- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2002

British envoy leaving

British Ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer is leaving the foreign service to chair a media watchdog board that is the main judge of press standards in the United Kingdom.

"I am delighted to have been asked to become the next chairman of the Press Complaints Commission," Mr. Meyer said in a statement the British Embassy released yesterday. "I am a strong believer in self-regulation in the newspaper and magazine publishing industry. I look forward to taking on this challenging and exciting task next year."

Mr. Meyer, ambassador here since 1997, is expected to leave in the spring.

Robert Pinker, acting chairman of the commission, said Mr. Meyer "will make a valuable contribution to the commission's work."

Mr. Meyer, who was a spokesman for British Prime Minister John Major and is a former ambassador to Germany, will head a commission that handled 25,000 complaints from the public since it was created in 1991.

The commission, funded by the publications it oversees, provides British subjects with a forum to complain about inaccuracies in the press or a breach of the British journalists' code of ethics.

Newspapers and magazines agree to print corrections or apologies if the commission rules against them. Those who file complaints retain their right to sue for libel. The commission deals with many complaints against the racy British tabloids.

Mr. Meyer will replace Lord John Wakeham, a former director of Enron who resigned from the press commission after news reports of the U.S. energy giant's collapse.

Mr. Meyer, who has maintained warm relations with the U.S. press, received rave reviews in British newspapers that reported on his appointment yesterday.

The Guardian called the 58-year-old diplomat a "suave figure from inside the Beltway [and] a safe pair of hands who is unlikely to disturb the peace."

"He is a fixer, the kind of chap who prefers to work behind the scenes, pulling the strings, talking the talk, keeping the cork in the bottle," the newspaper said.

The Times of London cited potential candidates, including: Jonathan Powell, chief of staff to British Prime Minister Tony Blair; Sir Nigel Sheinwald, current ambassador to the European Union; Sir Stephen Wall, director of European Affairs in the prime minister's office; Peter Ricketts, political director at the Foreign Office; and Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's ambassador to the United Nations.

Never say, 'No comment'

British Ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer knows the press better than the press knows him. A look at the "Ten Commandments for Dealing With Reporters" shows why.

Mr. Meyer wrote this advice to diplomats in his 1989 Harvard thesis, "Hacks and Pin-Striped Appeasers: Selling British Foreign Policy to the Press."

•"Be accessible. Return calls as soon as possible. Reporters attach an importance to this that is hard to comprehend for those outside the profession.

•"Be helpful. If you cannot help, sound helpful. The trick is to leave the reporter in good humor, even when you can tell him nothing.

•"Be friendly, but recognize the limits of friendship.

•"Do not waffle. If you do not know the answer, or cannot give it, say so without more ado. It will rarely be held against you. Never say, 'No comment,' which only serves to stimulate the juices of speculation.

•"Do not lie. Your credibility [will be] destroyed for good. If you mislead inadvertently, try to correct the story before it goes out. If you are too late, make a clean breast to the reporter and, if necessary, explain to his editor that you are responsible for his getting it wrong.

•"Do not have favorites. The disfavored will get even with you sooner or later.

•"Take journalists seriously. Keep in mind the tyranny of the deadline and the insatiable appetite of editors for fresh copy.

•"If you want coverage, make news. If you cannot make news, make irresistible phrases.

•"Do not waste time remonstrating with reporters when they have failed to write [a story] as you would have wished. Only gross acts of bad faith, inaccuracy and unfairness merit a complaint.

•"Always ensure that the basis on which you are briefing is understood and agreed. Your assumption should be that everything you say will be reported."

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