ELECTION COVERAGE “BOXED” IN BY MEDIACategory: Politics
How the mass media dealt with the general election, and their relationship to the three main political parties, is a question of crucial importance.
The Times claimed on November 26 last that “the importance of television as the most influential political arena-increased,” and it’s significance that Anthony Wedgewood Benn said of this election that it was being fought on two levels — “the public one, and the coverage of the election by the mass media.”
In this fifth general election to be waged on the box,, the campaigns were geared more than ever to television—even more than to the press, which at press conferences and carefully staged “walkabouts” were placed second in importance to the TV cameras.
To be reported on the box became an end in itself: declared the advertising trade paper Campaign last week: “Politicians still queue up to appear on television, and make statements designed to get them reported rather than make sense.”
Which is another way of saying that, as far as bourgeois politicians are concerned, broadcasting can indeed be safely left in the hands of the broadcasters.
Discussing the leaders of the three main political parties, a writer in Campaign suggested we regard them as TV presenters, “selling washing powder and not the future of the nation,” and consider which one comes across best. Not a word, you may note, about policies or real issues.
As for the electorate, it is simply another “market” which is “the hearts and minds of the people. The task is to capture those hearts and minds and keep them in emotional bondage.”
So, treated in this light, who was selling what to whom? Is the medium in the hands of the politicians and their publicitymen, or vice versa?
Politicians on the box were, in the main, primarily concerned with scoring party political points than bringing out the basic issues confronting the electorate.
It is perhaps significant that, writing in Campaign (March 1), Rex Wistbury, noting that the Liberal Party advertised nationally during the election, says that, this may be expected and “will also tend to emphasize the role of TV during elections.”
“For it might open the floodgates to advertising by (in particular) wealthy supporters of the Conservative Party, and by the party itself.”
The dangers are obvious, particularly for the less wealthy political parties.
What does emerge, however, from the mass media coverage of the election, particularly broadcasting, is their inability or unwillingness, or both, to deal with the most important issues in genuinely democratic fashion, in a manner which will both inform and move the electorate.
And the only way to do this, ultimately, is to structure the mass media in such a way that it provides a democratic forum for all points of view with information based on objective facts.
(Morning Star, March, 1974)