Media Profile: Warden of a City futurescape - Sean Ley, BBC political editor, London and the South East

Sean Ley recently asked the mayor of New York a difficult question at a press conference. After the conference ended, a local journalist came up to him and said: ’Good question. None of us would have asked it.’ Reporters who ask difficult questions, it turns out, are no longer invited to press conferences or have access to basic documents such as the city budget in New York. Ley thought this was interesting.

Sean Ley recently asked the mayor of New York a difficult question

at a press conference. After the conference ended, a local journalist

came up to him and said: ’Good question. None of us would have asked

it.’ Reporters who ask difficult questions, it turns out, are no longer

invited to press conferences or have access to basic documents such as

the city budget in New York. Ley thought this was interesting.



As political editor for London and the South East - one of ten regional

correspondents the BBC is appointing to report for both its television

and radio outlets - he has been put in charge of covering the way London

governs itself. He’ll report on London for local radio and TV as well as

push London stories to national BBC news programmes. Censorship of the

New York variety has no place in his view of the world.



’In a way, we have an incredible advantage,’ he says. ’We are here

before the mayor or the city assembly have been elected and have put

their structures in place. That should mean we can have a say in the way

they deal with us.’



Ley has a wealth of experience in the field. Not only did he take

government studies at the London School of Economics, but he has been

deeply involved in covering Westminster both for BBC West and BBC South

East. His first broadcasting experience was slightly less serious

however. Eagle-eyed viewers may remember the pre-teen presenter of

Junior That’s Life - a positive ratings smash in the early 1980s,

although Ley himself says the ITV strike may have had something to do

with his success.



’Sean came to work with me when he was only 20 with a political

knowledge that would have put many older journalists to shame,’ says his

old boss Paul Cannon, political editor at the BBC West of England. ’His

political knowledge is only outweighed by his knowledge of Dr Who and

his ability to organise people.’



Ley’s organisational brain finds the spin doctor hierarchy which is set

to emerge in London absolutely fascinating. ’There is provision for

staff for both the mayor and the assembly,’ he says, ’and the Government

seems to think that will lead to one spin doctor for both.



’I strongly suspect we will follow other City Halls around the world in

having two - one for the mayor and one for the assembly. Otherwise it is

going to be an awful job, with the poor bastard squeezed between two

messages that won’t always agree.’



At the moment he is delighted with the access he is getting to all the

mayoral wannabes. ’The great thing about the way the campaign is

building is that the candidates are both high profile individuals and

keen policy producers,’ he says.



But despite spending time helping to set up the structure of the new

body, he is still going to be on our screens, which provides him with

his final problem. ’Pretty soon I’m going to have to decide exactly how

we’re going to pronounce mayoral,’ he smiles. ’I fancy the American

pronunciation, but I’m sure we’ll receive complaints.’



HIGHLIGHTS

1995

Reporter, Around Westminster

1997

Political correspondent, BBC South East

1999

BBC political editor, London and the South East



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