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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Media & Advertising Sales Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This national business publishi...

Recruitment Genius: Media Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£14500 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Guru Careers: Bathroom Showroom Manager / Bathroom Sales Designer

£22 - £25k basic + Commission=OTE £35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Bathroom Sh...

Guru Careers: Account Executive / Account Manager

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive / Account Manager is ...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea