22 April 2015

Why is the British media so supine in the face of control from the big parties?


I do not mean to criticise the work of the many talented reporters traipsing around Britain covering this general election and following the campaigns. Theirs is a thankless task and not nearly as much fun as it looks. They are herded around by party minders and get to see little of interest and ask few questions.

But what is baffling is why large media organisations – newspapers and TV – are putting up with this arrangement. It gives the parties far too much control and explains why much of the campaign feels so stilted, lifeless and unsatisfactory.

Here are a series of tweets from the Telegraph’s brilliant Michael Deacon about a typical campaign event in this election.

I understand why the parties do this; they will do what they can get away with if they think it helps them win. And there is one legitimate defence, which is that security makes holding truly open events very difficult.

But that being the case, there is an obvious solution. In return for tight control on the road, to minimise the security risk, the two major parties should each hold morning press conferences where their most senior figures can be questioned by the assembled media about economics, the national debt, education, health, potential coalition deals and much more besides. It is a disgrace that this is not happening. Only UKIP is doing morning press conferences. Good for them.

Yet in many previous elections, Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition, or their senior colleagues, faced this inquisition every day. Gradually, this convention has been chipped away at. The damage done by the Leveson inquiry into press misbehaviour didn’t help either, in that it weakened morale in all parts of the press, even where had not been wrongdoing.

Indeed, with two weeks to go in this terrible election, there is excessive fatalism on the part of my friends and colleagues about the current set-up ever changing. But it could be done. Honestly, if three or four big name Fleet Street editors combined this week, and issued a letter in concert with the broadcasters, saying that they will not cover these lame photo-ops with zero access, unless Labour and the Tories restore morning press conferences so that those who want to run the country can be held to account, the parties would crumble within 48 hours. They need their pictures on the TV and in the newspapers, so they should be forced to open themselves up to the proper scrutiny that used to be standard in British general election campaigns.

If you are a journalist, please forward this to your editor. If you are a British voter, please be aware that many journalists agree with you about the poor quality of this general election campaign.

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX