Andrew Marr condemns journalists for “collapse of trust”

Dominic Ponsford
 
Former BBC political editor
Andrew Marr has condemned the preponderance of “trivial”
and “personality” stories in modern political reporting.
 
He also said that a “collapse in trust” in
journalists helps account for both lower voter turnouts and falling
newspaper circulations and he slammed MPs for a “fundamental lack of
professionalism in our politics”.
 
Interviewed
at the Scottish Parliament Festival of Politics last night he said: “I
started as a correspondent where you just sat for hours taking
shorthand notes of what politicians were saying in the chamber.
 
“It was all pretty pedestrian but it was
considered to be an absolutely essential part of what a proper
newspaper did. I don’t think there is any newspaper in the country that
does that now.
 
“One by one it’s all gone. I do think there needs to be at least
one or two newspapers that give something of that service and don’t
simply do the trivial stories and the personality stories.”
 
He added: “What I am trying to argue for is
giving a sense of what is really going on. I don’t know how many people
here, reading a paper or listening to a broadcast would have any idea
at all what either this parliament or Westminster was doing on any
particular day. And yet laws are being made that will affect most
people here.”
 
Marr also spoke about the drift of power away
from the House of Commons towards the Prime Minister – and he said that
journalists have played a part in this.
 
“The executive has more and more power, partially
because parliament has let that happen. And parliament has lost a lot
of its original authority and self confidence because of the withdrawal
of reporting.
 
“All of those three things are connected in some
manner. I’m almost a Cromwellian, in the sense that I am a
parliamentarian first of all. I believe parliament has to start pulling
power back to itself. But it requires a journalism which is prepared to
sit and listen and to some of the slightly more boring things.”
 
When asked about the “double crisis” of falling
voter turnout and newspaper circulation he said: “so far as journalists
are concerned, we have to be much more conscious and uneasy about the
collapse in trust in what we do.”
 
He added: “The fact that almost all newspapers
are selling fewer copies year by year. The fact that if you ask people
who they trust, journalists are so far down the scale. There isn’t
really any way of measuring what journalists do that doesn’t come out
looking pretty bleak at the moment. I think it requires leadership from
editors and senior broadcasters and so on to try and turn it around and
come back from the position where we are opinionated first and come
round to the facts later.
 
“I don’t believe in legislation, I don’t think
that really helps. I don’t think you can order journalists to behave in
a different way. But I think people in the industry can show
leadership. And after all, if all newspapers are losing circulation,
maybe it’s just worth trying to go back to some reporting to see if
that might be the reason – even if only one newspaper tried it to see
what happened.
 
“On the other side, I am quite critical of
politicians generally. For lack of professionalism. The trade of
politics is at least 40 per cent maybe 50 per cent about communication.
 
“It’s the one thing they really ought to work on
and be very good at. And yet, the number of politicians who think that
tv doesn’t matter very much, who don’t work at saying what they want to
say clearly, crisply and vividly, who cannot speak human, and certainly
can’t speak fluent human – that’s why people like me are used on tv
bulletins.
 
“Because we can describe what a politician is up
to relatively clearly and briskly and in terms that most peo”collapse ple can
understand. What is extraordinary is that so few politicians seem to
feel it is worth their time trying to push people like me aside and
take that slot for themselves. I and my colleagues are only there
because they can’t or won’t do it properly themselves. I do think there
is a fundamental lack of professionalism in our politics.
 
“We lost Robin Cook recently. One of the things
about Robin was that he was able to speak vividly and in clear and
interesting ways. Parliament ought to be full of people like that, it
is extraordinary to me that it is not.”
Marr takes over the BBC One interview programme, formerly known as Breakfast with Frost, later this year.
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