Politics: Boring and `on message': why the BBC is sick of MPs

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The Independent Online
The BBC wants fewer ministers "on message" in its political coverage.

Our Media Correspondent asks why politics on television and radio have become so boring, and gets the verdict from two media trainers on the worst offenders

The BBC has told the main political parties that the public finds them boring and it may have to cut back on political interviews to stop viewers turning off.

At a secret meeting in Oxford last week Tony Hall, the Corporation's head of news, outlined findings from the BBC's six-month strategic review of its news programmes to Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat spin doctors.

It showed the parties results of a study showing viewers believe politicians never answer questions, use too much jargon and are boring speakers.

Instead of devoting so much time to "talking heads" from political parties, the BBC has suggested giving airtime to real people in order to demonstrate the effects of policies on viewers. It is also proposing that experts from outside Westminster - from academia or relevant charities - should get more airtime.

The proposals were put to Alastair Campbell, Tony Blairs' press secretary, Gregor MacKay from William Hague's office and the Liberal Democrat's campaigns head, Nick Harvey MP.

"They [the BBC] didn't explicitly say `we're getting rid of you'," said one political representative at the meeting. "But they did say that together we've got a problem getting across to viewers and they suggested a number of ways around it."

A BBC spokeswoman emphatically denied that the plans would mean less political coverage and denied the number of interviews with politicians would be cut. However, it is expected that lengthy interviews will have to be shortened to make way for topics which have a direct impact on viewers lives.

The Corporation is also known to be planning changes to the way it achieves political balance. Rather than allowing parties time to respond to every issue, every day, it will try to achieve balance throughout the course of the Parliamentary year.

The proposals come just a week after the BBC and the Independent Television Commission issued a consultation document containing plans to end party political broadcasts between elections. These have been greeted with anger from the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats who believe they would weaken the parties' direct access to the electorate.

Michael Barratt, the former Nationwide presenter and professional media trainer, believes viewers turn away from politicians because they refuse to answer questions and stick to their party line: "Most of them aren't essentially boring people. But they sound it because they dodge issues and trot out platitudes. He singled out Gordon Brown, the Chancellor - "heavy and lumbering", and Harriet Harman, the Secretary of State for Social Security - "doesn't listen to the question ... boring and always on-message" for particular criticism.

Another media trainer,Scarlett MccGwire, who was a media adviser to the Labour Party castigated the previous prime minister as "dull, and now even duller". She also singled out John Maples, the Tory health spokesman as "smug", Ken Maginnis, of the Ulster Unionists as "dour and ranting" and Robert Maclennan, the Liberal Democrat president as "passionless in the extreme".

Gordon Brown: "The timbre of his voice and the set of his jaw are all rather heavy and lumbering. His body language and heavy voice together are just tedious."

Harriet Harman: "She has the worst case of the commonest problem. She refuses to obey the first rule ... which is to listen to questions. She just stays boring on, on message."

John Major: "He always was dull and now he's even duller ... Broadcasters now use him to whine about sports ... It's rather embarrassing and pathetic seeing him interviewed."

John Maples, Tory health spokesman: "Smug, smug, smug. And yet also dull and ghastly."

Ken Maginnis, Ulster Unionist security spokesman: "He has absolutely no respect for his audience, so makes no effort to persuade. Instead he relies on being dour and ranting."

Robert Maclennan, president of the Liberal Democrats: "I'm barely able to remember him he's so boring. Just passionless in the extreme."

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