Interesting spat over the media and politics, between Denis Bradley and Stephen Nolan. My own thoughts fall into two parts: one, this is not new nor specific to Northern Ireland; and two, in insisting Nolan carry the can, the abject nature of the general news cycle gets off the hook.
Any opportunity to reference John Lloyd’s seminal essay, What the Media Are Doing to Our Politics is a good day. The whole thing is worth reading, but I’ll just quickly crib from his final chapter, Deepening the democratic state where he offers some antidotes:
Public figures should feel obliged to talk through their projects and proposals with depth and evidence. This approach is the opposite of complaisant journalism – the charge usually levelled at it. It insists on seriousness and is designed to expose its lack. Its object is understanding and its procedure is to show what views, policies and constraints construct the actions of the public figure and to highly the insufficiencies of these.
If the aim is to illuminate our public life and public affairs rather than to degrade it, or express contempt for those who practice it, then the act of interrogating politicians, public officials, corporate managers and others who play a public role – the interview – has to be rethought for its enlightenment, rather than for its calorific values.
Time is needed to prepare, publish and understand careful journalism which explains the workings of society to its citizens. Now might be a good time to start a ‘slow journalism’ movement.
Quoting the the former UK Education Secretary of State Estelle Morris, “Society has to ask itself: doe it want to have politicians who act like they must when they’re under the media spotlight? Politicians would like to be more frank and honest – but they can’t – because then they’re slaughtered by the media”.
The moderator of the debate is critical: she or he has to constantly force the participants back to real issues, rather than point scoring; and thus the debate must be constructed so that this happens. That needs more firmness on the part of the moderator and good will on the part of those who take part. [Emphasis added]
No one has mentioned the problem of socialisation within the media (into “the acceptable boundaries of discourse”). Andrew Sullivan talked about this at the Aspen Institute back in 2009 as a reason why he wanted to blog as an escape hatch:
Allied to this is the Flat Earth News scenario, where instead of offering an independent analysis of any given problem, the news cycle merely becomes flooded with comment: and, in particular, comment on politician’s comment.
This is politics or (more importantly) democracy on stilts. It’s been around since before Slugger came on the scene and since it’s a systemic problem, rather than one of personality, it’s not easily fixed.
Not only does it leave politicians unaccountable, it often leaves the journalist in an unsighted hole of his/her own making as the unquestioned acceptance of political lines leaves them unable to account for irregular occurrences (like f/i the sudden collapse of democracy in NI).
Final recommendation: Frances Wheen’s How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the world.