News chiefs have agreed they would consider setting up a camera pool to follow politicians on their campaign trails at the next General Election.
The idea was put forward by Nick Pollard, head of news at Sky News, who said that although some of the channel’s best journalists were in the teams following the battlebuses, he doubted whether the stories they were able to get were a good use of resources or "added much to the sum total of human knowledge".
Pollard’s call for a pool to cover the stock shots of politicians making speeches across the country was criticised by Jonathan Munro, ITN’s head of newsgathering.
He argued that a pool would take away an element of competition between journalists and could make it possible for politicians to exercise more control.
But the idea was backed by Richard Sambrook, the BBC’s director of news, and Steve Anderson, ITV’s controller of news and current affairs, who took part in an election round-up organised by the Royal Television Society in London.
"I question whether we can keep having star reporters on the trail and spend money on incredibly expensive equipment when it is not producing any real journalism," said Anderson.
"If you are throwing resources at something, you need to have results." Nigel Dacre, editor of ITV news at ITN, proposed a mid-term debate which he said could "break the deadlock" between broadcasters and politicians over the party leaders’ debates.
"It won’t bring in massive ratings, but once they have done one, it will be easier to get the momentum going for the General Election," he said.
On the whole, the news chiefs and journalists agreed that it was "naive" to expect broadcasters and politicians to work together to improve the election campaigns.
Nick Robinson, BBC News 24’s chief political correspondent, said that broadcasters were no longer "extracting a price" from politicians.
"We don’t do it by showing a picture of a staged event and explain that it’s a photo op," said Robinson.
"It used to be the case that politicians thought it was damaging if there was an empty chair, but they don’t think so now, and we don’t embarrass the likes of Gordon Brown when they give the same answer no matter what the question was." Jeremy Thompson, presenter with Sky News, who was part of the channel’s election-night team, said journalists had allowed themselves to be dictated to by the politicians, but that it was now time to "start dictating to them".
"For a start, we should have refused to cover a four-week campaign and said we would only do two weeks," he said.
By Julie Tomlin