NEWS: Television is the real killer of political debate

My Daily Express colleague, Peter Hitchens, who blames PR for destroying politics as we know it, is an endearing chap. He used to knock me about a bit in the Lobby when I was in No 10.

My Daily Express colleague, Peter Hitchens, who blames PR for destroying

politics as we know it, is an endearing chap. He used to knock me about

a bit in the Lobby when I was in No 10.



He is no worse for his old fashioned values. He believes in honesty, the

family, self-reliance and an eye for an eye. And he delights, during

elections and when IRA front man Gerry Adams is on the dazzle, in

personally confronting politicians with their hypocrisies. Currently, he

is trying to dig up the political past of Cherie Blair, the Labour

leader’s wife, with his customary zeal.



But, like all enthusiasts, Mr Hitchens tends to zoom into orbit. He has

got lost in space over a PRO’s role in politics. He has a point in

claiming that spin doctors try to impose their angle on stories. Their

function is to put the best public presentation on their principal’s

position. They are not there to damage their client, although they will

if their presentation stretches credibility.



No spokesman or adviser has a monopoly of the media. Many others

assiduously peddle their own line. A PRO can thus be seen as an agent of

the truth in offering an authoritative version of it. Sensible

journalists recognise this and, depending on their PRO’s track record,

will be more or less comforted by his guidance. But however comfortable

they feel with it, they will always test it with other informants. They

have also built in a protection against the rogue briefer. They will

quote him as a source close to his principal, if not directly. Mr

Hitchens thus falls for the propaganda of self-publicists among PROs.

They are less influential than they pretend because of the checks and

balances in our politics.



But he becomes frankly incredible when he suggests that, if PR people

had not branched out from promoting new fragrances and over-rated novels

into politics, there might still be ‘real, live election campaigns with

proper debates, genuine hecklers and a chance to see their would-be

leaders not as they would like to be seen but as they are’. Bunkum and

balderdash. Has he never heard of television? It is TV, with its

audience of millions, not PROs which has blighted politics as we knew

them, killing the political meeting and emasculating free ranging debate

by its preoccupation with structured, fast-moving conflict rather than

the measured ventilation of issues.



This is not to mention journalism’s obsession with an individual’s TV

image, mannerisms, demeanour and how often she crossed her legs rather

than with the clash of ideas. If we had never heard of PROs before, TV

would have invented them as politicians’ minders. Mr Hitchens confuses

cause and effect.



Sir Bernard Ingham writes for the Daily Express



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.