Major sounds off about the sound-bite

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The Independent Online
John Major yesterday lifted the curtain a little on the frustration which he feels when he reads reports and watches broadcasts about himself, with a complaint about "simplistic headlines" and "brief clips" on television dealing with important issues.

In a speech to the Newspaper Society the Prime Minister departed from his prepared text to explain why he thought short items of television news do not advance the "democratic debate very much".

Mr Major said: "Let me paint a thought. I speak for 40 minutes on the intricacies of education and I set out a whole series of detailed policies.

"On the 5.40 or 6 o'clock television news there will be one minute of my speech and probably a contentious bit, one minute of my 40 minutes.

"It will be followed most probably by one minute of Mr Blair, who hasn't read the speech; one minute of Mr Ashdown, who hasn't understood the speech and a two-minute explanation by someone of what it was I meant by what it was I said: 'Of course, the Prime Minister was talking about education but what he meant was that he wanted to distract you from divisions in the party over European policy'."

The Prime Minister went on to say that for the written media different criteria applied, and newspapers were able to cover many events in greater depth.

But he warned there "is a tendency for the arguments to be over-simplified to the extent that they are only reported as if it is in code. It is left- wing, or right-wing. Is it Europhile or Euro-sceptic. We all know the code. The danger is the short- changing of the public of what are the true opinions of their politicians on important matters of public concern."