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
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
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: Senior Web Developer - C# / ASP.NET - London - £55K

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Web Deve...

SThree: Internal Recruitment Consultant (In-House)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Are you an ambitious, money moti...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer - Peterborough - £18,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer...

Sphere Digital Recruitment: Sales Manager / Account Director – DSP / Ad tech / RTB

£50,000- £70,000 + commission : Sphere Digital Recruitment: This DSP is an onl...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower