Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Electoral Hooligans? I blame the papers!

Euro-Parliament elections 2009. Low turnout. Tories benefit. Ukip booms. BNP 2 MEPs. Somebody must be to blame, so I blame the media.

Well, not entirely, of course. There is never any single cause for any event, because everything is interconnected. We live in a wondrously complex nexus, a system. But it is right to examine the role of the media.

First, the Euro-elections were vastly under-reported in the British media. Just compare the reportage with the wall to wall coverage of the USA Presidential elections, where we had no vote. The Euros must have been given, ooh, at least 1% of the US election. OK, the US president is a bit more important than the European Parliament, and we should certainly have been informed of the results of that election, but not the blanket coverage that we were given. And despite the amount of coverage of the US elections, I am still not confident that I understand what a caucus is, and what it does. Which illustrates another point - the media are not good at communicating facts; they just do stories.

Given the lack of coverage, the low turnout is no surprise. 60% of the electorate made no use of their power. They threw it away. MPs and Government must accept their part in this pervasive voter disengagement, but the media must also accept their part in the fiasco.

What would the result have been in a 100% turnout? Who would the abstainers have voted for?
Maybe it is good that they stayed away - they might have voted more for the BNP. We do know that they were Labour supporters mainly, and many of those supporters who did vote went for the BNP.

We need to have an opinion survey of non-voters to discover precisely what their motives were, and what would induce them to exercise their democratic power. I wonder if the Green Party could commission such a survey. I have a strong feeling that we should emphasise that the Green Party is just as disaffected with the political system as are non-voters, and they would best express their disgust by voting Green.

We do know that a lot of the voters were hacked off with the Westminster parties. So they voted for Ukip. Ukip. Protesting against MP venality, they boosted the party that has the worst record in the European Parliament in terms of not turning up for work, not opposing waste, and opposing transparency.

There is no excuse for the media on this one. They knew the facts about Ukip in Brussels. I know they knew, because they had a press release about it, and also I phoned all the major newspapers and broadcasters, made contact with a reporter, and emailed the facts to them.

In any case, they are the professional journalists, and they should have researched MEP records for probity.

Why did they not test the Ukip programme? I asked the Ukip candidate (and also the far left No2EU candidate) when I met them what their programme was for withdrawing from the EU. What were the mechanics? Would we have to buy our way out? What would happen next? Would we then start re-applying for membership, because our trade would plummet? Answer came there none. The Paxmen should have been pressing them on this. They did not. They fell down in the job.

Our local paper used to give candidates 300 words apiece, unedited, in the weeks running up to an election. Not for this one. OK, they are donating costly space which would otherwise have been devoted to vital stories about cats trapped up a tree or cats stuck down a drainpipe, but even so, democracy calls for sacrifices. Party activists give masses of time to democratic process. Even voters give time in walking into the polling booth. Why do newspapers not give a little space to democracy. They shour remember that in the end, democracy is a guarantor of the free press.

Is it worth making a formal complaint to the Press Complaints Association and the BBC board and whoever it is that covers the other broadcasters? Probably not, because it is a systemic failure, not a specific failure, and so is probably "outwith the remit".

In any case, the Green Party would not make such a complaint, because we would get even less coverage than we get at the moment if we complained. So the official position has to be that we have the best journalism in the world. Along with having the best wild rodent population in the world, as Steve Bell once showed.

Also, the media watchdogs are toothless tigers. The Fourth Estate is effectively in charge of its own monitoring. They moan constantly about doctors closing ranks when a medic is up on charges before the GMC, but how often do we read about an editor being arraigned for unprofessional conduct? Not a lot.

So along with the Parliamentary system, we need a root and branch reform of the media. Easier said than done. The blogosphere is a promising tool, but we have to confess that our readership, although more intelligent and perspicacious than the newspaper readers, is not quite as numerous. We need a revolution in the way the media conducts itself, but the problem is that this particular revolution is definitely not going to be televised.

How can we hit back at the media? People are addicted to their daily fix of falsehoods. But maybe we could send a shot across their bows by persuading people not to buy papers on April 1st.

One of the metaphysical poets wrote of censorship

"I can say only this,
that I can nothing say"

A chinese poet (I am not having much luck this morning with identfying my sources) wrote:

"Oh bright wind,
You cannot read;
Why do you turn my pages?"

The Ming emperor cut his head off for writing that, because the Chinese word for bright is Ming.

I do know who wrote this:

Owed To The Press

If your mother doesn’t need yer
Get a job within the media.

If you're regularly pissed
You could be a journalist.
Want to lie without redress?
Get a nice job in the press!

If you like to cast ordure
You could be an interviewer.
If your thing is smearing poo
Broadcaster's the job for you.
If you'd like to be a Nazi
You can join the paparazzi

Don't let them fool you all the way -
Make April First your No News Day!

I wrote that.

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