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The first set of ears

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Jamie Angus Jamie Angus | 17:02 UK time, Thursday, 25 June 2009

This week Shaun Ley interviewed the prime minister on The World at One about the details of a government announcement on parliamentary standards slated for later that afternoon.

World at One logoIn doing so, he may have incurred the annoyance of the new Speaker John Bercow, who has made a point of stressing how important he feels it is that ministers make their announcements to Parliament first, rather than touring the TV and radio studios beforehand.

Indeed, it was a notable feature of the Speaker hustings in Parliament that several of the candidates took the opportunity to criticise the practice of making announcements on the Today Programme.

Clearly, they are right on that last point - in the sense that all important news should of course be broken on The World at One. And our regular Wednesday panel picking over Bercow's comments after Prime Ministers' Questions took the same view.

Nevertheless, I wondered how widely MPs' strong feelings on this are shared beyond Parliament. Given the emphasis it received in the Speaker debates, you might think this was one of the most pressing issues undermining the standing of Parliament.

I rather suspect that following the extensive coverage of MPs' expenses in the Telegraph and elsewhere, the public probably takes a different view.

As one of the Speaker candidates put it, too many ministerial statements are made to an audience of "one man and his dog, and maybe a Lobby correspondent". And you might argue that given the decreasing coverage of proceedings in Parliament in the media, politicians have a responsibility to take the story to where the audience is, at a time when more of them are listening.

So are you outraged by getting the details first from us, or do you too feel strongly that the first set of ears to hear the news should be those of the Speaker himself?

Jamie Angus is editor of The World At One.


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    Perhaps the reason no one watches the vast majority of ministerial statements (including MPs) is because the headlines are trailed in advance on Today. I think it's important that MPs should feel incentivised to stay in the chamber more. Sometimes shoddy legislation makes its way through parliament because too many of us were concentrating on the headlines, not on the fine detail.

    From a journalistic perspective, it would be better for journalists to decide what the headlines are in a piece of legislation, not the ministers' spin doctors.

  • Comment number 3.

    Sorry, but I think this nonsense of 'pre-announcing' everything is almost as irritating as posting copies of a speech which has yet to be given on the internet with the ridiculous instruction to 'check against delivery'.

    Why bother ? If it was what they want to say, why bother attending the event and just play hooky and go to the pub ? It might be rude to be a 'no-show', but no more rude than telling the world what you are going to say in advance of an audience that could be bothered to turn up.

    If they are not your ultimate audience, why bother inviting them ?? You say the media are to blame for not reporting Parliament - well if MPs stopped this disgraceful habit, maybe we might get newspapers giving the same level of coverage of fringe topics that we get on 'Today in Parliament'.

    Mind you, on the topic of upsetting John Bercow, well I wouldn't lose too much sleep over that one..

  • Comment number 4.

    "Getting the news first" from the media is NOT getting the NEWS first. IF is giving the Government a free party political broadcast, spinning the news. Forcing the Government to make the first announcement to parliament allows the opposition time to consider the government's statement, and provide a considered criticism to the media.

    Unfortunately, since the BBC (in it's own words) has an "innate liberal bias", they seem to be quite happy to allow Labour Ministers free media time without offering the opposition equal time.

    It is shameful that the the BBC continues to support the Labour party by offering them media time in this manner. Duty of neutrality? Breach, not observance!

  • Comment number 5.

    It merely presents this Labour Government's attitude to parliament: its a nuisance. It delays them making a mess of the country. No wonder MPs have so much time to put in expense claim forms.

    Of course this government is so lacking in talent, and most are now not MPs, that it is to be expected that government ministers don't see the need to announce and debate in the elected house.

    Good grief.

  • Comment number 6.

    Of course it should not be allowed. The interface between Government and population should be 100% transparent.

  • Comment number 7.

    many mp's are media hounds and will play to the media first and foremost.
    they think getting themselves on tv etc will increase their popularity and earn them more in the long run.
    its this media driven society we live in that has created the problem and it needs resolution.
    parliment is becoming just another reality show liken to big brother etc.
    and you can not govern a country in that way.

  • Comment number 8.

    Sorry - I know you media types don't like it, but the Government is accountable to the people who elected it through Parliament and should not show contempt for Parliament by pre-announcing everything through the media - BBC or other. I'm sorry if that means you don't (think you will) get the ratings you need, but some things (i.e. democracy and respect for the constitutional settlement) are more important than that. The media is not part of the constitutional settlement - and the sooner politicians realise that the better for us all.

  • Comment number 9.

    I think that same messy things goes on Britain!s daily events from day today living,economic debcale,political opportunism,MP!s money spending for so many unproductive ways,scandles, about Speakers election ,etc., will surely give way for Conservative party will capture power in any future elections in Brtain.
    Liberal party has very good ideas,but not much support from the public.

  • Comment number 10.

    I wholeheartedly echo #3. Ministers should make statements to Parliament first, and that should be reported. Report what happened in Parliament; don't pre-empt it. Let Parliament do its job; and then you can do yours, which is to tell us what the ministers told Parliament, and (if you must) comment on it then.

  • Comment number 11.

    Ministers and Parliament? If it mattered, Mr Bercow would not be Speaker.

    Ministers and the BBC? At least we get to get rid of ministers every five years or less.

  • Comment number 12.

    Ministerial statements should be made to Parliament first, not to the media. MP's are elected; the media aren't and therefore they cannot claim to represent us.

  • Comment number 13.

    Actually, this member of the public doesn't take a different view at all.

    I'm fed up of seeing policy "announced" with the phrase "The BBC understands" or equivalent such unattributable nonsense. Often this is a couple of days before a minister makes a (by then then pointless) statement to the Commons. Government by leak or off the record meetings with favoured media correspondents isn't what we want. We have a Parliament - let's make the government use it.

    I'm not necessarily a fan of the new Speaker. However, if he gives any member of the government or the PM a good dressing down in the House the next time this happens, I'll be delighted.

  • Comment number 14.

    James I see is from the World at One which is typifies the development of News/Current Affairs sequences these days. They have become a sort light entertainment, with their celebratory presenters and political gossip content. What actually is required is a way of involving people in debate about the issues rather than it be preempted by ' correpondants '. Curiously this actually happens in finance and economics (see the blogs here).
    The House of Commons (not the Government) and the broadcasters. journalists and the rest of us should work out a way of this taking place. After all there is a TV channel for the purpose which needs to be developed for the 'new media age'
    Meanwhile the Lobby Rules' (the unattributed 'gossip') should be dumped to reduce spin. Stand up and be counted... respond to the people and not only to self appointed 'tribunes',the journalists.

  • Comment number 15.

    Surely this is not an arguement at all.....
    It is clear that all Parliamentary business must be presented before the House of Commons before being discussed directly in the media. This allows the members of the Commons to question and debate these issues. That is why we elect them in the first place.
    Only then should such matters be openned up to the media.
    This trend of talking to the media first is more about the individuals having their face and voice on the T.V. and in the papers. It also allows these individuals to put their own 'spin' on the topic and present the issue from their own point of view.
    I feel that the Speaker should raise this issue and make it clear that the members in the Commons have the right to hear the news first, rather than reading about it in the tabloids over their breakfast cereal.

  • Comment number 16.

    Were we speaking of a packed House scrambling for Government announcements then I could understand the discourtesy felt when hundreds of MPs are beaten to the gun by Today or World at One.

    But the only packing that goes on in the House during morning business is the couple edging around the camera pointing at their minister to give the appearance of a busy, full House.

    Who is kidding who?

    The only way around this, as far as I can see, is a bar on unpublished material through the media before 2 o'clock daily after which a cannon can be fired from the tower, (rather like the Edinburgh one o'clock gun - yes, I'm warming to this now) after which MPs and ministers can race to the studios, no taxi expenses, mind you) to give there views on the morning's business in the House.

    Yes. That would do very nicely. Here's to the first bang!

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 18.

    Oh, and please can we have an end to that ridiculous phrase 'The BBC has learned..' when what you actually mean is that you 'learned' it by reading it on the same AP/PA/AFP/Reuters news feed that is available to every other news organisation, and not through journalistic enquiry. Annoying !

  • Comment number 19.

    Kind of renders the BBC Parliament channel redundant

  • Comment number 20.

    And right on cue, a classic example:

    "Key schools policy to be amended"
    "The government is to dismantle one of its most significant education policies in primary schools in England."
    "Mr Balls is expected to say that..."

    More announcing of new policies on the BBC. No comments or mention of the position of any of the other parties. You're not the government's advertising agency!

    I await a reprimand for Balls from the Speaker...

  • Comment number 21.

    #18 lordBeddGelert, I am not sure I agree with you. My understanding is that the BBC receives many private briefings from ministers.

    Apart from people sniping at one another, I suspect these briefings are used for many reasons, such as:

    i) softening us up for bad news
    ii) floating an idea (that the government can deny if it gets a bad response)
    iii) stringing out good news by getting two bites at the cherry (the 'BBC understands' and then the official announcement)
    iv) as a bargaining chip to stop the reporter spilling the beans on another story (the lesser of two evils)
    v) repayment of a favour to the journalist (perhaps in return for a favourable story)

    The sad thing is that every time politicians privately brief journalists or use the radio or tv to announce policy, this further devalues our Parliament.

    For what it is worth I would like to see Parliament directly take control of the Parliament tv channel, employing a good production company and make it more appealing than it is at present. If politicians can use it rather like Chelsea and Manchester United use their tv channels, for exclusive announcements and interviews, I believe our democracy will be stronger.

    You can see what a sorry state we are in right now where an unelected hack questions Parliaments right to have announcements made in Parliament. I am amazed that the BBC employs such people.

  • Comment number 22.

    I'm not sure why my comment at #1 was removed. However, my central point has been echoed by pretty much everyone else - policiticans should report direct to parliament, and journalists should report that. Politicians should not brief journalists either in full press conferences or on the QT before they have briefed parliament except under the most exceptional circumstances (e.g. an emergency announcement).

    Any journalist who feels differently I believe has far too high an opinion of themselves and their profession.

  • Comment number 23.

    This question is about as intelligent as

    "John Doe killed his wife. Are you outraged if you can't vote on his conviction and sentence or do you too feel strongly that the first sets of ears to hear about the case should be those of the police, prosecutors and judge?"


    "The UK government wants to talk about a known terrorist with the US Government. Are you outraged if you don't hear all the details first or do you too feel strongly that the first sets of ears to hear about the case should be the Home Secretary?"

    Folks...there is a reason why in a representative democracy, the people delegate certain of their rights (and responsibilities!) to the Judiciary, the Legislative and the Executive. "Full democracies" have only really worked in small Swiss regional political entities...and have been almost abolished even there.

  • Comment number 24.

    When will the BBC learn not to engage in the tactical battles that politicians enjoy. You have been burned rather badly in the past and if you truly wish to honour your contract with the people who pay you, you should be quick to stifle ministers appearing to announce policy outside of the appropriate place.

    The rest of our media have commercial interests and it is unsurprising that briefings are a time for journalists to test the water, try to get ministers out of their depth, or sidetrack them with other major issues of the day. Surely the BBC should concentrate on appropriate facts. When does a private meeting with a minister constitute a legitimate place to make policy announcements? The answer should be never.

    The recent tirade over Darling's continuity (or otherwise) at No.11 is a prime example. What on earth could be gained from arguing that Brown had said one thing and done another? It isn't newsworthy and in cannot be in the interest of your license fee payers.

    The BBC's role is to remain a neutral news provider and not another news competitor that finds it hard to differentiate between fact and opinion.

  • Comment number 25.

    As mentioned by most of the posters, it is clear that the BBC itself needs to reform how it wishes to report on any political idea\policy.

    Too often I have read the BBC HYS forum where you have allowed government spin to masquerade as a new policy, nearly always these policy are not implemented, as one other poster mentioned, you are allowing the government free advertising, this must break your charter relating to impartiality.

    The BBC is supposed to report the news (factual), not to make the news (fiction), this means that unless a political idea has actually been debated in the HoC it should not be discussed on BBC news programmes.

  • Comment number 26.

    Closing the next thread to further comments and deleting a third of the responses likely means that at least some of the entries hit a raw nerve at BBC. With no real sense of humor whatsoever and living in a glass house, BBC just can't seem to take a few rocks thrown back its way in jest. What a bunch of sore losers BBC is. Why are BBC's nerves so raw? Maybe there's an element of truth in...nah, can't be. BBC would never hire.... Thrown out of Zimbabwe, maybe out of Iran, BBC treads very lightly in China. They're lucky. They've given more than reasonable cause many times to be thrown out of the US and Israel. They don't seem very concerned about it though. I suppose if the Bush administration didn't throw them out as agents of America's enemies, they didn't go nearly far enough in that direction. Were it not for their adoration of Barack Obama and Michael Jackson, they might have pressed their luck further now. BBC, when are you going to take Michael Jackson's death off the top line and 80% of your efforts and go back to lying about the world's news? Just can't take a joke. How sad for Britain. No talent there.

  • Comment number 27.

    #26. MarcusAurelius. I agree with all that you say. Perhaps it's about time to throw the BBC out of the, let's throw out the BBC hacks who have done so much damage to our society and our relations with other countries.

    The BBC was once a great institution and a beacon of free media. It can still be salvaged if it sacks the commentators, speculators and interferers and gets back to reporting facts, telling the whole truth this time.

  • Comment number 28.

    BBC is an institution run amok. A government sanctioned quasi monopoly it has essentially limitless funds guaranteed by what is in truth a universal tax to pay for it with no real outside independent oversight. It also effectively eliminates all domestic competition becuase if its overwhelming size and power. Citizens of the UK passively accept this trampling of a right to a free press just the way they passively accept the trampling of all of their other inalienable rights by their government such as the siging away of their national sovereignty first by ratifying the EU Constitution without a plebecite and then by the signing of the Lisbon Treater (son of the EU Constitution) by just one man, Gordon Brown without so much as a debate in his rubber stamp parliament. Yet this autocratic oligarchic dictatorship has British citizens fooled into thinking the UK is actually a democracy. They don't even know what real democracy is about and deride one when they see it.

  • Comment number 29.

    I notice that all the comments on this (and most other threads) are pre-moderated. Perhaps Mr Bercow is just suggesting that parliamentary business press releases should be pre-moderated as well. Can't have one rule for the press and another for the people can we?

  • Comment number 30.

    Mr.Bercow has suggested parliamentary business ress releases should be pre-moderated.
    My point is that,whey these MPs are not concentrating more time in parliament for discussions,opinions,for far and against policies,actions for better public standings.
    These MPs have the habit of giving press briefing of certain issues outside of the parliament.
    This is not a good sign of any parliamentary democracy.
    There should be a one rule for any moderation of comments,views etc.,

  • Comment number 31.

    Belatedly I support most of the other comments. Encouraging ministers to announce initiatives on radio is not giving us news first - it's giving us the bits of the policy they want us to hear. The discussion is therefore on their agenda.

    Why not try giving us news and analysis once the full details have been announced and published?

    Today (and the World at One) have become so desparate to "set the agenda" they have become manipulated.

    So given the choice between you and Bercow - well perhaps on this issue only, Bercow is right.


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