The sparring goes on, but stakes are higher

“They need each other like two drunks fighting in the street. If one goes down, the other goes too.”

A
year after his death, the words of Paul Foot are as apt as when he
wrote them 17 years previously (and as they will be 17 years hence, no
doubt).

Footie was actually describing the relationship between
the press and the royal family, but he might just as easily have been
referring to the House of Westminster as the House of Windsor.

As
the Prime Minister returns from his Carribbean holiday, journalism
seems much exercised by questioning its part in the political debate.
First Andrew Marr, in a lecture last week, exhorted editors to go back
to basics – to borrow a political slogan that backfired so badly on its
originator – by reporting more factually on the nuts and bolts of the
political process and less opinionatedly on the personalities.
Parliament, he said, has “lost a lot of its original authority and self
confidence because of the withdrawal of reporting”.

And at the
weekend’s Edinburgh TV festival, Michael Portillo donned a wig and gown
to sit in judgement on a mock trial in which TV journalism was accused
of “fomenting public cynicism, apathy and disengagement from the
political process”.

Radio and television coverage of politics
doesn’t see its role as a mission to explain, but to destroy, said the
prosecution – producing Jeremy Paxman’s notorious Newsnight interview
with George Galloway as exhibit A.

The defence from new BBC
political editor Nick Robinson, among others, was not short of
witnesses to testify about the number of lies they have to put up with
from their political sparring partners.

Yet neither side can
ignore the fact that tumbling newspaper sales and TV viewing figures,
along with increasing voter apathy, are serious threats.

The drunken embrace in the gutter continues. If the protagonists aren’t careful, it could prove a fatal one.

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