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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager (EMEA) - City, London

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine