Sir John Tusa, the broadcaster and former head of BBC World Service, has criticised what he calls the Government’s substitution of the media for parliament as a means of communication, claiming it “undermines democracy”.
Speaking as guest of honour at the Thomson Foundation’s 40th anniversary dinner on 11 September, he said Parliament had become a neglected instrument of communication in the struggle for voters’ hearts, minds and understanding.
“Once upon a time, prime ministers went down to the House to answer questions twice a week. “Good, clean, noisy fun, but it was a kind of accountability. Is a monthly non-parliamentary news conference really a substitute? Will televising Downing Street press briefings really add to the process?” he asked.
Tusa continued: “As a process for communicating to voters, vital as radio and television are, the Commons has to be a more legitimate forum for presentation and discussion. “The act of democratic scrutiny, painful as it may be, does confer legitimacy on a government’s actions.
And if a government cannot be bothered to use Parliament, why should anyone be bothered to vote for it?” Tusa, managing director of the Barbican Centre since 1995, also warned that if the Government ignored the legislature, the press would follow its example.
“And if the press ignores it, why should voters pay attention to what it does or says?” he asked.
He concluded that voters, the Government and the press needed to re-engage “in a circle of mutual respect and recognition that each function depends on the others”.
The Cardiff-based Thomson Foundation – established in 1963 to improve global media standards – celebrated its 40th anniversary at the city’s Hilton Hotel.
The foundation was set up by the late Lord Thomson of Fleet, founder of the Thomson Organisation, which formerly owned The Times, The Sunday Times, Western Mail, South Wales Echo and other newspapers in the UK and Canada.
Attendees included journalists from more than 20 countries, many of whom took the Thomson foundation three-month summer course in Cardiff.
By Wale Azeez