Comedian's plea: cut the jokiness from politics reporting

Thursday 29 July 2010, 14:47

Torin Douglas Torin Douglas is the BBC's media correspondent. Twitter: @BBCTorinD

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Is political reporting trivialising politics? Chris Addison, the stand-up comedian who plays Ollie Reeder in The Thick of It, claims it's not satire that has degraded politics but politicians and the news media.

Writing in this week's New Statesman, he says journalists and politicians should "leave the jokes to the comedians". And he singles out the BBC's Political Editor, Nick Robinson, for criticism, saying his reporting style "makes me want to bite chunks out of my television".

Here are some extracts:

"Even if The Thick of It were as entirely cynical as is sometimes supposed, even if it kept no light at all in its store of darkness, would it be fair to lay the blame at its feet for the negative way we view politics? It is, after all, a satire and satire's role is to prick the hot-air-filled bubbles above the mouths of politicians ... The issue is not that satire is becoming harsher; rather, it is that what is sitting on the other end of the balance is becoming lighter ...

"There are two main culprits here. The first is the politicians themselves ... I, for one, don't particularly want to see politicians on TV panel shows or otherwise attempting to show us their 'lighter side', not least because, with notable exceptions, they are so bad at it ...

"The second, and to my mind far more blame-worthy, party is the news media. The reporting of politics on television and radio in this country is itself turning into a joke. It doesn't help that most TV bulletins give the impression that those involved have misunderstood The Day Today and taken it to be some sort of training video. The reporting is overlaid with a patina of knowing, matey awfulness, and every report seems to start from the standpoint that all the politicians involved are foolish and the reporter could have told them it would end up this way.

"The chief, but by no means only, suspect is the BBC's Nick Robinson - a man whose style of failing to tell the news straight makes me want to bite chunks out of my television in despair. 'Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear,' he began one report, 'what a week it's been for Gordon Brown.' Do bear in mind, as he seems unwilling to do so, that he is not the sketch-writer for a sixth-form paper, but the BBC's political editor."

The BBC is not the only guilty party; Addison writes:

"I have seen Channel 4 News, that last hope of decent TV bulletins, run a report on a politician with speeded-up pictures and comedy piano music. I'm not joking. Sadly, Channel 4 is. These news bulletins are our first port of call for politics. They have a role in setting the tone and shaping the way we perceive our MPs and the processes in which they are involved.

"With its wink-wink approach, the news itself is presenting us with reports that appear watermarked with the notion that politicians are self-serving, laughable idiots. And this, not satire, is where people come by their cynicism."

Doth the comedian protest too much - or does he have a point?

Addison's piece.

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    Comment number 1.

    I have to agree with him personally.

    The BBC for one is supposed to be politically neutral. This means at the bear minimum that political news stories should be handled with a distinct air of seriousness. If news channels constantly attempt to blur the lines between political news broadcasting and satire then not only will you put comedians out of jobs (or turn them into political news reporters) but you'll systematically destroy any possibility of the public ever trusting in politicians and/or having confidence in their ability to govern.

    Far more importantly, when a news agency actually discovers something that may have serious implications for politicians (like the expenses scandal) the current method of reporting is going to strip away its importance by hiding it amongst the satire.

    This is why I try to avoid mainstream news sources, as they're often affected by bias. This is unfortunately true of the BBC as well. I need unbiased coverage in order to form my own opinion, if I receive coverage already tainted by bias then I only see the coverage through the eyes of the journalist with that bias.

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    Comment number 2.

    I read newspapers and watch/listen to news broadcasts in order to be informed and to form my own views, based on the information given, about what is happening in the world. What we often get, however, is a trivialised, politically-coloured, interpretation of the news from a 'celebrity' newsreader whose facial expressions change from sad to smiley and back again, depending on the particular news item. I am often left wondering if they believe a talent scout may be watching their 'performance'.

    Indeed, news broadcasting is seen as part of the entertainment output of TV and is so dumbed down that items are often accompanied by infantile visual aids. For example, the expression 'time running out' may be accompanied by a picture of a clock on which the hands are whizzing round or an egg timer whose sand has almost 'run out'.

    Then we have ninety-second news updates, 'his n'her' sofas where male/female 'presenters' read alternate sentences or even finish one another's sentences: what are they for?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    That's a good point actually. I've always found the excessive graphical effects to be cringe-worthy at best.

    The BBC election coverage is typically the worst example of it, with it's poxy swing-o-meter. The only particular thing I found useful about that coverage was the interactive map, which was replicated in a sense on the website

    There are also many other issues specifically relating to election coverage, but I think that'd be digressing too far.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    As Addison points out, both politicians and the media are responsible. The politicians for atempting to present themselves in a humorous and positive light, and the media which laps this up. This occurence is spreading here to Ireland aswell,obviously because most of our politicians simply don't know how to deal professionally with their public image.

    For a politician it is a case of finding a balance, if I'm not wrong, between presenting yourself in a more human way, as someone who can relate with the people of their country. However this can be mistaken as an excuse to act in a childish or irresponsible way. Even if a politician can't relate to their voters, it should not make a difference if they seem cold, as long as their policies and conduct are professional and more importantly, relevant to politics. Getting infatuated with public image can be disastrous as we have all seen. But what better way to relate to the voters than being honest instead of friendly, a trait more suited to leadership than joking around.

    I'd imagine if politicians stopped being funny , then journalists like Nick Robinson would have to take their job more seriously, otherwise he would probably lose it.


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