Saturday, 15 May 2010

New politics need a new journalism

It's been amazing listening to the pre-formed partisan agendas laying into the new government coalition even as the ministerial appointments are made. And frankly it's quite shocking too.

Labour loyalists seem buoyed by their release from the strictures of office and appear for all and sundry to be intent on reclaiming the fuzzy title of 'progressive' - because tories are tories after all, and they're just as much biased by their inverted snobbery as anyone on the right. Right?

Read the press and it's more or less easy to congregate around that pole of opinion which plays best to your sense of 'fairness' and injured justice, but it's too easy to forget the marketplace in mainstream opinion is rigged.

Newspaper and magazine titles may appear to be to most visible form of allegiance, but that ignores the subtle (and not so subtle) variety among them. To be a Daily Telegraph reader may indicate an interest in stock prices and cricket, but despite any political alignment with the Daily Mail or The Times nobody could confuse their respective readerships.

Media ownership, or more specifically, the form of ownership (the BBC shouldn't be excluded from consideration), is a massive determining factor in the editorial line on a preferred style of political decision-making. But the market in news is not democratic; it does not represent the balance of opinion at large within the country. At best (and often at worst) all it does is reflect sections of opinion within the wider spectrum, primarily those in which it has a vested stake in making a commercial appeal towards.

Before the old-school tribalists encourage a massed rush return to the two-party system and accuse the LibDems under Nick Clegg of betraying the independent stance they've built up (too late!) it should be worth highlighting what they bring to the cabinet table. The 20-or-so LibDems in the government are not passive consumers of the most extreme right-wing fantasy lurking in the nether regions of the tory backbenches. 'Tory-lite' may be used to describe Nick Clegg or David Laws, but there are clear issues of principle that can be used as a benchmark to set them apart.

Opponents will of course try to characterise them in typically irreverent shorthand as the 'ConDemmed' regime, but it's not, it is the 'Cameron-Clegg coalition'. It is to the credit (or as we may find over time, to the debit) of the individuals concerned that they stitched the agreement together, and its lasting success will hang on the level of flexibility allowed between each of the personalities.

While journalists resort to their tried and tested trick of opening up differences between the big players they will continue to miss the boat on what is really happening. Journalism has not yet picked up that we are starting from a set of different premises - the positions in the government are discernably different: we must assume there are differences, we cannot presume there should be none.

So the discovery of where the differences begin is not where the most interesting bit will be - that will be in finding out how agreements are to be reached and what means will be used to reconcile those different starting positions.

The past generations of journalists post-Watergate have become overwhelmed by the sense of power they had acquired to attack governments, all to often turning reportage into polemicism, but messengers should never start trying to make up the message. When and where they have they lose all their excuses of plausible deniability and separation from their source and will eventually be put against the wall to be shot.

It is the next stage in the new media revolution. Instead of being used as a voicepiece to go over the heads of their public the media institutions will have to get back to their reporting role and stop trying to influence.

And maybe then journalists will then stop turning the bitterness of their own failed political failures into the grinder on which they sharpen their knives of disappointment.

Amateurs such as myself can get away with it for a while longer but the fate of the industry rests on their decision, and the whole of what was once Fleet Street now faces a choice: are they politicians, or are they professionals?

The public will soon give our verdict.


Tim Trent said...

The ting I find truly strange is that we have, now, at last, a chance to combine two very different sets of party politics and strive to make a number of changes to the way we do things.

This is the best ever opportunity to remove safe seats and reform the electoral system. We are now free of the National ID Card. We were always going to be taxed more heavily to pay for a few profiteering bankers and now we know, at least, that we voted for it. We have a leadership that has a mandate to govern, albeit in a manner we are not used to.

I'm sure I could go on. But the wreckers are out there, too. I've seen calls to reform OLD Labour, as if that ever worked anyway. I've watched folk fabricate divisions between the coalition. Who needs to fabricate them, they're bound to be there! Each side has had to slaughter a sacred cow or two.

I don't say we should give our new administration a honeymoon or grace period. They have to govern today, not tomorrow. But we should give them the chance to do that without being hindered by imbecilic press harangues.

Do I support the coalition?

Insofar as I actively do not support Labour, yes I do. I think we stand a chance with the team we have in place. My only real concern to date is the minister for Women and Equality. She has a very bad anti gay record in her votes so far. This was a poor appointment and changes should be made even though Lynne Featherstone (Hope I've got her name right) is the junior dogsbody in charge of equality under the overall head girl.

Anonymous said...

LibDem betrayal! can't ever vote for them again. Their only interest is power for themselves. They sell their granny for a whiff of it.

Oranjepan said...

I'm trying not to prejudge the new government, which is difficult given that I'm prone to spouting off on occasion.

Whatever can be said we're in uncharted territory, so I'm dubious of the motives of anyone who is already making predictions.

For all our sakes I do hope it works out.

both my grannies are dead, so I'm not sure the whiff you'd get would be all that pleasant.