The Media Column: 'Our political editors (like our police officers) are some of the finest in the world'
Tuesday 03 December 2002
My eldest daughter and I now inhabit two different cultural worlds, and as ever hers is the one that prevails. There are two sorts of TV programme that she likes to watch and upon which she will insist with an obduracy that makes mules seem biddable. The BBC soaps EastEnders and Casualty endless blood and shouting are one part of this hellish agenda, and the shows that invite you to vote by phone for yet another set of barely talented teenagers are another.
The problem is that Daniel Deronda notwithstanding there seem to be dozens of shows in the latter category, filling the schedules. Either that or there are really just a few but they go on for years and years, grinding down the viewers with a ghastly series of mediocre performances, tearful exits and little jumps for joy. I may have BBC4 and UK History on my digital set, but I can see that I am not going to be able to watch them for another decade.
Nevertheless, this being the long run-up to Christmas, the news is not all bad. You may not yet have realised how well we are being served by the two major terrestrial broadcasters when it comes to political editors.
Of course, you will have clocked Andrew Marr over on the BBC, where he is enjoying one of those phases when commissioners throw programmes and compliments at you and you don't quite like to say no. TV people (and I know and love many of them) were deceivers ever, and television is essentially a branch of the fashion industry. No one ever tells you that you are washed up they just stop calling. One day soon, they probably will.
But it's not as a high-class Jeremy Clarkson that we should value Marr, but as a top-rate communicator and analyst doing, arguably, the most important job in British journalism. Even better, Marr brings to TV a quality that the medium often overlooks he can write. He is not forced through sheer poverty of expression into clichés and inevitable pairs. Those at the right-wing papers who doubted his ability to do the job fairly have fallen silent.
Interestingly, no one complained about the appointment of ITN's new political editor, Nick Robinson even though, back in the mid-Eighties, Robinson was national chairman of the Young Conservatives. Perhaps it was because the press had already had a chance to hear him broadcasting and presenting and knew that he was good. Perhaps it was also because liberal newspapers are nicer and more open-minded than horrible right-wing ones.
When I went to the BBC in 1988 to start up the On the Record programme on BBC1, I inherited Robinson from the existing show, This Week, Next Week. It was a bit of a shock, because the prejudice with which I entered the BBC was that it had precious few good, analytical journalists (as opposed to grandstanding egotists). It was obvious from early on that Robinson shared some of the qualities that Andrew Marr possesses.
Neither of them is a hater of politicians; both were politically active in their youth, and maintained an understanding of what it is to have to make choices. They see the politicians' dilemmas they can inhabit their shoes. If you can do that, you will be better able to spot what lies behind the evasions and formulations. And very important this much less likely to run with the media pack when a story breaks.
None of that helps me with my daughter. She is not inclined to look at Marr standing outside No10, or Robinson doing a two-way from College Green, and see in him anything more than an unwelcome diversion from the serious business of deciding whether Leroy should stay and Sinead should go.
Even so, I want to be the first to suggest that our television political editors (like our deep-cast mines and our police officers) are some of the finest in the world.
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