'Bad marriage' could end in a split, ex-minister warns

By Caitlin Fitzsimmons

The relationship between politicians and the media is like a “bad marriage”

and both sides are failing the public, a former Cabinet member has warned.

Baroness
Estelle Morris, who stepped down as an MP last year and is now pro
vice-chancellor at the University of Sunderland, said politicians could
bypass the media altogether in favour of direct communication via the
internet, but that this would damage democracy.

“It doesn’t
matter what I think of the media and what the media thinks of
politicians – the key thing is that both of us are letting down the
public,” said Morris, speaking at a panel session at the Oxford Media
Convention last week. “It’s like a bad marriage where we can’t see
beyond our own relationship.”

Awareness of the media during her
13 years as a Labour MP made her far less likely to admit to mistakes
or changes of opinion and careful not to contradict colleagues even in
minor ways.

Her concern was that negative reporting by the press
warped the public’s opinion of the state of essential services such as
the health system. She did not have a problem with broadcast media,
which is regulated for fairness.

Morris said she did not believe
regulation was the answer, but both politicians and journalists needed
to counter the cynicism that affected both sides.

But Peter
Preston, columnist for The Guardian and The Observer and former editor
of The Guardian, said it was pointless to talk about ‘trust’ in such a
broad way.

He argued the media played a role in democracy by
bringing a diversity of news and views to the people. “It’s crazy then
to start, just as the whole digital thing starts to explode, to rein
back from that and to say now our job is to restrain, to put on new
regulations, to construct new ethical codes, to try to put the genie
back in the bottle,” he said. “I don’t want to do that, it’s not
sensible.”

Nick Pollard, the editor of Sky News, said 50 years of
regulation had given broadcast media a strong reputation for balance
and accuracy, but also had its downsides.

“There’s a vigour and
an aggression and a drive for exclusivity [in newspapers] that is self
evidently lacking in the broadcast world,” he said.

“I do have a
sneaking concern that the culture of objectivity and obsession with
being fair has made us a bit insipid, a bit defensive and a bit tame.”

Richard
Sambrook, director of global news at the BBC, said it was worth noting
that two of the newspapers most complained about, The Sun and the Daily
Mail, were also the most successful.

“One of the reasons for that
is they understand their readership intimately and they relentlessly
target their readership with what they want to hear, so to a very real
extent people get the media they deserve,” he said.

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