MEDIA: Why oversimplified reporting is missing the bigger story

The chairman of one of the UK’s biggest companies recently told me what value he placed on journalists. He read their stories, not for accurate inside information, which he doubted they possessed, nor for analysis, but for their value as markers, indicating ’hot spots’ of governmental or business activity.

The chairman of one of the UK’s biggest companies recently told me

what value he placed on journalists. He read their stories, not for

accurate inside information, which he doubted they possessed, nor for

analysis, but for their value as markers, indicating ’hot spots’ of

governmental or business activity.



I left feeling depressed, yet convinced he was wrong. A free flow of

accurate information, after all, underpins democratic society and the

media have a duty to provide it. Which is why I want to draw attention

to the danger of oversimplifying complicated stories to the point where

big policy issues are underreported or misreported, to no-one’s

benefit.



Just days after meeting that businessman this tendency was amply

illustrated by the way the Government’s recent decision on ’listed’

sporting events was broadly disseminated. If you read back over the

coverage and recall the radio and TV reports, the news concentrated on

the fact that English Test matches would be ’lost’ to the BBC, and would

be switching to Sky TV. ’Murdoch to snatch cricket’ would serve very

well as a lurid summary: it’s a story most media and sports journalists

could pen in their sleep.



The decision was even linked by some with a belief that Tony Blair,

mauled by the Sun for his pro-European views, wanted to bend over

backwards for the Europhobic media magnate.



As one seasoned media journalist remarked to me, the problem was that

the Test match story leaked via the lobby and it was impossible in a

late night scramble to catch up, and correct the spin with a more

balanced account. For the story is far more complicated, and

interesting.



The announcement was greeted far from rapturously by Sky itself, and

with good reason. For despite giving ’English cricket the freedom to

decide for itself how to sell its broadcast rights’, the Government has

created a new ’B-list’ of sporting events to regulate the sale of

secondary delayed rights in a genuinely open manner. We’re talking of

lengthy highlights from events such as the Ryder Cup. Further, this code

of conduct is to be policed by the ITC.



In addition, Chris Smith, Culture, Media and Sports Secretary has

extended the ’A-list’ of free-to-air events to include the European

Football Championships finals, the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final and

the Rugby World Cup Final - the first time that rugby has been

protected. Smith is also seeking Europe-wide deals for future World Cup

and European Championships qualifying matches.



So what is actually happening is a piece of carefully negotiated

deregulation, an attempt to edge towards the new market realities

without injuring the 70 per cent of the population still relying on

terrestrial TV. Media stories, like life, are rarely black and white.

Journalists must fight the sound bite culture too.



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