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Interview with Nicholas Jones (former lobby journalist) on the undemocratic future of political commentary

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Here in Britain newspapers have always been free to campaign and promote political propaganda. The intrusive and influential nature of radio and television however has meant they’ve been placed under strict rules and regulations that require their reporting (by law) to be politically balanced and impartial.

And it’s because of these rules that politicians delve persistently into the ‘black arts’ of political communication in order to set, shape and control the media agenda. Politicians no longer announce news policies in the House of Commons; they launch them at stage-managed pseudo-events that are more abut style than substance. Favoured journalists are selectively briefed with leaks and ‘exclusive’ information and unified party-line rebuttals are remembered to defend any negative reporting that arises along the way.

Nothing in this ‘public relations democracy’ is left to chance; everything is rational, rehearsed and rhetorical.

The online political environment is sometimes romanticised as the antidote to all of this. There is no doubt that it does occasionally serve to correct many journalistic and political errors and indeed we are gradually seeing signs that what appears on the internet can affect the mainstream news agenda.

However, there is a growing murky side to all this unregulated political commentary. According to Nicholas Jones, former BBC journalist and now author of several books on ‘spin-doctory’ and media manipulation, the national newspapers remain the all-powerful force in setting and commanding the online agenda – they may not control content but they certainly influence the root of most online discussion.

This on first glance may not appear to be too worrying. But, as Jones points out, there is a natural evolution of newspapers transforming themselves into digital online radio and television broadcasters (the politically-charged Sun Talk launched last April with who else but David Cameron appearing as their first live interviewee). Free of the legal regulations placed over traditional radio broadcasters, Sun radio is free to broadcast whatever serves Murdoch’s political agenda best – it’s no surprise then that the Tories plan for the ‘Digital Britain’ provides little resistance to these new, unregulated mediums.

It appears that Britain is soon going to have a new media network that parallels that of the American ‘shock jocks’. If Jones is correct, this could indeed be one of the biggest challenges to our democracy.

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Written by Robert Dale

August 13, 2010 at 12:01 pm

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