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?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
Life and Style
'Prison Architect' players decide the fate of inmates
Life and Style
A picture taken on February 11, 2014 at people walking at sunrise on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis des droits de l'homme (Parvis of Human Rights), in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Recruitment Genius: Advertisement Sales Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A publishing company based in F...

Guru Careers: Product Design Engineer / UX Designer

£20 - 35k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a tech savvy Product Design Engineer /...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor