News World 2002 - Day Three:
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NEWS WORLD TACKLES THE DISCONNECT
The growing disconnect between media, politicians and voters was the subject of News World’s forum, introduced by Sir David Frost.
As delegates were told earlier in the week, research has established that news programming, and political coverage in particular, is increasingly losing audiences, especially among younger viewers.
And as Sir David said, the issue goes to the heart of the democratic process, since an electorate that finds news a turn-off is unlikely to vote in elections. The key issue was who is to blame, politicians or the media, or both.
Alastair Campbell, UK prime minister Tony Blair’s communications chief, in an exclusive recorded interview with Sir David, said news programmes often failed to explain sufficiently what was happening. “I think there’s very little basic explanation in the media because there’s an assumption that the people know,” said Campbell.
He said he was “open-minded” about political leaders appearing in live debates during elections. Delegates were surprised to hear that the UK had yet to hold such a debate while they are common events in many countries.
David Mannion, head of news programmes on ITV, Britain’s biggest commercial television network, said a generation of people was “voluntarily disenfranchising” itself. Political leaders who were not prepared to “slug it out in front of the cameras” should not bother standing, he said.
David Gergen, communications director for three US presidents, said: “Turn-out is down among our voters; there’s a sense that the political debate is more sterile. And in general young people are washing their hands of public affairs.”
Gergen told delegates that political coverage on the US networks had diminished to the extent that at the last US presidential elections the amount of broadcast political advertising had exceeded political news coverage by four times.
Richard Sambrook, director of news at the BBC, said politicians need to realise that they needed to earn the respect of the public. “And that means they have to behave properly.”
Robin Cook, leader of the UK house of commons, said the media and politicians were “both in this together”. He urged the media to give politicians a chance to air new ideas and not be subjected to attacks for appearing to be “off-message”. “Politicians need a bit of space to be original,” he said.