15 September 2009

Reporting The Politics Game

And today's top story is....

Gordon Brown Says a Word!

This is the first time he has said the word "cut" with reference to what Labour will do with spending in the future. The Tories say he is now in "full retreat" on his previous position on spending.

Is this really the most important thing happening at the moment?

Let me be clear: the Prime Minister outlying his overall plan for Government spending in the coming months and years, indeed a different plan from the Government's previous policies, is important; quite possibly today's top news story. What is not of primary importance to the country is that he has used a particular word that he was using a few months ago to attack his opponents. That is interesting, and yes it is newsworthy, but it is not the most salient event.

This may seem like I'm being fastidious. However I think it is vital that politics is reported in a manner that has relevance to the public.

Impending spending cuts are very relevant: it means we may experience a drop in the quality of public services; it means that we aren't going to be as heavily taxed in order to reduce the country's deficit; it means that some public sector employees' jobs are at risk. Brown has changed his position, performed a U-turn, gone into reverse gear, backflipped, rotated pi radians, but this doesn't have anywhere near as big an impact on people's lives, and each time it is reported as the primary event, it makes politics seem that little less relevant.

I am not saying party political manoeuvring, political gossip, personality clashes and the general Westminster soap opera should go unreported. It is of interest to people who follow politics and is why some people open their newspapers and switch on the news bulletins each day. However political journalism is consumed by a wider audience than this, and the prominence aspects of a story get should be given careful consideration.

I have a sketchy memory of a recent BBC report. I can't remember the exact story, but I recall it was the announcement of a new economic policy. The anchor asked the correspondent, "so what about the politics of this," and the correspondent talked about how this could potentially wrong-foot the opposition, how it showed Brown trying to regain the narrative, blah blah blah. I thought to myself how anyone who wasn't a Westminster geek would find this at all relevant, and how it would reflect on their view of politics.

Politics affects people, and in a democracy it is crucial that the public feel it affects them. Election turnouts are dwindling, the feeling that all politicians are "the same"/"in it for themselves" is swelling. Disillusionment in politics is cause for real concern - see the BNP's successful election to the European Parliament caused by reduced turnout. I see this issue, as well as the problem of people's votes not meaning anything, as the root of the erosion of our democracy.

So, on the off-chance there are any journalists wandering by, I present to you my modus operandi for a good political report:
  1. A headline overview of the policy;
  2. An explanation of the important details of the policy;
  3. If required, a description of who in society it will affect;
  4. If interesting, what this means in terms of political parties and their personnel.
Our democracy is in your hands. (Eeeek)

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