Losing Nick Robinson was a setback. But then I saw it as an opportunity

So says the Editor-in-Chief of ITV News David Mannion. And having appointed a new team last week of Tom Bradby and Daisy Sampson, he wants to revolutionise the way television reports politics
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The Independent Online

Losing our previous political editor Nick Robinson to the BBC was a bitter blow. But when I stopped hurling heavy objects at the wall and the red mist cleared, it dawned on me that Nick's departure presented me with an opportunity to re-think how we do politics on ITV News.

As the depressingly low turnout at the last two general elections has illustrated, our democracy is in trouble. Despite the laudable efforts of many hard-working parliamentarians, the political process is haemorrhaging relevance. Far too many Britons are volunteering for disenfranchisement. The charge now facing the leadership of our major political parties is that they have damaged democracy.

New Labour has not been without its successes these past seven years. Yet many people across the United Kingdom who felt a surge of optimism when Tony Blair came to power now feel disillusioned, mistrustful, let down. Michael Howard's finger-jabbing, accusatory style simply didn't work and the Liberal Democrats blew their biggest opportunity for a generation - bumbling through the campaign like the cast of Dad's Army.

No wonder we in the media struggled to sex up the campaign. No wonder the public turned away, particularly those from the lower socio-economic groups. But let us not get this wrong. It is politicians that people are tired of, not politics. Try this next time you are in the St Anne's district of Nottingham or St Paul's in Bristol or Maryhill or Moss Side: try asking whether the ordinary, decent and magnificently multicultural people of Britain care about violence, crime, health, education, housing, racism. I can tell you that they care to the point of sleepless anxiety, but they have stopped believing that politicians can help. They have lost faith. They are drifting hopelessly away from a democratic system that is supposed to provide choice, hope and a better future. It may be more perception than fact, but the perception has become the fact. It has to be dealt with.

So what can we do? How can I, as the boss of a television news organisation, help to repair the damage? Indeed, is it even my job to try?

It is important that we don't get above our station. We are an important delivery system. We have the power to reach millions of British people every day. We are required by law and regulation to be "fair and balanced" and, over the years we have earned the trust of our viewers. None of that, however, gives us the right to tell people what they should do or how they should behave. Our job, through observation, investigation and analysis, is to provide our viewers with truthful, factual information upon which they can make informed decisions.

Increasingly, however that is not nearly enough. In a world of multi-channel choice and multi-platform entertainment, broadcast news has a tough battle to make itself heard. At ITV News we understand the commercial realities of that. When people choose to watch ITV News, we know we have to give them "the works" - strong journalism, big name anchors, high-end production, whizzy graphics - the lot. If we short-change our viewers and they desert us, we go out of business. Some stories draw viewers in by their magnitude and by the extraordinary pictures that we can now deliver instantaneously - the tsunami, the Beslan school siege, the Boscastle floods and the bestial bombing of London. But work-a-day Westminster coverage, though vitally important, is another matter altogether.

Pictures of men and women bellowing at each other from rows of green leather benches; shots of correspondents standing in front of Big Ben trying to make sense of it - not exactly Hollywood, is it? Nonetheless sometimes we have to settle for it. Political correspondents have to be immersed in the Westminster world. But it shouldn't be house arrest.

Tom Bradby, Daisy Sampson and our two other fine correspondents, Libby Wiener and Angus Walker, need to get out more. I'll encourage them to travel up and down the land viewing politics from the other end of the telescope; testing whether what the politicians say makes sense on the ground, uncovering evidence to challenge the Parliamentary rhetoric and, yes, to applaud success where it exists.

In other words I'd like a little bit more reporting from around the country on the consequences of political decisions - how they affect "real" people - and a little less from the green benches. It is not our primary role to re-connect politics to the people. But it is our job to make the stuff interesting and relevant to our viewers. If the former is a side effect of the latter, then I'm happy.

And it helps if those delivering the story have "star potential". Apart from his journalistic credentials, one of the things that attracted me to Nick Robinson was his star quality. Now he'd be the first to admit that he's not exactly a looker, but he is memorable. Tom and Daisy have huge star potential. They are well on the way to becoming household names already and if that helps to get political issues noticed, then that's another tick in another box. In the post-Nick Robinson era, our fresh, new team will try a few new tricks.

Maybe politics can be sexy after all.

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