Someone tell the press that rules of the game have changed

Media Analysis

This election campaign, like none before it, has demonstrated the raw power of live television. It has also painfully exposed the dwindling credibility of the red-top press, the papers "wot" used to think they could decide who won it.

Propagandists they have always been, especially in the run-up to polling day. But this time, the defining moments of the campaign are being played out before an audience of millions. "Cameron toasts TV win" reported The Sun yesterday, describing how "The Cam Back Kid", or "Cam the Man" if you will, had "savaged" Gordon Brown. The paper pictured the Conservative leader swigging a pint of Guinness and earlier jogging with a soldier in combat fatigues, and ridiculed the televised performance of his Liberal Democrat rival under a near 180-point headline: "Clegg Nuked".

In the newsroom of the Daily Mirror, the debate was judged entirely differently. Here again, there was only one winner: "I am your man" was the message, alongside a photograph of Mr Brown. It hired a "body language expert", Professor Geoff Beattie, whose opinion, informed by data on the frequency of licked lips and the quantities of forehead sweat, was that "Gordon Brown came out on top".

Of course we know the allegiances of these two titles. Yet gone are the days of when reporters in distant constituencies filed reports to suit the party line. Never has it been more dangerous to take voters' opinions for granted. That goes for tabloid newspapers and all other media organisations, whose consumers are faced with a plethora of other sources of accessible information.

Thursday's Sky News debate was close run. David Cameron and Gordon Brown both upped their game and Nick Clegg, while still the most comfortable performer, found himself challenged with a greater intensity over his party's policies. That was how the public saw it. According to the five major polls, Clegg was ahead in three and Cameron two. Sky News itself declared the overall outcome as a draw, with Clegg and Cameron each taking 33 per cent share and Mr Brown on 27 per cent.

The quality newspapers mainly reflected this. "Clegg weathers the storm" concluded The Guardian. "This time it's personal," declared The Independent, referring to a more combative encounter in which the presenter Adam Boulton showed less inclination to restrain the speakers than ITV1's Alastair Stewart. The Daily Telegraph, after questioning the Liberal Democrat's financial probity the day before, yesterday acknowledged "Clegg gives another strong performance in TV rematch", beneath the justifiable headline: "Cameron fights back".

Slightly out of step was the Rupert Murdoch-owned The Times, which could not resist relying exclusively on its own poll by Populus, which put the Tory 1 per cent in front, in order to support the splash: "Cameron nicks it". On Wednesday, Rupert's son James, who oversees The Times and The Sun, burst into the offices of The Independent to make a foul-mouthed complaint over this newspaper's advertising slogan: "Rupert Murdoch won't decide this election – you will."

No doubt The Sun will justify its verdict of a clear Conservative victory in the Sky News debate by pointing to its own YouGov poll, which placed Cameron on 36 per cent, four points ahead of Clegg.

But such a selective, emphatic approach is flawed, when millions see these occasions for themselves. The ITV1 event attracted a bigger audience than Coronation Street. Thursday night's contest drew 4.1 million. Many more have accessed follow-up coverage on BBC and ITV news bulletins, on Facebook and multiple other websites. It would be foolish to think that readers of the Mirror and The Sun simply allowed it all to pass them by.

Reporting only the favourable elements (and positive polls) of such a public occasion is like covering an England football match, broadcast live to the nation, and refusing to acknowledge goals scored by the opposition. In a modern media era when consumers are never far from an alternative news source, that just won't cut it.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Charter Selection: Graphic Designer, Guildford

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Charter Selection: This renowned and well establish...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick