COMMENT: Guilty Norwich ‘bury bad news’

NORWICH City took a leaf out of New Labour’s book this week by deploying the age old trick of ‘burying bad news’.


NORWICH City took a leaf out of New Labour’s book this week by deploying the age old trick of ‘burying bad news’.

The Norfolk club had known for days, maybe weeks, the results of a tribunal which ruled they were guilty of illegally approaching and appointing manager Paul Lambert from Colchester last August.

I know this because, off the record, it was common knowledge amongst journalists that a result had long been reached. We were just waiting for confirmation from the relevant authorities that legally we could go to print.

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However, the Canaries cynically – some might say cleverly – took the timing of the release into their own hands.

A statement appeared on their official website at 5pm on Tuesday, just an hour after England coach Fabio Capello had announced his World Cup squad. They knew that the big story – which had been starting to draw attention from outside of East Anglia – would now barely cause a ripple in the national press.

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Not only that, the club then followed the release of the ‘bad news’ with two bits of ‘good news’. Literally, just moments after the tribunal story hit the web, the Norfolk club also revealed Lambert had signed a new contract – thus allaying growing fears amongst fans that he might leave the club – while they also announced that a new signing would be revealed the very next day.

It was a classic spin one-two. Bury bad news on a busy news day and then, just to make entirely sure, cover that bad news pill with a sugar coating.

Another spin technique utilised by Norwich in their statement included ‘cherry picking’ selective facts and quotes which supported their position. For example, the City release told us; “Throughout this dispute Norwich City made numerous offers of settlement to Colchester,” but didn’t actually reveal how much those offers (deemed derogatory by Colchester) actually were.

It was textbook political spin, something the recently ousted New Labour government can list as one of their more dubious ‘legacies’.

The term ‘bury bad news’ first came to the public eye when former Labour spin doctor Jo Moore wrote an infamous memo to civil servants moments after the Twin Towers were hit, suggesting to them that it was now ‘a good day’ on which to slip out awkward facts regarding councillors’ expenses.

Indeed, New Labour were said to be obsessed with ‘news management’ and they even devised a ‘grid’ system – an extremely detailed forward diary which allowed the government to decide which days were best to release ‘good’ and ‘bad’ news – in an attempt to control the news agenda.

The best example of burying bad news came on December 14 2006 when four controversial government announcements were made on the same day that Lord Stevens delivered his milestone verdict on the death of Princess Diana. Press releases conveniently coming out that day included news of a controversial expansion of Heathrow airport, the closure of 2,500 post offices and the dramatic halting of a fraud probe apparently at the behest of the Saudi royal family. Prime Minister Tony Blair also chose that day to be interviewed by Scotland Yard over the cash-for-honours affair.

As James Carville – the PR chief of ex-President Bill Clinton – once said: “Politicians must always be ahead of the news cycle.” And so, it seems, were Norwich City.

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