Monday, 7 December 2009


When I was a lad, I was so interested in Ancient Egyptology that I might have ended up studying it at university if I hadn’t decided upon journalism. The amazing architecture, religion and history of the era has always fascinated me, and it was great to visit the country in October 2006. But I was reading in The Independent today that Tutankhamun’s tomb and coffin are both showing signs of decay, and Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities have called in experts to try and preserve it all.

The millions of visitors who have looked around the site in Luxor - me included - all marvel at the design of such a historic tomb in the Valley of the Kings. It’s therefore ironic that those same tourists - me included - could well be a timebomb hanging over the future of the site.

So where do we go from here? The Getty Research Institute in California are going to look at every centimetre of the chamber to consider how the paint and mortar was constructed and developed. This should enable them to preserve it if all goes well. But if there are issues with their archaeological research and they find that continual exposure to tourists will further damage the tomb, then I believe it should be closed to the public.

Tutankhamun’s tomb is such an important part of world history - and such an iconic figure - that to lose it would be a travesty. I would rather never have the chance to look around it again than for it to be gradually eroded and destroyed. In the words of journalist Guy Adams: “Given the peace and quiet [he] enjoyed for three millennia, it has been a rough 87 years for him since he was discovered.”

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The relationship between press officers and journalists has always made for interesting study. For example, there was the classic case in June 2003 when Alastair Campbell [right] turned up unannounced at Channel 4 News to talk about what turned into the Hutton Inquiry (watch here: As soon as he arrived the whole planned 7pm show was dropped so he could be interviewed, as it was such a hot topic at the time and he was the most important ‘press officer’ in the country. He was effectively rewriting their agenda that day.

I believe press offices exist to maintain a good image of their brand or company in the media and make it easier for journalists to interview their staff when required. But the relationship has been heavily criticised in recent years - none more so than by Nick Davies in Flat Earth News - where he accused press offices as contributing to widespread ‘churnalism’. This is the idea that newspapers’ resources are so stretched that they will publish anything sent to them without verification or challenging any facts.

In a way this has made life much easier for communications offices. They know that if they produce a well-written story on an interesting subject, with quotes and photos, it is almost guaranteed to make the local - if not national - press. Nigel Green wrote in The Guardian today that “the media are increasingly relying on police press releases for crime stories”. It’s probably true. I have worked with one police press office as a journalist and found it helpful in clarifying facts and sending pictures for media use on stories. It was a well-run operation which also sends out a large amount of releases which obviously all portray the force in a positive light.

They cannot be criticised for this as it’s their job. But the police will make mistakes over time and crime levels will not always be positive in every area, although the media will not be spoon-fed negative information. It has to be found out through Freedom of Information requests and so on, which are not easy to organise with the lack of resources facing most local newspapers. The benefit for press offices is that they are often much better staffed than newspapers, and journalists know that by upsetting them, they might cut off the very hand that gives them so much content.

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On paper it looks a great draw for England. We will have the USA, Algeria and Slovenia in the 2010 World Cup group stage. Then it could be Germany, Australia, Serbia or Ghana in the next round. If we could avoid the Germans - which we would if both teams came first in their groups - then I would be confident of making it through. There are no easy games in international football, for sure, but by avoiding tough teams such as France, Portugal, South Korea and the Ivory Coast in the group stage, Fabio Capello [pictured] should get three morale-boosting wins under his belt before England move towards the business end of the competition. But there are still questions to be asked of whether England can actually win the World Cup this year.

I don’t yet have an answer. But I think we’ve got a good chance. There will be some excellent teams as ever in 2010, and I still can’t see us getting past the likes of Messi for Argentina, Ronaldo for Portugal and Torres for Spain. But I do have lots of confidence in Capello to do a good job - he is a very intelligent man and has already turned around an England side who were seriously lacking in ambition and confidence. I reckon a few good friendlies against similar opposition to those we will meet in the group stages - maybe Mexico, Egypt and Slovakia - would be the best thing to do now. Then we can just wait and see who turns up in South Africa. It’s important Capello has a settled starting XI, and nobody is yet assured of their place. Bring on June 12th next year!

PICTURES 1, 3 & 4: Daily Telegraph