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The New Media and Democracy, Sir Peter Luff MP.

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The New Media and Democracy, Sir Peter Luff MP.

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The New Media and Democracy, Sir Peter Luff MP.

  1. 1. CIPR FELLOWS’ LUNCH JULY 25th 1 THE  NEW  MEDIA  AND  DEMOCRACY     SIR  PETER  LUFF  MP,  FCIPR,  FSA     CIPR  Fellows’  Lunch,  25th  July  2014     In  an  editorial  last  Saturday,  the  Financial  Times,  in  an  almost  perfectly  contrived  insult  to  all   of  us  here,  wrote,     “..  there  is  still  too  much  of  the  PR  man  about  Britain’s  Prime  Minister.”     Next  Spring  I  stand  down  after  twenty  three  years  as  a  Member  of  Parliament.     Throughout  those  years,  I  have  often  realised  that  my  previous  life  in  public  relations   consultancy  was  the  best  possible  training  for  the  job.  How  wrong  can  the  FT  be?     In  the  great  circus  of  life  that  is  both  PR  consultancy  and  politics,  you  must  learn  not  just  to   juggle,  to  keep  many  and  very  different  groups  –  of  clients  or  constituents  –  content,  but  also   to  tame  huge  issues,  lions,  that  threaten  to  devour  you  if  you  make  a  single  slip.     In  fact,  as  I  said  in  a  recent  CIPR  interview,  what  you  really  need  to  perfect  is  the  art  of   juggling  lions.     To  take  an  example  I  remember  particularly  clearly,     my  training  in  PR  proved  its  worth  within  two  years  of  my  election.    In  1994  I  bought  my  nine   year-­‐old  daughter  a  girls’  magazine  –  and  was  genuinely  surprised  to  find  sexually  explicit   content  on  its  letters  page.     I  soon  discovered  it  was  one  of  many  magazines  aimed  at  girls  between  eight  and  eighteen   using  sex  to  sell.  There  was  a  race  to  the  gutter  going  on  in  the  name  of  circulation.     These  magazines  were  both  sexually  explicit  and  deeply  sexist.  Their  disturbing  message  was   simple.  Boys  did  real  things  but  girls  –well  their  role  was  just  to  be  girls  for  the  boys.     So  I  decided  to  use  my  position  as  an  MP  to  raise  the  issue.       During  this  targeted  campaign  I  applied  some  widely  appreciated  rules  of  communication.       Above  all  else,  I  focused  on  communicating  a  clear  and  compelling  message  –  never  prim,   condescending  or  lecturing.  Not  a  preachy  message,  just  a  sense  that  girls  were  being  let  down   by  the  magazines  that  were  supposed  to  help  them.     I  said  I  understood  the  need  for  sensitive  and  professional  advice  but  what  the  magazines   were  doing  was  excessive,  sexist  and  robbed  children  of  their  childhoods.     It  turned  out  that  I  had  articulated  what  thousands  of  parents  thought  –  and  public  opinion   was  on  my  side.    
  2. 2. CIPR FELLOWS’ LUNCH JULY 25th 2 I  also  repeated  my  message  until  people  got  sick  of  hearing  me  say  it.  As  my  old  political  boss   Peter  Walker  often  told  me,  “It’s  only  when  you  are  sick  and  tired  of  your  message  that  you’re   just  beginning  to  communicate  it  to  others.”       I  focused  on  the  big  picture,  dealing  with  the  relatively  few  TV,  radio  and  print  titles  that  held   the  influence  nationally.  Success  with  those  would  move  opinion.       And  it  worked.  I  had  used  my  PR  training  to  run  a  one  man  campaign  that  actually  changed   something.     After  some  very  bad  publicity,  the  publishers  -­‐  who  were  unable  to  believe  I  did  not  have   funding  and  campaign  mangers  behind  me  -­‐  soon  capitulated;  a  new  independent  regulator,  a   code  of  conduct,  and  only  professionally  qualified  counsellors  to  offer  advice  on  the  problem   pages.  The  magazines  actually  improved.     Such  a  campaign  wouldn’t  have  succeeded  if  I  hadn’t  followed  the  advice  I  had  been  giving   clients  as  a  communications  consultant.       I  was  both  attacking  part  of  the  media  and  using  the  media  to  help  me.  It  was  an  exercise  in   the  triumph  of  democracy  over  commercial  interest.     I  don’t  tell  you  this  to  blow  my  own  trumpet.  I  tell  it  to  blow  yours.       PRs  have  a  genuinely  important  role  in  challenging  the  status  quo  and  gaining  profile  for  their   clients  and  causes.       We  won’t  all  agree  on  the  merits  of  those  causes  or  clients,  but  we  should  agree  that  they  have   the  right  to  be  heard.  That  is  democracy  after  all.     So,  contrary  to  the  views  of  the  FT,  we  PRs  make  good  politicians  –  we  serve  democracy  pretty   effectively.     Democracy  is  very  topical  at  the  moment  –  and  about  to  become  even  more  so.       Next  year,  election  year,  marks  the  800th  anniversary  of  Magna  Carta  and  the  750th   Anniversary  of  what  is  generally  recognised  as  the  first  broadly  representative  English   parliament.     Our  contemporary  freedoms  and  democratic  representation  began  their  evolution  from  these   two,  related  events.     So  this  is  a  good  time  to  reflect  on  the  health  of  our  democracy.     And  I  take  as  my  text  –  or  perhaps  my  warning  to  myself  -­‐  that  famous  quote  of  Enoch  Powell,     “For  a  politician  to  complain  about  the  press  is  like  a  ship's  captain  complaining  about  the  sea.”     Nonetheless,  my  subject  is  a  simple  and  well-­‐worn  one  –  the  relationship  between  politicians   and  the  media  and  the  consequences  for  our  democracy.    
  3. 3. CIPR FELLOWS’ LUNCH JULY 25th 3 I  am  thinking  of  the  consequences  of;   • the  new  need  for  speed  which  drives  instant  reaction  to  often  complex  events;     • of  the  growing  commercial  pressures  that  drive  even  the  most  respectable  news  outlet   into  a  search  for  sensation;   • and  of  the  loss  of  journalistic  interpretation  in  the  new  social  media  that  leads  to   unmediated  news  triumphing  over  the  mediated.     My  thesis  is  simple.  It  is  that  democratic  societies  need  shared  places  -­‐  particularly  in  the   media  -­‐  for  rational,  informed  political  debate.     My  concern  is  that  the  decline  in  the  reach  and  quality  of  traditional,  “legacy”  media  coupled   with  the  fragmentation  of  the  population  caused  by  the  new  “social”  media,  endanger  those   places  -­‐  and  so  it  is  ever  more  important  to  uphold  them  wherever  we  can.     These  changes  might  actually  help  some  politicians,  parties  and  interest  groups  ;  if  they  use   media  management  techniques  and  the  social  media  well,  they  can  by-­‐pass  objective  criticism   and  make  their  unmediated  case  direct  to  their  supporters  and  potential  supporters.     But  they  make  life  harder  for  democracy  as  we  lose  our  shared  national  narrative  and   understanding  and  as  the  essential,  constructive  challenge  to  politicians  provided  by  good   journalism  is  no  longer  as  effective.       The  conventional  view  is  that  a  free  press  and  technological  change  has  driven  increased   awareness  of  opportunity  and  liberty  –  and  so  played  a  major  part  in  ending  tyranny  in   Eastern  Europe  and  elsewhere.         But  are  the  new  social  media  always  the  same  force  for  good?       They  certainly  do  good.       Above  all,  they  spread  knowledge.     I  have  seen  their  power  and  positive  impact  as  they  share  news  among  specific  vulnerable   groups  such  as  the  elderly,  the  disabled  or  those  with  special  medical  needs.       The  same  public  service  can  be  performed  within  local  communities  as  events  and  issues,  like   flood  warnings,  are  spread  rapidly  to  residents.     And  in  times  of  conflict  they  can  give  the  lie  to  the  propaganda  of  ruling  elites  and  autocrats.     But  what  of  the  harm?       By  providing  channels  for  bad  men  to  recruit  converts  to  their  cause,  or  to  spread  poisonous   disinformation  in  an  instant,  for  example,  they  can  do  actual  harm  to  democracy.     More  subtly,  they  undermine  our  democracy  in  another  way.     The  social  media  reduce  society  to  groups  of  self-­‐selecting  special  interests  who  spend  more   and  more  of  their  time  talking  to  those  with  similar  views,  isolating  themselves  from  contrary   points  of  view.  
  4. 4. CIPR FELLOWS’ LUNCH JULY 25th 4   Who  do  we  talk  to  now  to  form  our  opinions?  In  the  seventeenth  and  eighteenth  centuries  it   was  the  coffeehouses  of  London  where  society’s  elite  formed  its  shared  understandings.  We   still  need  those  coffeehouse  forums,  actual  or  metaphorical,  where  exchange  and  debate  takes   place.     My  conclusion  is  that  the  diminution  of  such  shared  places  in  the  media  –  and  of  the   atomisation  of  public  debate  caused  by  social  media  -­‐  mean  that  more  and  more  of  the  burden   of  nurturing  our  democracy  falls  on  the  shoulders  of  just  one  media  organisation  –  the  BBC.     Public  relations  professionals  need  the  ability  to  engage  in  a  free  exchange  of  information  and   to  conduct  public  conversations  that  are  well-­‐informed.  But  democracy  needs  those  things   just  as  keenly.     My  argument  has  two  caveats.     NEVER  TRUST  A  POLITICIAN     Caveat  number  one.     I’m  not  about  to  issue  a  plea  for  politicians  to  be  liked.  A  degree  of  healthy  cynicism  is   essential.         One  of  my  favourite  lines  in  Shakespeare  comes  when  Lear  comforts  the  cruelly  blinded   Gloucester  with  these  words,     Get  thee  glass  eyes     And,  like  a  scurvy  politician,  seem     To  see  the  things  thou  dost  not.  i     I  think  that  modern  cynicism  has  reached  dangerous  levels,  yes,  but  the  politicians’  response   must  be  to  win  back  respect,  not  to  seek  popularity.     My  heart  sinks  when  I  hear  another  politician  is  going  on  “Have  I  Got  News  for  You”  to  try  and   be  funny.     But  I  suppose  it’s  better  than  going  into  the  jungle  to  eat  mealy  grubs  in  the  deluded  belief   that  “I’m  a  Celebrity,  Get  Me  Out  of  Here”  is  a  good  vehicle  to  engage  the  alienated.     Or  believing  that  sensational  Tweeting  is  a  satisfactory  substitute  for  serious  thought.     NO  MEDIA  GOLDEN  AGE     And  caveat  number  two.     I  am  definitely  not  making  a  plea  for  a  return  to  some  lost  golden  age  -­‐  for  politicians  at  least  -­‐   when  journalists  and  newspapers  knew  their  place.    No  such  time  ever  existed,  although  I  do   look  back  with  a  twinge  of  nostalgia  at  some  of  those  early,  intensely  deferential  television   interviews.    
  5. 5. CIPR FELLOWS’ LUNCH JULY 25th 5 You  know  the  sort  of  thing  –  “Please  Mr  Macmillan,  do  tell  us  what  you  think.”   The  truth  is,  as  you  all  know,  that  the  British  media  have  always  been  robust  and  politicians   have  always  complained.  Somehow  democracy  survived  and  even  flourished.   Perhaps  no  complaint  was  more  famous  than  that  of  my  illustrious  predecessor  as  a   Worcestershire  MP,  Stanley  Baldwin,  who  famously  attacked  the  papers  owned  by   Beaverbrook  and  Rothermere  three  days  before  the  election  in  March  1931,  when  he  said,     “The  newspapers  attacking  me  are  not  newspapers  in  the  ordinary  sense.    They  are  engines  of   propaganda  for  the  constantly  changing  policies,  desires,  personal  vices,  personal  likes  and   dislikes  of  the  two  men.  What  are  their  methods?  Their  methods  are  direct  falsehoods,   misrepresentation,  half-­truths,  the  alteration  of  the  speaker's  meaning  by  publishing  a  sentence   apart  from  the  context...What  the  proprietorship  of  these  papers  is  aiming  at  is  power,  and   power  without  responsibility  –  the  prerogative  of  the  harlot  throughout  the  ages.”   To  be  fair,  the  British  press  has,  rightly,  always  been  anxious  to  expose  wrongdoing.    But  their   targets  have  not  always  been  fair  ones.     Look  for  example  at  the  fictional  travails  of  Septimus  Harding,  warden  of  Hiram’s  Hospital,  at   the  hands  of  The  Jupiter  –  a  thinly  disguised  Times  –  in  Trollope’s  outstanding  1855  novel,  The   Warden,  first  in  his  glorious  series  The  Chronicles  of  Barsetshire.     The  warden  was  a  good  and  honest  man,  traduced  and  hounded  to  near  penury  by  the  press.     Good  people  have  indeed  been  hounded  unfairly  for  centuries.  That  can  be  the  price  of  a  free   press  –  that  it  can  make  mistakes.     So,  to  be  absolutely  clear  I  am  not  asking  for  journalists  to  stop  doing  their  job  –  politicians   must  always  be  treated  with  scepticism.  They  always  have  been  and  happily  there’s  little   prospect  of  that  changing  in  a  hurry,  even  in  a  post-­‐Leveson,  post-­‐phone  hacking  world.     So  I  am  not  saying  politicians  should  be  treated  with  kid  gloves,  and  I  am  not  saying  that  the   media  should  not  be  robust.     But  it’s  time  to  worry  when  hard-­‐nosed  observers  like  Andrew  Marr  writing  ten  years  ago,   say,     “…  the  truth  is  that  we  political  journalists  have  spent  too  much  time  metaphorically  jamming   wastebins  on  politicians’  heads.  We  have  become  too  powerful,  too  much  the  interpreters,  using   our  talents  as  communicators  to  crowd  them  out.  On  paper  we  mock  them  as  never  before  and   report  them  less  than  ever  before.  ….  We  are  overshadowing  the  institutions  that  made  us;  we   have  become  insufficiently  serious.    Once  my  father  bought  a  rose  bush  for  our  garden  in   Scotland.  He  supported  it  with  some  insignificant-­looking  sticks.  The  rose  died  and  the  sticks   grew.  That  is  what  happening  in  Westminster  too.”     I  am  also  worried  about  a  declining  respect  for  the  truth  and  an  increasing  recklessness  in   political  comment  that  would  make  even  harlots  blush.    
  6. 6. CIPR FELLOWS’ LUNCH JULY 25th 6 That  recklessness  is  in  large  part  a  product  of  the  need  for  speed  I  referred  to  earlier  –  forget   the  24  hour  news  cycle  –  now  it’s  more  like  five  minutes.     Snap  judgements  -­‐  by  politicians  and  commentators  -­‐  become  the  conventional  wisdom  and   deeper  reflection  becomes  challenging.     As  Andrew  Marr  clearly  recognises,  politicians  do  need  a  minimum  level  of  respect  -­‐  and  facts   are  very  precious  things  indeed.     We  live  in  a  time  of  unprecedented  change  and  complexity  when  more  careful  thought  is   needed  than  ever.     But  our  politics  and  our  media  are  conspiring  together  to  drive  us  to  instant  reactions,   meaningless  sound  bites  and  gross  simplifications.     And  the  awkward  truth  is  that  politics  in  the  UK  has  become  rather  boring.       As  Kevin  Toolis,  author  of  “The  Confessions  of  Gordon  Brown”  observed  recently;     “In  the  olden  days,  the  Labour  and  Tory  Party  conferences  were  guaranteed  political  barn  fest.   Revolts  –  among  the  delegates,  errant  union  bosses  and  pro-­hanging  Tory  wannabes  -­  were  as   common  as  bare-­breasted  women  in  Game  of  Thrones.  Passion  and  politics  mattered.  But  post   new  Labour,  bar  the  odd  expenses  scandal,  our  ideological  ground  has  narrowed.  Shut  your  eyes,   and  it’s  hard  to  tell  Tory  and  Labour  MPs  apart.  …  if  modern  British  politics  is  an  art  form,  it   remains  a  very  dull  one.”     No  wonder  colourful  but  implausible  figures  like  Nigel  Farage  -­‐  or  eccentric  dissidents  on  the   government  backbenches  -­‐  attract  support.     And  this  is  not  just  a  UK  problem;  as  the  now  very  elderly  former  German  Chancellor  Helmut   Schmidt  said  recently,     “Media  democracies  don’t  produce  leaders,  they  produce  populists.”       They  also  produce  robots.     In  one  particularity  cruel  briefing  recently  ahead  of  the  last  reshuffle  it  was  reported  critics  of   a  cabinet  minister  were  saying  of  her,  using  a  rather  dated  metaphor,     “She  puts  in  a  tape,  presses  play,  and  this  stream  of  stuff  comes  out.  She  doesn’t  listen.”     That  description  fits  most  political  interviews  I  hear  these  days  with  front  benchers  in   particular  too  scared  to  deviate  from  the  line  to  take.     No  wonder  voters  feel  disengaged.     MEDIA  CHANGE    
  7. 7. CIPR FELLOWS’ LUNCH JULY 25th 7 As  Parties  have  declined  in  their  power  and  the  respect  in  which  politicians  is  held  has  sunk   ever  lower,  the  traditional  media  have  fragmented  and  decayed  and  the  social  media  have   blossomed.       Technology  and  commercial  competition  have  ravaged  the  newspaper  industry  and   proliferated  the  electronic  media.       And  so  often  in  the  explosion  of  television  channels  and  the  frenzy  of  commercial  radio,  news   broadcasts  play  second  fiddle  at  best.     Not  so  long  ago  a  couple  of  interviews  and  a  piece  dictated  to  the  Press  Association  were   enough  to  ensure  your  information,  as  long  as  it  was  sufficiently  compelling  or  important,   would  be  carried  to  a  majority  of  the  population.         I  can  remember  as  if  it  were  yesterday  a  world  with  just  two  television  channels  –  and  I  can   recall  the  day  our  first  television  came  to  the  Luff  household  in  about  1960.       I  still  tend  to  think  of  commercial  radio  as  pirate  radio.  The  Home  Service  and  the  Light   Programme  were  my  only  two  radio  stations.       Then  it  was  unthinkable  to  start  the  day  without  reading  a  national  newspaper.  Now  most   people  never  pick  one  up  at  all.     And  that  is  a  shame.  Or  should  be.     There  still  is  a  shared  news  agenda  that  the  country  as  a  whole  hears,  but  it  is  spread  over   more  and  more  platforms  and  is  becoming  fragile.       Our  shared  national  understanding  is  at  risk  of  decay  as  news  sources  proliferate,  and  become   more  superficial,  as  politics  is  taken  less  seriously  and  as  news  bulletins  become  briefer.     As  much  as  ever,  perhaps  more,  we  need  the  media  -­‐  and  that  means  journalists,  good   journalists,  to  mediate,  to  explain  and  to  comment.  To  put  in  context.  To  provide  background   and  reason.       Journalists  and  commentators  like  Matthew  Parris  and  Danny  Finklestein,  like  Steve  Richards   and  Robert  Peston,  like  Andy  Marr,  John  Humphries  ,  Jeremy  Vine  and  Nick  Robinson  –  who,   whatever  their  personal  views,  clearly  care  about  politics  and  society.         But,  in  many  cases,  the  approach  to  politics  of  too  many  journalists  and  editors  has  become   trivial  at  best,  destructive  at  worst.     What  worries  me  now  is  that  the  ever-­‐deepening  contempt  for  politicians  in  which  so  many   newspapers  seem  to  hold  us  is  matched  only  by  an  equal  contempt  for  the  truth.     Here  are  some  recent  examples.     • First  the  Daily  Mail  and  the  Daily  Express:      
  8. 8. CIPR FELLOWS’ LUNCH JULY 25th 8 At  the  beginning  of  the  year  both  these  papers  played  to  the  gallery  in  the  most  exotic  terms   over  the  coming  wave  of  Romanians  and  Bulgarians.     “Benefits  Britain  Here  We  Come;  Fears  as  migrant  flood  begins”  screamed  the  Express  on  New   Year’s  Day.  The  Mail  headlined  one  of  its  stores  that  same  day;     “Sold  out!  Flights  and  buses  full  as  Romanians  head  for  the  UK.”     Except  it  just  wasn’t  true.  The  flights  were  not  sold  out  –  there  were  seats  at  reasonable  prices   on  all  of  them.  And  the  numbers  of  Bulgarians  and  Romanians  in  the  UK  actually  fell  slightly  in   the  first  quarter  of  this  year.     But  reports  like  these  set  the  context  for  the  most  sensitive  debate  in  our  democracy  at   present  -­‐  immigration.     • Second,  The  Times     Not  to  be  outdone  in  the  “Let’s  drive  the  reputation  of  MPs  even  lower”  contest  the  Times   joined  in  last  month  with  the  extraordinary  headline  “  MPs’  £750,000  bar  bill”.       It  turned  out  the  £750,000  bill  was  the  total  for  all  alcohol  served  at  the  bars  and  restaurant  to   MPs,  their  staff,  Commons  staff,  journalists,  all  these  groups’  guests  –and  included  bottles  of   whisky  sold  to  the  general  public  from  the  gift  shop  and  the  alcohol  drunk  by  people  at  the   many  events  hosted  in  Parliament.       Incidentally,  The  Times  went  one  better  on  July  11th  with  its  devastating    -­‐  and  truthful  -­‐   revelation  “Scissors,  stapler  and  plastic  ruler  among  MPs’  latest  expenses”.     Yes,  our  office  costs  budgets  really  are  used  to  pay  for  –  shock  horror  –  running  our  offices.     • Third,  the  Sunday  Times:     I’m  specially  troubled  by  The  Sunday  Times’  growing  reputation  for  sensationalised  reports   that  hang  by  the  barest  thread  to  a  semblance  of  the  truth.    Here  is  the  home  of  investigative   journalism  of  the  highest  kind.    Now  though,  it  gets  so  much  just  plain  wrong.       On  15th  June  under  the  headline  “RAF’s  new  fighter  gets  so  hot  it  melts  runways”  it  reported  on   what  it  went  to  on  to  describe  as  “Britain’s  troubled  new  £100  million  fighter  jet.”     Leaving  on  one  side  that  the  F35  is  for  the  RAF  and  the  Royal  Navy,  it’s  most  egregious  error   was  its  “revelation”  that  we’d  only  just  worked  out  that  it  got  rather  hot  where  the  powerful   jet  engines  point  when  it  lands  vertically.  Apparently  none  of  the  clever  people  at  the  MoD  –   or  the  US  DoD  -­‐  had  thought  of  this  and  so  we  were  having  to  rush  to  install  concrete  landing   pads  at  UK  bases  for  the  planes  in  yet  another  defence  cock-­‐up.     Sadly  for  the  Sunday  Times  and  its  scandalised  readers,  the  story  was  wrong  on  every  count.   Of  course  we  knew  it  got  hot  when  an  F35  lands  and  we  had  always  budgeted  for  and  planned   these  landing  pads.  But  don’t  let  the  facts  get  in  the  way  of  a  good  story.    
  9. 9. CIPR FELLOWS’ LUNCH JULY 25th 9 And  let  me  repeat  that  point  about  investigative  journalism  –  great  scoops  like  the  Sunday   Times’  hard  work  on  the  Qatar  World  Cup  story.         We  need  the  occasional  brilliance  of  this  paper  to  manifest  itself  more  often,  but  it  lets  itself   down  every  time  it  runs  a  story  like  the  F35  one.         How  can  I  believe  its  investigative  scoops  when  I  know  its  routine  news  is  so  often  just   wrong?     How  can  a  democracy  flourish  if  the  voters  are  so  grievously  misled  or  only  partially  informed   at  best?     So  the  traditional  media  –  newspapers,  television  and  radio  -­‐  facing  a  daily  battle  for  survival,   have  become  more  varied,  less  coherent.  Our  news  now  is:     • Fragmented   • Transitory   • Sensationalised  and   • Often  just  wrong     Thank  God,  you  may  say,  for  the  extraordinary  decline  in  national  newspaper  circulations.ii     Every  single  national  daily  and  Sunday  paper  has  seen  serious  falls  since  2010,  typically  after   long  periods  of  decline.     Only  the  good  old  Daily  Mail  has  held  its  head  high,  bobbing  around  the  two  million  mark  for   the  last  fifty  years  –  but  it’s  still  down  from  2.3  million  in  2000  to  1.7  million  now.iii     But  the  fact  is  that,  while  newspapers  remain  very  important  sources  of  views,  if  not  news,   nowhere  near  enough  newspapers  are  now  sold  in  the  UK  to  use  simply  printed  media  to   communicate  your  political  philosophy,  your  policies  or  your  views  sufficiently  widely.     Indeed,  unfair  criticism  or  plain  error  of  the  kind  I  have  described  may  be  less  significant  to   politicians  and  parties  than  once  it  was.  We  can  shrug  off  what  the  papers  say  more  readily   than  our  predecessors  ever  could.       Apparently  Andy  Coulson’s  successor  at  Downing  Street,  Craig  Oliver,  a  former  television   journalist,  doesn’t  think  newspapers  matter  much  and  avoids  speaking  to  them  if  possible.    Ed   Miliband  has  let  it  be  known  he  doesn’t  read  them  often.     Downing  Street  does,  though,  worry  about  the  television  and  social  media  –  and  they  are  right.   As  The  Economist  put  it  recently,     “For  the  tyranny  of  the  leader  column,  Mr  Oliver  has  substituted  the  terror  of  the  tweet.”     But  television  offers  a  ray  of  democratic  hope  –  step  forward  the  BBC.     BBC  TV  News  reaches  around  two  thirds  of  UK  adults  every  week.    This  reach  has  remained   remarkably  resilient  over  the  last  decade.    
  10. 10. CIPR FELLOWS’ LUNCH JULY 25th 10   Radio  One  Newsbeat  reaches  42%  of  all  15-­‐24  year  olds  with  its  two  daily  programmes.     And  the  BBC  website  is  a  remarkably  reliable  source,  attracting  some  20%  of  all  UK  news   website  visits.iv     Over  80  per  cent  of  people  consume  some  BBC  news  every  week  –  and  it  seems  many  of  them   use  the  BBC  to  verify  stories  they  have  first  head  from  social  media  or  less  authoritative   websites.       Encouragingly  for  the  BBC,  it  is  by  far  the  most  trusted  news  source  in  the  country  –  58%  of  us   say  it  is  the  single  most  trustworthy  source  of  news  –  no  newspaper  scores  more  than  2%  on   that  measure.     The  other  sources  of  national  news  are  also-­‐rans  by  comparison  -­‐  although  honourable   mentions  must  go  to  ITV  News  and  Sky.     And  I  must  note  the  magnificent  role  of  local  papers  in  supporting  a  sense  of  community  at   local  level  –  a  healthy  relationship  between  those  hard  pressed  institutions  and  their  local   BBC  radio  station  is  crucial.       Much  of  the  health  of  our  democracy  really  does  rest  on  the  shoulders  of  the  BBC,  to  spread  a   measure  of  common  experience  that  is  mediated,  contextualised,  interpreted,  all  of  which  is   essential  for  our  democracy  to  work.     SOCIAL  MEDIA     So  what  of  the  social  media?     For  me,  and  I  suspect  for  you,  they  are  often  my  prime  source  of  news.     But  the  problem  with  the  social  media  is  that  they  amplify  something  that  was  also  true  of  the   conventional  printed  media  –you  choose  your  sources  of  information  and  you  tend  to  choose   things,  sources,  people  you  agree  with.     As  constituency  parties  decay  the  real  danger  for  MPs  is  that  they  hear  too  much  from  a   smaller  and  smaller  and  less  representative  section  of  their  electorate.     One  of  my  least  favourite  phrases,  and  one  often  used  to  trump  opposition  to  a  contrary  point   of  view  is  “And  all  my  friends  agree  with  me”.    Well,  they  would,  wouldn’t  they?  That’s  why   they’re  your  friends.     As  we  all  use  social  media  more  and  more,  just  like  the  decaying  political  parties  in  our  nation,   we  retreat  into  ghettos  of  mutual  reinforcement,  only  choosing  as  “friends”,  or  only  to   “follow”,  those  who  share  our  view  of  the  world.     This  is  a  mistake  made  by  both  politicians  and  the  public  –  as  Simon  and  Garfunkel  so   famously  put  it  in  The  Boxer,     “A  man  hears  what  he  wants  to  hear  and  disregards  the  rest.”  
  11. 11. CIPR FELLOWS’ LUNCH JULY 25th 11   But  to  be  in  politics,  to  understand  politics  is  to  need  to  listen  to  conflicting  points  of  view  and   to  reach  judgements  on  them.  Not  just  to  do  what  your  friends  would  like  you  to  do.     Even  the  most  strident  newspaper  forces  you  to  look  at  stories  that  didn’t  immediately   interest  you  and  exposes  you  to  opinion  pieces  from  writers  dissenting  from  the  paper’s   editorial  line.     Not  only  do  the  social  media  build  ghettos  of  mutual  reinforcement,  they  also  lend  themselves   to  brevity  and  assertion,  often  abuse,  more  than  to  reason  and  explanation.    140  Twitter   characters  are  just  too  few  for  the  complexity  of  most  important  arguments.     But  it  is  surprising  just  how  abusive  you  can  be  within  that  limit.    One  recent  favourite,  from   my  near  namesake  Davie  Tuff,  and  directed  at  me  and  on  or  two  others  just  for  canvassing  in   the  Newark  by-­‐election  said  simply,     Evil  scum  who  prey  on  the  disabled.  #nazis     Pathetic  and  harmless?  Perhaps  not.    Davie  Tuff  or  @bigtwix  has  108,000  followers.     Social  media  are  not,  in  fact,  media  at  all.    They  are  publishing  technologies,  and  the  views  in   them  are  unmediated  –  that  is  a  large  part  of  their  problem.       Companies  with  reputations  to  protect  have  to  maintain  a  close  watch  on  the  potentially   ruinous  rumour  or  libel  that  can  “trend”  on  a  social  media  platform  in  nanoseconds.     And  the  skilful  modern  politician  will  work  out  how  to  exploit  the  lack  of  mediation  in  social   media  to  promote  his  or  her  cause  without  the  tiresome  intermediation  of  the  public  spirited   journalist  –  and  that’s  what  many  of  them  still  are.     This  is  not  just  a  British  problem,  of  course.    It  can  be  a  much  more  serious  problem  in  the   developing  world  or  in  cases  of  extreme  social  disorder  where  there  are  no  established  news   sources  local  people  can  rely  on.     The  experience  of  newspapers,  radio  and  TV  stations  in  Kenya  in  the  wake  of  the  disputed   2007  Presidential  Election  was  a  case  in  point:  many  regular  journalists  reported  that  they   felt  'left  behind'  or  'irrelevant'  as  SMS  and  web-­‐based  systems  to  report  and  track  the  violence   of  the  post-­‐election  crisis  rapidly  overtook  their  conventional  journalism  techniques.     Skip  forward  to  2011  and  the  events  of  the  Arab  Spring,  and  there  was  an  explosion  in  the  role   of  social  media  in  not  just  overtaking  legacy  media  correspondents  but  in  the  very  organising   and  mobilising  of  revolutionary  movements  leading  to  regime  change.       The  media  development  organisation  Internews  Europevi  observed  across  the  region  a   dramatic  void  rapidly  open  up  between  the  discredited  remnants  of  state-­‐media  propaganda   machines  and  the  all-­‐powerful  social  media  across  Libya,  Tunisia,  Egypt  and  Syria.    
  12. 12. CIPR FELLOWS’ LUNCH JULY 25th 12 The  freedom  of  speech  and  free  expression  seemingly  being  offered  by  digital  media  rapidly   led  to  citizens  regularly  citing  social  media  as  their  primary  source  of  news,  information  and   analysis.         Internews  has  witnessed  both  the  dramatic  success  of  social  media  journalism,  but  also  the   pitfalls  and,  at  worst,  abuses  where,  for  example,  actuality  and  images  from  one  place  are   passed  off  as  events  elsewhere  some  months  later.           This  has  led  Internews  Europe  to  test  and  deploy  the  first  versions  of  a  highly  sophisticated,   semi-­‐automated,  News  Verification  tool  to  make  sense  of  the  social  media  chaos  in  the   region.      The  algorithm  and  editorial  principles  behind  it  are  being  trialed  directly  with   newsrooms  and  media  outlets.       The  system  is  felt  to  be  helping  editors  distinguish  rapidly  fact  from  fiction  and  also   preventing  them  falling  behind  the  agenda.    In  time,  greater  citizen  education  of  the  need  for   the  curation  of  social  media  and  for  news  verification  is  absolutely  critical.     Perhaps  technology  can  help  to  authenticate  the  accuracy  and  reliability  of  social  media  and   make  the  news  these  media  propagate  trustworthy.  But  perhaps  that  has  dangers  of  its  own.   Who  writes  the  algorithm?  He  or  she  is  the  new  but  anonymous  editor  with  immense  power.   What  subjective  judgments  have,  knowingly  or  unknowingly,  been  written  in  to  them?     VOLUME  AND  NOISE     And  the  other  challenges  prompted  by  technology  include  volume  and  immediacy.         We  live  in  a  transactional  world  where  the  customer  is  king.  Our  on-­‐line  gratification  through   Amazon  is  immediate  and  we  expect  the  same  service  from  our  politicians.       Campaign  groups  like  38  Degrees  who  bombard  us  with  emails  from  constituents  who  have   been  hoodwinked  by  brief  campaign  messages  from  the  organisers  do  harm,  not  good.     They  breed  a  sense  of  entitlement  that  their  view  should  prevail  on  the  bogus  basis  that   volume  outweighs  reason  -­‐  and  that  anything  short  of  acquiescence  to  their  often  ill-­‐ considered  demands  is  a  rejection  of  democracy  –  when  quite  the  opposite  is  generally  the   case.     My  contention  is  that  democracy  is  diminished,  not  enhanced  by  electronic  communications  –   but  the  perception  is  very  different.     Electronic  communications  have  created  a  false  sense  of  access  and  engagement  but  have   actively  separated  MPs  from  direct  personal  responsibility  to  respond  to  all  communications;   the  sheer  volume  makes  it  impossible  to  do  so.     The  volume,  the  aggression,  the  ability  for  your  enemies  to  transmit  one  of  your  unguarded   thoughts  to  the  world  at  the  press  of  a  button,  makes  politicians  seem  more  remote,  more   guarded.     I  am  by  nature  a  glass-­‐half  full  man  so  on  reflection  I  do,  just,  remain  optimistic.    
  13. 13. CIPR FELLOWS’ LUNCH JULY 25th 13 Most  obviously,  people  contact  MPs  in  increasing  numbers  to  solve  their  problems  or  to   address  their  concerns.    An  institution  experiencing  such  sharp  increases  in  demand  cannot   be  said  to  be  irrelevant.     People  still  form  opinions  on  political  issues  and  of  politicians,  but  do  we  understand  how  this   happens?     Fresh  ideas  can  still  be  communicated  powerfully  but  it  requires  a  new  approach  –  or  is  it   largely  a  question  of  being  diligent  about  the  tried  and  tested  methods?       Twenty  year  ago  in  my  teenage  magazine  campaign  I  learnt  for  myself  the  power  of  advice  I   was  always  giving  to  my  clients.  And  if  you  have  a  message  to  communicate  that  advice  is  still   powerfully  valid.     The  message  matters  most     Get  the  message  right  and  everything  else  falls  into  place.     You  can’t  repeat  the  message  too  often       As  I’ve  done  on  many  campaigns  since  –  and  as  I’ve  seen  politicians  so  often  forgetting  to  do  -­‐   repeat  the  message  until  you’re  heartily  sick  of  it.    Don’t  make  a  speech  and  move  on  as  we  so   often  seem  to  do     Repeat,  repeat,  repeat.     Be  relevant  and  authentic     Don’t  sound  like  just  another  politician.  Don’t  condescend,  don’t  lecture,  and  don’t  parrot  lines   to  take  -­‐  but  be  human,  authentic.    Say  what  you  believe.  Be  more  like  Boris.     Understand  the  media  landscape     In  a  sense  this  is  the  same  as  it  always  was  -­‐  learn  how  the  media  work  and  use  them.  But   proliferation  and  the  social  media  have  made  this  much  more  complicated     So  there  are  my  four  rules.  On  reflection  they’re  no  different  from  the  old  ones,  just  more   important  than  ever.     These  golden  rules  answer  the  problem  of  how  to  communicate  your  view,  your  proposition,   and  your  message.     They  don’t,  though,  guarantee  that  democracy  will  be  well  informed.     So  still  I  worry  –  we  face  a  dangerous  combination  of  circumstances.       Newspapers  that  say  things  that  are  not  true  to  sell  copies,  social  media  that  isolate  and   reinforce  prejudice,  and  politicians  who  can  exploit  the  unmediated  social  media  to  their  own   ends.      
  14. 14. CIPR FELLOWS’ LUNCH JULY 25th 14 That’s  the  bad  news.       The  good  news  is  that  this  all  makes  work  for  public  relations  professionals  like  you.         So  continue  to  do  your  job  with  pride  and  passion.       And  two  final  thoughts.     Crucially,  whatever  else  you  do,  be  careful;  never  Tweet  after  a  drink.  Always  pause  before   pressing  send,  post  or  tweet.  So  put  your  phones  down  –  now!     And  never  forget,  something  you  won’t  hear  many  fellow  Conservatives  say;  we  democrats   should  thank  God  for  the  BBC.     To  return  to  Enoch  Powell’s  warning  about  politicians  who  complain  about  the  media  being   like  sea  captains  and  the  sea  –  the  BBC  is  our  democracy’s  lifeboat.     ENDS   i i Or  again  from  Shakespeare,  as  Hamlet  contemplates  poor  Yorrick’s  skull  he  muses,       It  might  be  the  pate  of  a  politician,  one  that  would  circumvent  God.     In  the  interests  of  etymological  exactitude  I  should  explain  that  “politician”  meant  something  rather   different  in  Elizabethan  times.     One  source  says  it  meant  a     “...  trickster,  one  who  follows  Machiavelli’s  ‘policy’  “     Another  source  offers  a     “…  schemer,  intriguer,  plotter”.     So  perhaps  it  did  mean  much  the  same  thing  after  all.   ii At  its  peak  in  1960  the  Daily  Express  had  a  circulation  of  over  4  million.  Now  it’s  just  half  a  million.     In  1965  the  Daily  Mirror  sold  nearly  five  million  copies.  Now  it’s  just  a  million.     In  1980  the  Daily  Telegraph  managed  1.5  million  copies.    Now  it’s  half  a  million.     In  1990  The  Guardian  was  selling  over  400,000  copies,  now  it’s  half  that.     The  circulation  of  The  Times  is  actually  up  on  1960,  1970  and  1980  –  but  it’s  still  down  from   678,000  at  its  peak  in  2000  to  under  500,000  today.   iii iii And  of  course  its  website  is  a  phenomenon.  In  May  it  attracted  4.7  million  browsers  daily  in  the  UK   and  a  further  6.3  million  in  the  rest  of  the  world.  This  makes  it  the  world’s  biggest  news  website.   • iv  iv  iv  Average  daily  audience  for  6pm  &  10pm  bulletins  (2014  figures):  5m  and  4.6m  respectively  
  15. 15. CIPR FELLOWS’ LUNCH JULY 25th 15 • The  combined  weekly  audience  for  both  bulletins  is  22m   • Both  bulletins  skew  marginally  more  female  (53%).    And  both  are  slightly  older  (62%  over  55s  for   the  Six,  52%  over  55s  for  the  Ten)   • The  8pm  one  minute  news  bulletin  has  a  weekly  reach  of  12m  and  an  average  daily  audience  of   3.9m.  The  audience  for  the  8pm  bulletin  skews  even  more  female  (61%),  is  younger  than  the  6pm   and  10pm  news  bulletins  (54%  under  55)  and  slightly  more  C2DE  (53%)     • Radio  1  Newsbeat  reaches  8.9m  weekly  –  within  that,  the  15  min  Newsbeat  bulletins  at  lunchtime   and  in  the  evening  reach  2.1m  and  1.8m  respectively.    R1  total  news  audiences  are  balanced  in   terms  of  gender  and,  as  you  would  expect,  younger  (59%  under  35)iv   vi vi "Internews Europe is an international development organisation specialising in supporting independent media, freedom of information and free expression around the globe"  

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