Lord David Puttnam’s Speech to the D&AD White Pencil Symposium,
On Tuesday 27 November, 2012, we held our inaugural White Pencil Symposium. The chairman of the White Pencil Jury, Lord David Puttnam, closed proceedings with a rousing speech, covering trust, authenticity and implications for the freedom of the press.
Listening to those earlier, and excellent presentations I was waiting for one really important word, but it didn’t crop up.
My world, since leaving the film industry fifteen years ago, has been a world of politics.
It’s not an easy world to navigate.
To help make my point I’m going to offer you a very short quote from my favourite book.
It’s TE Lawrence’s 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom' - a truly remarkable book.
In 1926, looking back on the broken dreams and broken promises that followed the Allied victory of World War One, Lawrence wrote this:
"The moral freshness of the world-to-be intoxicated us. We were wrought up in ideas... to be fought for… yet when we achieved and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory, to re-make in the likeness of the former world they knew."
I’m a child of the 60s. I joined [advertising agency] Collett Dickinson Pearce in 1962, and I spent most of the next ten year’s working in [the advertising] industry. I knew every lyric and every line of Bob Dylan; I watched a series of US assassinations in 1967 - ’68. I lived through all of that. And I really believed I was part and parcel of a revolution. But looking back it's now all too obvious that the old men DID come out again, and take away the victory we thought we’d won.
If we look at the devastation caused by banks and corporates in the 1980s to our economy, to the even greater devastation caused in the mid 2000s, to our pensions, to our futures, to our children’s futures, to my grandchildren’s futures - I can’t convince myself for a single moment that the victory we thought we’d won in the 60s was in any way sustained.
I wanted to say this to you because… I think we’re at a tipping point.
I think there is a world to be won. I utterly admire people like [Unilever Chief Executive] Paul Polman, but I also know that many of his fellow CEOs in the FTSE 500 are desperately keen that he fails because, as they see it, he simply makes their lives that much more difficult by being as radical and daring as he is - but of course he also happens to be right!
So it would be foolish to pretend that out there is a benign world of people who actively seek the things that Kim [Slicklein of OgilvyEarth] suggests are attainable [sustainable consumer goods, ethically sourced materials]… But I do believe we can create that world, I've always believed that's possible. But let's not kid ourselves, it IS very, very tough out there.
I want to make just a couple of points.
First of all about this room we’re in [the lecture theatre at the Royal Institute of Great Britain].
This is a very important and very remarkable room.
Many if not most of the giant leaps made – in this country – in the 19th Century, were first announced or discussed or presented or demonstrated in this room.
That's no small thing and this is no ordinary room.
It is almost a hallowed space.
Secondly, the word that I mentioned I was hoping would come up, but hadn’t, is the most important word of all. It’s ‘trust’.
[This room of advertisers, designers and marketeers] all of us are essentially in the 'trust business', in fact the whole of today’s event has been about the trust business.
We’ve got an enormous mountain to climb to re-build trust.
Corporate trust; trust in each other; trust in the means of information – all those things that we are desperately in need of if we’re to move forward.
That's why this is a very important week. On Thursday, Lord Justice Leveson reports.
In many respects what he is reporting on is one of the most important things that has happened in this country in the last 30 years, possibly in my lifetime.
On Friday [30 November 2012] you will be subjected to a barrage of information, some of it accurate, some largely inaccurate. It will be suggested to you that regulation of the media – any form of regulation of the media – will be the end of freedom and democracy as you’ve known it.
And that we’re looking at just two alternatives: either the first step towards a fascist government type of 'takeover' or control the media, or a free media that can fairly and honestly inform us.
That is a false choice, in fact it's a manufactured lie.
The situation is very simple. A significant section of the news media has been caught engaged in wholesale criminal activity. That criminal activity will be tried in the courts over the next two years. And what is being suggested by sensible people – there was a very good piece in the Guardian yesterday [Monday 26 November] – is a form of regulation that requires that newspapers and newspaper editors conform to the same forms of civil accountability as everyone else.
These are not special people; they have no particular entitlements; and they have to start behaving the way the rest of us are required to behave.
And there’s a very important point at the heart of this.
If we’re to succeed as a country and as a society, we need one absolute precondition.
We need a brilliantly educated and brilliantly informed generation of young people.
Because they are going be dealing with, and navigating their way through a world of such complexity, such difficulty, with such a group of 'unknowns' out there, that it’s going to be bewildering.
So they have no choice but to be brilliantly educated. They cannot afford the luxury of being misinformed. And they certainly cannot afford to be actively misled. What's certain is that by and large for the last 20 – 30 years, much of the UK media has been in the business of misinforming, misleading, and creating unnecessary conflict and anxiety - because it appeared to sell newspapers . This week we can put a stop a lot of that.
But that will only happen if informed people like yourselves start asking the right questions. Don’t believe what I’m saying – make sure you ask your own questions, and that you don't stop asking until you start getting answers that not only satisfy you, but move us in the direction of the type of sustainable, confident and conflict free society we've been discussing all evening.
One example is this: the suggestion is going to be put forward by the incumbent media barons that they have an 'independent chairman'.
But with one small caveat: they require that they have a veto over who that chairman is!
Try to imagine being 'independent' in an environment in which the people you’re supposed to be regulating have a veto over your job. It’s a farce. And much of what will be presented to you by the newspaper industry is, I’m afraid, similarly farcical.
The last thing I’ll say is this.
Nowadays I spend most of my life lecturing.
I do it from home using a state-of-the-art teleconferencing set-up.
One of the wonderful things it allows me - I teach students, particularly masters degree film students, all over the world – is the ability to watch them watching the film-clips I’m showing.
And this may surprise you, it certainly surprised me:
Of all the clips that I’ve been screening over the past few months, the one that gets the most extraordinary response or reaction, is a film that many of you are likely never to have seen.
If you haven’t I beg you to get hold of it.
It’s a film called Mr Smith Goes To Washington andI show a particular scene in which James Stewart, as Mr Smith, has had enough of Washington.
He’s tried politics which has simply chewed him up and spat him out, and he’s sitting on the steps of the Lincoln memorial when Jean Arthur – the woman he has become very fond of – comes and persuades him to go back. I’ve now watched that scene being watched by lot of students and expressions on their faces are quite extraordinary. Many of them start to cry.
What that's done is allow me to believe is that all of us have a strong and abiding need for 'authenticity'.
And a residual need for some sense of 'goodness'. And a residual need for trust in politicians that is, at least at present, almost absent. But young people want, or maybe even need it.
My students certainly want it. And as I see it it's up to people like us – like you – to offer it.
But this time that 'authenticity' has got to be real – not manufactured.
To offer just one example from politics, I actually think David Cameron did brilliantly with both his Bloody Sunday announcement, and the subsequent one on the Hillsborough disaster.
And why? Because both announcements were like an enormous catharsis: we were at last being told the truth. The overwhelmingly positive response cannot have been lost on him.
And it shouldn’t have been lost on any politician who claims to be interested in either the truth, or the future.
So as I said at the outset, this has the opportunity to be an incredibly important tipping point.
What D&AD are doing with the White Pencil is very significant.
But what’s really important is the effect it's had in gathering all of you together to exchange ideas and ideals.
Thanks for listening to me.