Monday, October 19, 2009

Is Now the Time for Balanced Election Coverage?

The bias of the media towards two party politics has been highlighted and condemned by Chris Huhne writing in the Independent today. It comes after Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative Party's media spokesperson accused the BBC of Labour bias and demanded they employ more Conservative-inclined reporters.

Chris point out:

"A hiring policy that sought out particular views in people who are meant to be professionally impartial would be a dangerous step towards a Berlusconi-style system. It would probably be illegal under anti-discrimination law."

What is needed is not a biased load of journalists for one of the big two parties but to a genuine impartiality. As Chris points out in all bar one election since 1979 the Liberal Democrats have climbed in support from the opinion polls one month out; the average increase being 3.9%. This is due to the media at that point having to drop their two-party view of politics in the UK and becoming more impartial. If the same happens again this time, on current opinion polls it would result in 22 more Lib Dem MPs.

At the heart of Chris's piece is the message that the media are already prejudging, indeed helping to ensure that General Elections in this country will return one of two parties as the main party and the other as the main opposition. He says in conclusion:

"Britain's broadcasters should not prejudge the voters, let alone the electoral system. The only fair approach, at a time of heightened political sensitivity, is to apply the rules as they would be applied in the general election.

"After all, both Labour and the Conservatives have recently announced their election campaigns have begun. It is time for broadcasters to begin election-style fairness too, and let the contest of ideas begin."

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the fairness of not of the proposed leadership debates prior to the next Westminster election. Alex Salmond even says it is unfair to exclude him from such a meeting.

However, one thing that Salmond doesn't have to contend with is being sidelined or excluded from mainline political discussion in the years between elections, here in Scotland the SNPs views are widely covered on Scottish news and politics shows. Yet the Lib Dems are often fighting for a voice on the national stage.

How often do you find Labour or the Conservatives not having a representative on Question Time? Never, but the same applies to the Lib Dems on a regular basis. Following that every Thursday you get This Week which has Michael Portillo and Diane Abbott as the two main foils to Andrew Neill, the Lib Dems get the even more infrequent guest slot on that.

It is an issue that Alex Salmond and his SNP don't really encounter, they are included on Newsnight Scotland and the Politics Show Scotland and therein lies an essence against Alex's argument to be on the UK-wide debate. The BBC already does make allowances for the SNP here in Scotland, indeed to some extent here too they focus on two party politics only this time between Labour and the SNP, there is however less exclusion of the others but it still occurs subliminally on the amount of airtime or positioning of the parties.

So with the main two parties, and for that matter the SNP declaring at the weekend that the General Election race is now on, why must we wait until the election is called to get fair representation of views in the media. For five months the Lib Dems could, on past evidence, be losing ground where they have been so close in recent times to overtaking Labour in the popular vote.


James Mackenzie said...

I would be more sympathetic if I ever in my whole life had heard an elected Lib Dem make the case for fairer coverage for Greens or indeed the Nats.

Just looks like self-interest to me. An election bounce isn't your birthright any more than it's ours.

Stephen Glenn said...

While I agree is isn't a birthright James it does show that when people are taken out of the two party system and shown the options they will think and vote.


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