Entertainment & Arts

Nick Robinson: 'Soundbite news needs re-think'

Nick Robinson outside 10 Downing Street
Image caption Nick Robinson said a succession of scandals had led to "crises of trust" in both politics and the media

News broadcasters should consider giving politicians more time to convey their ideas rather than reducing them to soundbites, the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson has said.

He said politics had been too focused on "spin, sleaze and splits" and not enough on substance since the 1990s.

He added: "The media haven't always helped. Sometimes we've made it worse."

Robinson was speaking about the relationship between politicians and the media during a speech in Salford.

"The spins, sleaze and splits sell newspapers and make lively items on the radio and watchable telly because it's conflict," he told the audience.

"Trust, in my view, will only really be restored when people feel that we're having a proper debate about the substantive issues that really affect their lives."

Robinson was delivering the inaugural Brian Redhead lecture, named after his mentor and the former BBC Radio 4 Today programme presenter, who died in 1994.

Politicians must speak more clearly, be more honest about their mistakes and uncertainties and be less willing to descend into abuse, he said.

"Then we in the media have to think about our role," he continued. "I just want to kick off a bit of a debate.

"Are we right, we journalists in broadcasting, to always choose the punchiest clip for TV and radio if it is simply delivering a carefully market researched, closely scripted, highly partisan insult directed at their opponents? 'He's out of touch.' 'He's in the pocket of the unions.'

"Are we right? Is that the best and most important thing to run from parliament or a speech in that day?

"Can we find a space where politicians and others can think aloud about possible solutions to the country's problems before those ideas are dissected by the best interviewers or attacked by their opponents or derided on tweets or blogs?"

That space might be on the web or a digital channel, he added, or broadcasters could follow the example of Channel 4 News, which used to let opponents make their own short films in order to get their messages across.

And political balance may not be necessary in every TV news story, but instead be achieved over a longer period, he said.

That would allow more time to convey the content of a politician's speech because news packages would not always need to include an interview with an opponent.

Or in live reports, correspondents such as himself could be given more time to explain what a politician said, rather than immediately being asked to analyse why they said it, he added.

"There may be problems, but I think if we can't have that debate and start it between elections now, we'll never have it," he said.

His comments come as the Leveson Inquiry examines press ethics following revelations about phone hacking, while the government's relationship with News International is also under intense scrutiny.

Scandals such as phone hacking and MPs' expenses have led to "crises of trust" in both politicians and the media, Robinson said.

But he warned that the two sides could make matters worse by turning on each other.

"I want to suggest to you that there is a danger that politicians and the media now become trapped in a vicious circle in which they compete to denigrate each other, in which they think that the way to get back in with the public is to say the other lot are even worse than they are.

"To coin a phrase, we are, like it or not, all in this together.

"Journalists don't have the same interests as politicians and shouldn't. But we are all in this together when it comes to re-establishing trust."

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