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Peter Rippon | 12:04 UK time, Friday, 8 September 2006

This week while we hacks have been revelling in one of the most dramatic political stories in years a vocal section of our audience has taken a different view.

The PM programme logoEven on Radio Four, where listeners normally have a high threshold for political news, there have been complaints. Here's an eloquent example:

"That's it! 8.18 am and I have just switched John Humphrys off (again) and tuned into Radio 1 (and I'm nearly 60!). This inane drivel that broadcasters (like you) are peddling, with your opinions based on tittle-tattle as though it were fact has now sunk even beneath the level of the Daily Mail. I thank God that at least I can turn you off; that I don't live anywhere near the M25 ghetto that is generating all this crap; that you are not one of my neighbours; that I won't be meeting ANY of you in the pub, on a walk in the hills, or at a dinner party this weekend. For goodness' sake GIVE IT A REST."

This sort of view demonstrates an unusual dissonance between the journalists and some of those they serve. Normally when listeners complain, whether you agree or disagree with the complaint, you can understand why they are doing it.

On this story journalists in the PM office just look puzzled and bemused when confronted by such views. For us it's an utterly compelling piece of political drama. It's the battle over who is going to be in charge of the country played out on the airwaves. Some say we should concentrate on policies, but policies are less relevant if the person putting them forward will not be in a position to carry them out.

So overall I think it's ridiculous to suggest we are all too obsessed. It's also wrong to say it's only a story inside the 'Westminster bubble'. I visited a friend in the Cotswolds this week and was struck how even the sheep seemed to be worried about the prime minster's future. If you listen carefully they are definitely saying 'Blair'....'Blair'.... 'Blair'.


  • 1.
  • At 01:35 PM on 08 Sep 2006,
  • Michael Dales wrote:

I can see your point that the story is interesting if the person that makes them is make weaker by the in-fighting, but I have to say that in that case Radio 4 needs to alter its presentation perhaps. I too am tired of the story - I certainly don't think it merits the proportion of air time it's been given.

Perhaps it's unfair to shoot the messanger though. The MPs involved should carry out this sort of battle less in the media. I'm sure they love the media interest as it puts more pressure on whatever side. But I can't help but feel the, what I feel is, excessive coverage given by the media just fuels the system, a sort of vicious feedback loop.

Clearly you do have to report this sort of event, but perhaps with more restraint? For example, no matter why a politician is on Today/PM/etc. they are always asked at the end to comment on the current leadership battle. Perhaps keeping within topic on these stories would help (perhaps we can combine PM with Just A Minute? - bzzzz, sorry CQ, that's deviation...).

I really do like the Radio 4 news team's style and outlook, but I find occasionally they do go a bit CNN/News24 style obsessive like with this current scenario.

  • 2.
  • At 02:18 PM on 08 Sep 2006,
  • Darren Stephens wrote:

As important as these events seem to you as journalists, let's think about what it really happening:

A man who is widely despised by large swathes of the country is now fighting to hold on to his job. The probable replacement is a man who, once he assumes control, is not likely to do anything radically different to the current incumbent.

Meanwhile, the people sit back and wonder when they will actually get a say on who they think should be running the country, especially when the current government are (in psephological terms at least) the least popular in living memory. The waves of silent anger (not apathy, because none of the alternatives was viable) in 2005 attest to that.

The real reason some people are sick is that all of this just isn't relevant to the real issues. And because you hacks are part of the nice cosy Westminster club too, feeding off the lobby system's scraps, you just don't have the distance to see that.

The fiasco of Blair's departure may be amusing knocabout fun for a while, but it's no way to run a country, as we are rapidly discovering.

  • 3.
  • At 02:21 PM on 08 Sep 2006,
  • rey wrote:

BUT - if you "lot" weren't writing down, making up and generally shouting about the whole process it wouldn't be happening.

You are MAKING the news not reporting it. If every journalist didn't keep asking when is Blair going to step down? etc etc etc then he would feel no "presure" to Step down earlier than he had previously planned.

It really is a Non-Story blown out of all proportion by the media.

A more important question could be - does one perosn actually make a difference? Or aren't they just reporting the papers and policy decisions of a whole raft of backroom people who won't change, even if a different party came to power? Becasue at trhe grass roots level where people live no difference is felt. If the Media opinon that it is important was really correct then some effect shold be seen on the streets. It isn't.

  • 4.
  • At 02:29 PM on 08 Sep 2006,
  • Nick wrote:

One of the most important judgements that a news programme editor has to make is "How important is this story, in comparison with all the others on my desk?"

The answer to the above gives a direct guide as to how much airtime a story should be given. By and large the R4 Today team get it right. But on the "When will Blair go?" 'story', I think their initial assessment should be re-appraised. Particularly if Blair stays on for a few months more. Political infighting or "tittle tattle" has little interest to the vast majority of people, even those with an unhealtly interest in politics, like myself.

I am getting really sick of either Jim Naughtie or John Humphries devoting the (usually interesting) 8:10am slot on Today - the 'big' news slot - over to a "he said, she said" tedious, excrutiating exchange about when Blair will step down.

The issue of Blair stepping down is of course important. But that needs to be separated from the daily Westminster soap opera 'froth' which is considerably less important and much less interesting.

Twice in the last week I have turned over to ClassicFM to avoid a 20 minute Blair/Brown bore-a-thon on Today. I have come back to Radio4 next morning, but one day I might not. Please stop it!

  • 5.
  • At 02:55 PM on 08 Sep 2006,
  • Seurat wrote:

Is it news that requires the disruption of the regular schedules?

Is it news that requires your newsreaders to take up permanent residence outside the Houses of Parliament and Number 10?

Is it news that requires gossip, innuendo and smirking from your main political reporter?

Is it news that requires helicopter coverage?


Just report the story.

btw journalists interviewing journalists isn't news, it's chat.

  • 6.
  • At 03:05 PM on 08 Sep 2006,
  • James wrote:

From John Humphrys to Chris Moyles!?

I have to disagree slightly with it being compelling. It's been going on all week, and after the news on my local BBC station and on Radio 2 breakfast both presenters have expressed their boredom with the it.

I am interested in when Tony Blair is going to step down, and any discussion of a leadership contest, but the news just seems to be recycled.

Everytime you turn on News 24 someone has sent a SNG to the Houses of Parliament and there are MPs not giving news, or any different opinion to the one you heard 15 minutes ago, or any sort of revelation that makes it interesting.

The emailer is making more of it than they should, but the balance has felt slightly off over the past week. It's great that the story is being covered outside of Newsnight, especially as This Week and Daily Politics aren't there to pick up the slack, but maybe a cue could be taken from the BBC World output as to how the news could be slightly more equal.

  • 7.
  • At 03:29 PM on 08 Sep 2006,
  • Ed wrote:

You're suggesting people who support Blair are sheep?

  • 8.
  • At 07:45 AM on 09 Sep 2006,
  • Penguin wrote:

Ah - so I'm not the only oldie (50) to turn to Radio 1 when the gossip-fest gets too boring on the Today programme. The news is the news, what isn't the news is speculation and we have had intense and vapid debate which comes to nothing. Five differrent views on the same piece of news is I'm afraid, very boring. Now Mr Moyles is at least funny.

  • 9.
  • At 11:57 PM on 09 Sep 2006,
  • David McDowell wrote:

Has it ever happened, in the history of the BBC, that a member of the public has complained and the BBC has agreed that maybe, just maybe, they have got it wrong? I have written quite a few complaints over the years and on not one single occasion has there even been the slightest hint of such an admission. Every single time the complaint was rejected. And, a lot of the time it was obvious no real attempt had been made to truly understand the complaint before it was simply dismissed. Your reaction here is a typical example.

  • 10.
  • At 04:15 PM on 10 Sep 2006,
  • Susan wrote:

I disagree with Nick - news editors shouldn't be decided 'it this story important compared with others on their desk' as this week has clearly shown how detatched they are from the real people in this country (and we don't all live in or care about London by the way). What they should be asking is 'if I put myself in my listener's shoes, why might this story be important to him/her and how can I tell it to make it relevant'. I have to admit I am totally fed up with the about of non-news that is pedalled these days and the way it is patronisingly presented so that if we fail to be engaged then we are meant to feel stupid. I have to admit I am one of the ones who turns over when the news or a new discussion programme comes on (though I have to admit - I go to Classis FM not Moyles)

  • 11.
  • At 06:12 PM on 10 Sep 2006,
  • ian wrote:

In trying to escape this overly dull drama I switched to Radio 5. Even there I was disymayed to hear Radio 5 journalists pressing the guy from the Northern Ireland FA about Lawrie Sanchez failure to attend a press conference. NI had just secured an historic win over Spain, and although some effort was made to mention this it was only after the tone of the interview was really shown to be about the press conference. Who cares if journalists feelings are hurt by not having anyone to interview after a game? It seemed to me as though the apparent insult of a no show was greater than the real news of the NI win. stop trying to make news and stick to reporting it.

  • 12.
  • At 06:45 PM on 10 Sep 2006,
  • J Westerman wrote:

All these commentators have a financial interest in what they are doing. It is little wonder that they cannot bring themselves to see why they are driving us around the bend.
Also: have you seen the Jon Stewart programme lately and how he portrays the puppets standing outside 10 Downing Street and elsewhere? Perfect!

  • 13.
  • At 01:15 AM on 11 Sep 2006,
  • Owl wrote:

Okay, I get Peter Rippon's irony as he imagines sheep bleating "Blair" - but should he be so flippant dismissing his listeners' valid complaints?
Personally I avoid Radio 4's news programming finding it tedious, pompous, didactic and out-of-touch... now it seems even some of its target audience agree.
Mr Rippon speaks of journalists serving the audience but this appears to be merely lipservice. At a time when the BBC is supposed to be making an effort to understand audiences (Creative Futures etc), all his hacks appear to be alienated from the listeners!
So I would suggest it's "ridiculous" to suggest Radio 4's audience should blindly follow whatever agenda Mr Rippon deems interesting... like sheep perhaps?

This post is a classic journalist's "we know what's best for you" piece.

Read these comments. Read the other blog post about how a World Tonight phone in on GB/TB had a "negligible" response.

Listen to us.

We do care about who is going to lead our country, just not so much we need to hear it 24/7, padded out with chit-chat and endless speculation.

The exit of Tony Blair is clearly newsworthy, but pandering to the in-fighting and point-scoring of his fellow MPs only sees the media falling into the trap of building up a story out of proportion with its 'real' importance.

As has been pointed out by plenty of people elsewhere, people are dying and suffering and injustices are happening daily inside and out of the UK, which should be of far more importance to both the media and the MPs running our country!

Can I complain about the posts that suggest Chris Moyles is funny?

  • 17.
  • At 03:23 PM on 11 Sep 2006,
  • J Westerman wrote:

No one likes those who stir up trouble between people who should be friends and comrades; who are persistent in doing so and appear to revel in the process.

  • 18.
  • At 11:35 AM on 12 Sep 2006,
  • J Westerman wrote:

Newsreaders i.e. readers of news, have become self-opinionated commentators i.e. creators of possible news. There is room for both, but not on a news programme.

  • 19.
  • At 10:19 PM on 13 Sep 2006,
  • J Westerman wrote:

“This sort of view demonstrates an unusual dissonance between the journalists and some of those they serve.”. “some of those they serve” - therein lies the problem: some years ago it would not have been disputed; certainly not in the BBC.

  • 20.
  • At 08:48 AM on 23 Sep 2006,
  • David Hope wrote:

I'm actually rather enjoying this coverage, which I think serves a very important purpose.

I had previously been a Labour supporter since I was 14 (am now 34), but several years ago I found my allegience moving because of the hypocritical way New Labour dealt with the voters.

I don't believe we will get anything different from Brown than we have from Blair on the substantive issues, and the more the public are reminded of this, then the more likely we are to have an informed public at the time of the next election.

Complain and implement! sometimes complain are very serious and which are really needed but sometimes complains are just for complains.
A journalist must try to make his journal watchable, listenable and readable weather it is TV show or Radio show or an article in newspaper.
You can't expect always good comment and you must accept the bad one also. When I first wrote blog for i got very nonsence comment but now they have stared to like my style.

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