Labour seeks to curb political 'sound-bites'
The reduction of television and radio coverage of complex issues to brief 'packages', containing even briefer statements by experts - known as sound-bites - is causing increasing frustration at Westminster.
While some broadcasters blame politicians for the trend, sources at both ITN and the BBC concede that the pattern of coverage tends to reduce most serious arguments to 'tabloid' newspaper level.
An extended ITN interview with John Smith, the Labour leader, was reduced to a 'package' of 2 minutes 40 seconds earlier this month. It was followed on News at Ten by a longer item about the use of remote control surveillance cameras in supermarkets. What Mr Smith had to say about Labour's plans for a social justice commission was dropped from the broadcast interview.
David Hill, Labour's director of communications, said: 'This is all about balance. If people from three different parties are going to have to put their message across in less than a minute, any package is going to be very difficult to absorb. What happens at the moment is that a politician is asked three or four questions and two- thirds of one answer is used.
'What ought to happen is that three questions should be asked, three answers given and three answers broadcast. That's the direction in which the broadcasters should move - providing political balance over a period of time.'
Peter Mandelson, Labour's former director of communications and a former close associate of Mr Birt, believes that could happen when the new director general takes over in the new year. He said Mr Birt favoured 'lengthier, more in-depth, more serious treatment of political issues and events which so many people sneer at and say is above the heads of the ordinary viewer and listener - patronising claptrap'.
Mr Mandelson, who was targeted by the Tories as Labour's media manipulator before he became MP for Hartlepool, said the broadcasters were to blame for the shrinkage of serious coverage.
'Overwhelmingly, the majority of people get their information and form judgements about what politicians are saying through television and radio. The problem for us is that television is now packaging politics in a form of 40-second sound-bites and it is the politicians who are the victims of the output editors, not the other way round.'
There is, however, a view held by some public relations experts that what the politicians say is not as important as the way they say it.
One study by a US psychology professor suggested that people were most influenced by appearance, posture and body language (55 per cent) and how they spoke (38 per cent). The audience gave only a 7 per cent rating to what was said, the substance or content.
Bill Jones, director of the Department of Extra-Mural Studies at Manchester University, said in an analysis of politicians' television interviews earlier this year: 'More important than what Major says, or his use of words, are two qualities which do not lend themselves to measurement: tone and manner. Major's tone enables him in interviews to communicate without words, but with great eloquence, qualities like modesty, competence, calmness, concern for others, humour and friendliness . . .'
But many fear that if leaders increasingly 'communicate without words', debate and argument will be sacrificed.
Media, page 13
- 1 Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response yet from Ellen DeGeneres
- 2 What supermodels really think about posing in the nude
- 3 People all over the world are getting semicolon tattoos to draw attention to mental health
- 4 Black teen in critical condition after store employee 'shoots him for stealing 79-cent pack of cookies'
- 5 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response yet from Ellen DeGeneres
Swedish minister gives strongest case yet on why EU should stop turning away asylum seekers
North Korean defector flees to Finland 'with evidence of chemical testing on humans'
Isis schoolgirl Amira Abase who fled London to join terrorists in Syria mocks victims of Tunisia massacre
Father faces deportation to Thailand after 27 years in Britain for two 'stupid crimes'
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
£20000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This long established dealer gr...
£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company is the UK's leading...
£23172 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading and fastest growing h...
£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an experienced Resident...