Negative political coverage a threat to democracy: Cook

Hurd and Cook: negative reporting must stop

Action must be taken to halt the negative reporting of politics and to stop the media treating politicians like pop stars and soap opera celebrities.

That was the demand made at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature by former Labour Cabinet minister Robin Cook, who said negative reporting was “deeply disabling” and a threat to the democratic process.

Cook said: “I think we have two profound problems over political reporting at present. The first of those is that news stories are always almost overwhelmingly negative. Indeed there was a comparison done between the present, the press stories of 2003, and the stories of 1974.

“It was found that in 1974 the ratio of negative stories to positive stories was three to one. The ratio in 2003 was 18 to one, six times worse.

“The second problem that we have is the focus which I regard as deeply disabling to politics – politics as soap opera, not politics as a clash of issues.

And because of that all the trivia.

“One of the things that you do as Leader of the House is to go along to the lobby briefings that official spokesmen give. “There was one day in which for 45 minutes the press asked solely about Tony Blair’s spectacles and were they the same as those of Sven-Göran Eriksson.

“If you reduce politics to that kind of pop star celebrity status, then you’re squeezing out all the rational things that you need to think about to form a democratic choice.”

Also at the festival, another former foreign secretary, Lord Hurd, called for the media to be “put back in the box”.

Conrad Black and Rupert Murdoch were among the press barons named by Hurd, who suggested that the internet could be developed as a means of mass direct communication that bypassed journalists.

“I can see the advantage of bypassing the media direct to the people without going through the lobby, the political correspondents at Westminster, who are part of that cosy and artificial world,” said Hurd.

“There may need to be a prime minister who actually takes on the media, as Baldwin did with Beaverbrook. I have actually twice given this advice to prime ministers and they have told me to lie down and rest a bit.

“I just think that one day on the issue of the right type, the Prime Minister will gain hugely taking on the media. They are at least as unpopular as professional politicians. I think that at the right time this could very much be a winning exercise to put them back in the box.”

 

By Gerald Isaaman

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