently, in the United Kingdom.

Given that sort of scenario, I have to say I’m surprised by Mr Bernard’s outburst, seeing that he has for many years argued in favour of lifting the heavy hand of government from all manner of things, but we won’t go into that right now.

As far as this bolshie little crapaud is concerned, this newspaper had as much right to ask about taxpayers footing the bill for Mr Pollard’s missed guitar lessons as I did many years ago when I asked a certain civil service chief officer – long retired now but happily still with us – why he wanted a receipt for the few bob a copy of The Times cost him.

It happened when I was behind this bloke in a queue at the Airport, in the days before they barred the public from most of the place. I was seeing Herself off and he was going to some pinstripe convention (or whatever) in London. I asked him why he wanted a receipt and he said it was to claim the money back on expenses, in exactly the same way as he would claim for every time he put his hand in his pocket until he got home 36 hours later.

In the light of that, along with sporadic confirmation over the years from other fairly senior pinstripes of this happening as a matter of course, and of course the recent timely reminder in relation to missed guitar lessons (each time I think of it I groan inwardly), I reckon this indicates some sort of mind-set that decrees that in relation to what can be claimed for, anything and everything is fair game.

In view of the criticism levelled at this newspaper for, as my old granny might have said, poking its nose where it most certainly wasn’t wanted, it will be interesting to see what emerges from the publication of past claim details promised by the boy Ozouf, who is now in charge of the biscuit tin under the bed.

On the other hand, it might not be that interesting because it’s not really a story, is it.

And finally. The £15,000 fine levied on Public Services or whatever they call themselves these days for doing what they’ve always done and emptying septic tanks is largely symbolic but should be seen as a punishment, according to the head lad at the Competition and Regulation Authority, one Chuck Webb.

The only people being punished for this farcical nonsense are taxpayers, Mr Webb. Think on.

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