NOW MORE TV ELECTION NEWS…WHERE’S THE REMOTE CONTROL!

JOHN MCGURK

The BBC has its own election slogan, delivered by its top news and current affairs presenters, emphasising that television is where the election is happening— they’re ”Making it Clear”, they tell viewers, when the reality is usually the opposite.

Audiences must surely be fed up with the constant repetition, the stage management, the never-ending sound-bites and the inability of every party leader to give a straightforward answer to a simple question.

Instead of “Making it Clear” do you not find yourself bewildered when the summation and analysis after the event ends up as a confusing mess?

Presenters hog the cameras and explain how, on the one hand, Mr Miliband says this but how, on the other hand, Mr Cameron says that – while Ms Sturgeon says something else.

Of course, the very nature of public service broadcasting, regulated and controlled to supposedly provide balanced and impartial coverage, is to ensure that the great viewing public can consider the argument then make up its own minds.

But instead we are being suffocated by a torrent of spin which is fast becoming overload and overkill as different channels think up new ways of getting viewers to switch off.

In fact, this election coverage is so overwhelming that dodgy PR people across the country must realise that every day until sometime in the middle of May will be a good day to bury bad news.

The truth of the matter is that broadcasters don’t really want to be “Making it Clear” at all.

What they would far prefer is a live incident, a slip-up, an angry reaction, an award moment or, even better, some pathetic politician making a complete fool of themselves after being skewered by some clever-dick interviewer.

Television, after all, is visual and theatrical which is why politicians crave it –  but fear it.

Like cocaine addicts who want to kick the habit but still can’t get enough, the TV is impossible to resist for a politician who wants to make a mark, despite the high stakes. Saying the wrong thing or giving the wrong perception can mean the end of a career.

It was all so different in 1964 when the UK television election was born.

The town hall public meeting and the speakers’ soapbox were replaced by the box in the corner and the amazing swingometer, the state-of-the-art device which illustrated and explained the political battleground in an easy to understand fashion.

Harold Wilson realised that the simplest path to become Prime Minister was to create impactful messages which could be spat out inside ten seconds and delivered to a mass audience in a friendly and popular manner.

He became a master of the art while his opponent, the stiff and frightfully upper-class Sir Alec Douglas Home, appeared as a cardboard caricature unable to connect with the people and therefore unable to sustain support. The poor man was hardly heard off again.

By 1974, special programmes concentrating on political discussion and analysis were turning elections into television events as millions tuned in to watch the spectacle which culminated in the election night special.

By the 1980s live feeds and electronic news gathering brought an immediacy while new broadcasters such as Channel 4 and Sky began to raise the political debate to an entirely new level.

But spin became the name of the game and the spin-doctors were the new barometers of what the public should be thinking instead of what they were thinking.

By the 1990s, the never-ending cycle of 24 hour news had cemented the Punch and Judy politics which we know so well today.

Clarity and understanding were sacrificed for finger-jabbing and pre-prepared insults as producers sought out confrontation and aggression which they believed would led to ratings successes.

Alas, the dusk till dawn loop of interviews and commentary soon saw audiences begin to drop away.

Today, thanks to the televised debates introduced to the UK in 2010, the level of audience interest and understanding has been reduced to new low levels.

The bite-sized slogans, deliberate evasiveness and all-round economy with the truth has produced an apathy resulting in too many voters being fed up with politics and politicians as demonstrated by the low levels of turn out at the polls.

Television should have a hugely important part to play in the whole election process whereby viewers should feel well informed and able to cast a considered vote.

Instead, they are reaching for the DVDs, the pay-for-movie channels and the catch up button.

As Churchill, the original sound-bite politician may have said: “Never in the field of TV elections has so much been owed to so many remote controls.”

 

jcmcgurk@blueyonder.co.uk

 

 

 

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