TV debates; notes of caution….

Films like Bulworth expose how the American system enhances the power of money in politics.

Films like Bulworth expose how the American system enhances the power of money in politics.

Political comment is all-a-twitter this morning with the news that David Cameron has accepted the Sky News request to appear in a pre-general election TV debate with Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg.  The Times says that David Frost will chair the debates and that discussions around the issue are ongoing over the summer with Clegg also ‘keen’ to take part in such a debate.  Mark Reckons is fully behind Sky;

“I suggested that as long as all 3 main leaders had been invited then the debate should go ahead even if one of them declined to participate and asked if any broadcaster has the courage to do this.”

On one hand it is one of those things that is hard to object too; of course, Brown should accept and be judged if he doesn’t. However, I feel that  Mark Pack is right to be cautious and ‘puzzeled’ by the view that such debates are automatically good for democracy and have reservations myself.

One of the main reservations is that there is no way this debate should become the sole preserve of a subscription channel broadcaster; sure they have had the initiative but I think it wholly wrong that democracy should go the way of football match’s and be the preserve of those willing/able to fork out for a Sky subscription. So, any debate must take place across channels and Sky must be forced to share the broadcasting rights.

Secondly, a clear criteria must be established for qualifying for a spot on these debates so minor parties at least have a chance of being allowed a voice. Given the problems with our electoral system however, I feel that TV debates will contribute to the media marginalisation of minor parties and therefore from that angle contribute little to our democracy. It is all very well for Liberal Democrats to be pleased because we know this time around at least we will be invited along but what if we were a smaller parliamentary force?

Open primaries and TV debates kind-of suggest to me that we feel that the way forward for our rather beleaguered democracy is to Amercanise it when that is defiantly not the way. This is not to say I am against them but I think the devil can be very much in the detail. Both open primaries and TV debates actually entrench the power of vested interests in many ways and also increase the importance of money (and therefore incentive to corruption) not decrease it so we should be cautious in seeing it as the solution.

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About darrellgoodliffe

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12 responses to “TV debates; notes of caution….”

  1. Mark Reckons says :

    Thanks for the link.

    Sky have already said (in the Times article I linked to) that they will provide the unedited feed to all broadcasters.

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  2. darrellgoodliffe says :

    Mark,

    Your welcome :). Fair comment on that score then but I am interested in your views on the second point about criteria….like I said it’s not that I am horribly opposed to the idea; just that I feel it isnt the huge boon people see it as…

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  3. Jane Watkinson says :

    I would love to see Cameron actually answer some policy questions from Nick Clegg. When do Cameron and Clegg really have a head to head. But we will have to see if the rules of the game, if it goes ahead, allow for leaders to ask each other questions.

    I agree, we should not go towards an American system, but I think personally that this would be good for democracy, as long as, as you say, we have them broadcasted across all mediums.

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  4. darrellgoodliffe says :

    Jane :)x,

    Me too; I think that would be a good aspect of it because PMQ’s never allows for the two main opposition parties to go head-to-head and there is no other time for that; the only other time they really debate each other is programmes like Question Time I guess and it is never Cameron and Clegg then.

    Agreed. I am just a little weary of a system where money and corporations actually play a more corrosive role than they do here, even after expenses.

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  5. Jane Watkinson says :

    🙂

    Yeah exactly, and of cause, Clegg would win:) lol. But seriously, that is very true. Question Time never has the leaders on either, so yeah, it be good for that type of opposition leadership debate. That could help tackle the two party system we have. But as you say, the smaller opposition parties wont have a look in really, so that isn’t fair.

    Yeah, i agree with your concerns.

    :)x

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  6. darrellgoodliffe says :

    😀

    I am sure he would :). I agree it would help tackle it; I think the way around that is some kind of criteria which entitles a party to a platform in these debates like there is for qualifying for Election Broadcasts. What they would be exactly I don’t know but it would help…

    :dx

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  7. Shilpa says :

    Sky news is actually available on freeview and freesat. The politics geek in me would love to see people going to the pub to see this debate in the same way that pubs are frequented every saturday and sunday during football season.

    Just a thought though, this is the very defination of public service broadcasting. Auntie and ITV should have offered first. Let’s hope we don’t have the ridiculous set pieces that happen in America, though it’s unavoidable on a commercial channel when adverts and schedules have to be adhered to.

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  8. darrellgoodliffe says :

    Shilpa,

    Interesting you should mention the BBC and ITV; both have tonight criticised Sky and said they are driving a railroad through bi-lateral talks on the debate. Your point about set pieces is precisely what I am weary of….

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  9. Neil Stockley says :

    if there is an opportunity to take party and we don’t use it, we’ll be taken less seriously and then we might well become a smaller parliamentary force!

    TV debates are not instrinsically American – Westminster countries like NZ, Australia and Canada have used them for years; voters expect the chance to see debates and they have made politics more accessible to people. Of course, the rules have to be fair but debates themselves are nothing to do with money or vested interests.

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  10. darrellgoodliffe says :

    Neil,

    I never said we shouldn’t take part. Agreed they are not but I think we have already seen problems developing tonight with both the BBC and ITV criticising Sky as it seems Sky has unilaterally decided to ’empty chair’ Brown. I also think credible points are made about why they could also be bad for this party elsewhere on Jonathan Calder’s blog.

    We shouldn’t assume they are manna from heaven and be cautious in how we respond…

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  11. Neil Stockley says :

    Well, Nick has to say “yes” or “no” to participating! The point about fair rules is obviously a valid one — my understanding of what happens in the US, NZ and Australia is that negotiating the rules is an exercise in itself. But that’s the case with PPBs now and at election times the party meticulously tracks the amount of coverage.

    The party should enter into such negotiations in good faith and without a predisposition against taking part in the debates. If Sky “empty chair” Brown then that’s his problem — our test should be the way the rules treat us.

    I don’t agree with the points Jonathan Calder has raised – see my comments on his blog. Not liking the owners of the tv station isn’t in itself a good enough reason to avoid leaders’ debates. After years of calling for more coverage and trying to secure such debates, we can’t chicken out now just because some people think that Nick isn’t up to it. Nor can we kid ourselves that voters will judge us via our chosen “team” instead of by the image of our leader.

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  12. darrellgoodliffe says :

    Neil,

    Yes he does and I have no problem with him saying yes as I hope I have made clear. Indeed the rules should be negotiated as an ‘exercise’ in itself and should only be acceptable if they are accepted on a bilateral not unilateral (ie, Sky-only) basis.

    Again agreed but I think I have made it clear that I clear although I don’t think we should take the line that as long as we are ok then everything is ok. We do have to give a care to smaller parties too because very much it is possible that we could find ourselves in their position and to assume we would automatically get a place now and forever is totally wrong in my eyes.

    I think Jonathan makes some valid points; it’s a good reason to be weary of the motives behind the offer though rightly as you say not for outright refusal.

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