Although it has been a pretty dire election campaign, there have
been some clear winners and losers in the media.
Three national newspapers have had good elections, because of the sheer
quality of their journalism. The Guar-dian influenced its course with
its dedicated campaign against Parliamentary sleaze. Without it Martin
Bell would never have stood against Neil Hamilton.
The Daily Mail also decisively altered the agenda when it tenaciously
tracked down the election addresses of Tory candidates to check their
views on Europe, and forced the splits in the party into the open. The
move was open to any newspaper. It could have been deployed against
Labour too. I’ve also appreciated the excellent team of political
writers at the FT, who write with clarity and knowledge, day after
What about, I hear you say, the antics of those turncoats, the Sun and
the News of the World? Well, it has been fascinating to watch, memorable
for the shock factor, but not great journalism, although Sun political
editor Trevor Kavanagh is now a power in the land. The real significance
has been political. It was Michael Heseltine, remember, who devised the
cartoon of Tony Blair sitting on Helmut Kohl’s knee. That’s the kind of
smear the old Sun would have dished up daily. In contrast, a weakened
Mirror has had a bad election, forced to become a hyped up frantic
Labour luvvie. Sad.
TV and radio, the main source of news for eight in ten people, have
struggled to keep people switched on. There will be big inquests now,
about why audiences turned away, especially from the BBC. There is bound
to be a major overhaul before the next election: by then the BBC will
have its own dedicated TV news channel to run wall-to-wall coverage from
I hope it has been watching Sky News, which had an excellent
Political editor Adam Boulton had the airtime to conduct civilised
studio discussions with politicians and provide instant, live analysis.
I’ve been alienated by the confrontational style of interviewing of
Jeremy Paxman and John Humphreys. The lack of younger presenters and
front line women must be addressed.
The extended Nine O’Clock News has been tedious because of all the
pre-prepared packages. Why doesn’t election coverage draw on fresher TV
techniques with video diaries from floating voters or even politicians?
The least surprising thing is that news organisations have insisted that
their reports include shots of their big names asking questions, even if
it comes at the cost of reducing the politician’s sound bites. It is
their only way of branding their reports.
As Martin Bell’s move demonstrated, top TV journalists are bigger stars
than the BBC or ITN have, till now, been prepared to accept. And at
least they usually make sense.