Jon Snow: “Crime, Punishment and the Media” – the tenth annual Longford Lecture

I wrote this before I realised that there was a full transcript of the lecture available. Not having blogged before I didn’t actually publish it at the time, and have left it in draft for weeks. I thought I may as well publish, and have just added in a link to the transcript in the first sentence.

Jon Snow, British television newsreader and jo...

Jon Snow, British television newsreader and journalist. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On 17th November I attended the tenth annual Longford Lecture.  It was held in London, in Church House on Great Smith Street, Westminster, and was delivered by the Channel 4 News Anchor, Jon Snow. I didn’t take notes at the time so, instead, wrote down everything I could remember whilst on the train home later that evening.

I’ve posted my notes below. I added a few quotes where I’m pretty sure I remember how Jon expressed himself. I hope I haven’t got anything too drastically wrong.

I’ve not been to a Longford Lecture before, but have heard Jon Snow speak – in Winchester a few years ago when he launched his excellent book “Shooting History”. I also follow @jonsnowC4 on Twitter and thought it’d be interesting to hear what he had to say, particularly with #hackgate all the rage at the moment. Another sign it would be worth attending was that Shami Chakrabati was chairing, and I didn’t think she’d give up her evening lightly.

I arrived at Church House with about twenty minutes to spare, and passed Jon on the stairs on the way up to the gallery. He was easy to spot: very tall, silver hair, and still in his cycling gear, complete with fluorescent yellow jacket.

Jon started off with a bit of background about himself – he was booted out of university for his part in a sit-down anti-Apartheid protest: “The same thing would be applauded now, but at the time it was a big deal.” He went on to say that if it hadn’t been for that he would have never met, and become friends with, Lord Longford, and certainly wouldn’t have become a journalist.

Jon’s original intention had been a career in law but, without a degree and with pretty terrible A level results, that wasn’t going to happen. He really was at a loss for what to do with his life when, one day, he noticed a charity advertising for a director. He applied – not really expecting anything to come of it – and was surprised to be invited to an interview shortly afterwards.

The interview was held in a seedy Soho cafe. Seated in one of the booths was John Profumo, together with the then chairman of BOAC. Even though he wasn’t at the time a journalist, his journalist’s nose twitched as it was only four years after the Profumo affair, and he sensed a story.

Lord Longford was scruffy, one collar of his shirt stuck outside his jacket, and with a misshapen wooly cardigan underneath his suit jacket, even though it was a balmy spring day. He immediately put Jon at ease, however, and from that point onwards they were firm friends.

Lord Longford’s interviewing style was pretty informal, to say the least. He asked if Jon had been booted out of university and, when Jon replied that, yes, indeed he had,  said:

“Your predecessor was chucked out of university as well, which makes you admirably qualified to do the job.” He added, almost as an afterthought, that Jon’s predecessor as Director had had a nervous breakdown, hence there was a vacancy.


Having talked a bit about himself and his own background, Jon went on to say that he wanted to broaden the definition of crime:

“It may not be against the law to earn millions and park the results in tax havens, but it does seem rather wrong.”

“The gap between the richest and poorest in society isn’t criminal, but perhaps it should be. Consider the recent riots – there was very little gang involvement; most of the people involved were the marginalised of society, who felt they had little hope for the future.”

“A very high proportion of first-time offenders who have custodial sentences of less than a year go on to re-offend, which” Jon said, “demonstrates that prison often just doesn’t work. It costs an average of £45,000 just to keep someone in prison for a year – with a bit of effort you can negotiate lodgings in Mayfair for that.”


Jon interviewed a woman who lost her flat and – with the exception of one flute – all her possessions in the riots. “She felt she was being punished.” Jon said.  “She sensed trouble was brewing and she and her partner left their flat and drove away.” The one flute she managed to save was already in the car. There were eighteen other flutes in the flat, some of which had been customised and cost tens of thousands of pounds each.  “They were in a pub on the other side of town when they saw their own flat burning on television.”

There was a local collection which raised thirty thousand pounds, which went some way to returning what she had lost. “They found her a nice flat in Windsor which is an area she loves, so that was ok”, Jon said. When he visited her, though:

“There were three chairs around a table and, presumably, a bed upstairs. At the front door there was a row of eight hooks, with just one jacket hanging here. She had lost absolutely all her possessions. She felt she was being punished”

“The people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own as a result of huge credit crunch losses – they are being punished. ”

“Ten times as many women as men are losing their jobs. They feel they are being punished. The woman who lost her flat, she was being punished.”

When Jon opened his first bank account he went to the branch of the bank his father had banked at, and was given an account by the bank manager who knew his father personally. People put their money in the bank, which then lent out a proportion of it. There was the red side of the ledger and the black side of the ledger – banking was simple, something that most people could understand. The banking system is now so complex that no one understands it. Even those who are experts in their field often don’t know what the people down the corridor do.


Jon didn’t talk much about the role of the media. A member of the audience picked up on this  and asked why not. “There has been so much written about it already, and the TV was absolutely full of it.” Jon replied.

Jon is hopeful for the future and sees the Internet as the bringer of great things. He suggested that no one had died as a result of Wiki Leaks, despite the furore about putting people’s lives at risk. He wants to see much more openness.

He sees Twitter as “a wonderful thing” and gave the example of people sending him excellent articles from papers and publications that he wouldn’t normally have read. He sees the Internet as “an excellent tool for communication and openness.”

About Mark Braggins

I’m interested in lots of things, in no particular order: society, politics, public services, open data, technology (and what you can do with it), wildlife, photography, the countryside, and long distance walking.
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