TV must attract the youth vote

When John Humphrys grills a politician the young turn off in droves

Cynicism now counts as the greatest threat to the political process. Apathy and disengagement, the Prime Minister claims, will inflict more damage to the Government at the polls than any policy idea or political alternative.

Cynicism now counts as the greatest threat to the political process. Apathy and disengagement, the Prime Minister claims, will inflict more damage to the Government at the polls than any policy idea or political alternative.

Nowhere is this more the case than among young people. Voter turn-out among the under-25s is lamentable while youth membership rates of political parties are shameful. Campuses that once resounded to the noise of demos and sit-ins now hear occasional grumbles about rent rises and food quality. Last week, the Home Secretary's son, William Straw, attached a ribbon to his nipple and led a demonstration in Oxford against a slight increase in students' living costs. When his father, Jack Straw, led the National Union of Students in the Sixties they were concerned with slightly weightier political questions.

Where does the blame lie? The cynicism of politicians? The broken promises? The yah-boo style of confrontational Westminster politics? Maybe. But I blame the media.

The most popular media for receiving political news and comment is television. News coverage of Westminster politics is of a high calibre. The breaking of stories and quality of analysis is incisive and often amusing. Sunday morning political punditry shows can be equally professional in their dissection of the Westminster story of the week.

And therein lies the rub. Because very few people under-25 are engaged by the political process as depicted by media coverage of Westminster. While BBC and ITN journalists, taking their lead from scandal-driven lobby hacks, are fascinated by arguments over increases in public spending, the rise and fall of the rate of direct income tax, and hints of Cabinet splits over entry to the euro, most healthy young people are not.

From the evidence of direct action on the streets of London, Seattle and Washington to the more academic studies carried out by the British Social Attitudes Survey, the political priorities of the young are totally at variance with the news agenda pursued by Andrew Marr, John Sergeant, Adam Boulton, and the other middle-aged white men standing on College Green.

First-time voters at this year's election are not drawn to the classic modernist struggle between the state and free-market, between "capitalism" traditionally defined and pre-1989 socialism. Yet in any number of reports on public spending, taxation and welfare reform this is effectively what is still dished up by the broadcasters.

What now inspires protest and debate among the young are issues of race and gender; the environment; the ethical consequences of scientific advance; the cultural power of corporate brands; and international development. From the Jubilee 2000 campaign to the destruction of GM crop trials, young people are politically engaged by more esoteric issues, which traditional news coverage seems utterly unable to comprehend. The debate surrounding the vote on reproductive cloning is left to science correspondents; protests in London and Washington about globalisation and the insidious impact of brand capitalism are left either to news reporters or economic commentators. Intriguing recent discussions over Britishness and race were relegated to "home affairs".

The BBC's On the Record provides a template of how not to get young people interested in politics. The programme opens with a sequence depicting the Palace of Westminster as a marauding crocodile - the oldest living dinosaur. Little could be more appropriate to their Jurassic political agenda. How much more refreshing Sunday viewing would be if John Humphrys did not interview Andrew Smith about whether the tax take had increased during the course of the parliament, or Paul Wilenius did not pain-stakingly analyse the latest Whitehall spat. Instead what about a package by an under-40 year old on the environmental and ethical consequences of genetic manipulation; or something on the philosophical basis of the animal rights movement? How about an analysis of the World Bank's structural adjustment policies, or a look at the politics of American nu metal bands?

Radio One's Newsbeat has shown how serious political issues can be covered interestingly and intelligently for a younger audience. Similarly, Channel 4's coverage of cricket has revived a previously moribund format. It can be done.

Science, for example, could be taken out of Tomorrow's World and placed at the heart of Newsnight; the environmental issues covered so effectively on Radio 4's Costing the Earth should be firmly up The World At One's news agenda. It seems that only the Today programme has the resources and space to pursue political and ethical issues outside the Westminster Village. Only once the young are politically catered for by the news media can they legitimately pursue the otherwise virtuous course of electoral apathy.

Tristram Hunt is a fellow of the Institute for Public Policy Research

Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
news
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
A photograph taken by David Redferm of Sonny Rollins
people
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Extras
indybest
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

Head of Business Development and Analytics - TV

competitive benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Outstanding analytic expertise is req...

Head of ad sales international - Broadcast

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Are you the king or Queen o...

Business Development Manager Content/Subscriptions

£50k + commission: Savvy Media Ltd: Great opportunity to work for a team that ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker