Can the media help to end political apathy?

Are we in the post-spin era? The Home Secretary says he would like to think so. And he’s not entirely joking.

David Blunkett told the London Press Club this week there was no doubt that politics and politicians were at a watershed. The fact that one million people attended anti-war protests in February showed there was no lack of political awareness or desire among the public.

Yet this week’s local council elections will almost certainly show that such political interest simply does not transfer itself to the polling stations.

In all sorts of walks of life, the disengagement of people from politics is a frightening issue. Translating that into an awareness of engagement is a massive challenge – for the media just as much as for the politicians.

Which brings us to Blunkett’s assertion that the relationship between politicians and the press is also at a pivotal point. He wants a more positive, mature approach. One that balances fact with analysis, that doesn’t allow opinion to overwhelm us. One that is less self-absorbed and less of a hostage to minute-by-minute deadlines.

Of course he does. But, whisper it, he may just have a point.

To take just one example, Nicky Campbell’s Five Live interviews with candidates from all parties in Glasgow this week were unrelentingly negative. The presenter, who is from the increasingly popular Paxman “Why is this bastard lying to me?” school of interviewing, did his job by putting each of them to the sword in turn. Fair enough. But it is a school that tends to lead its followers to one conclusion: there is no point in voting for any of them.

The Home Secretary’s challenge is that we sometimes draw breath and ask ourselves whether or not our coverage of the political world could be “put in such a way that we don’t all go down with the sinking ship”. A disengaged public is not one that tends to buy newspapers, or to listen to or watch broadcast news bulletins.

Politics must surely shoulder the lion’s share of the blame here. Its obsession with its own PR meant the media became so absorbed with battling the spin, it lost sight of its own objectives.

But in Blunkett’s view, the post-spin era means an end to a Government that was so absorbed with how the message was received that it actually lost sight of what the message was.

Dare we believe it?

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