11 June 2009

Is the media no longer interested in what goes on in Parliament?

From the huge amount of media coverage about MPs over the past month, it's easy to make the mistake of thinking that there is a similarly huge amount of media and public interest in what actually goes on the House of Commons every day.

In a number of earlier posts (e.g. HERE, HERE and HERE), I have pointed out that the broadcast media in Britain decided long ago that speeches make 'bad television', and prefer to show us reporters telling us what a politician was saying and/or to inflict endless tedious interviews on viewers and listeners (look and listen no further than the BBC’s daily output on their flagship Newsnight and Today programmes).

Some time ago, I mentioned this to a well-known political reporter who can be seen on our television screens almost every day (and, since reading this, Michael Crick, political editor of Newsnight, has informed me: 'quite happy to be quoted by name on that'). His reply drew my attention to the fact that the situation is even worse than I had realised:

‘Your concern about us using real-life speeches less and less is a very valid one. It applies to Parliament too, when we ignore debates in favour of interviews outside. I try and resist producers on this when I can … and of course none of the newspapers run extracts from Parliament any more either, though all the qualities did up until about 15 years ago.’

And he’s dead right.

If you have a look at the Hansard website, you can see a verbatim transcript of all the 165,000 words uttered in the House of Commons yesterday. Then look at today's newspapers, and you’ll see that, apart from a tiny proportion of the 5,000 words spoken during Prime Minister’s Questions, hardly any of the others get any mention at all - and when it's not the day after PMQs, you'll see even fewer words than that.

It would obviously be impractical for radio, television and the newspapers to feature lengthy reports on parliamentary speeches and debates.

But why has their move away from covering the day-to-day proceedings of our legislature been so total and complete?

And are we really more interested in allegations about MPs’ expenses and rows within the Labour Party than in the debates that are actually taking place in parliament, not to mention the the impact they might have on our lives?

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