Smashing the Lens

This week’s Net Report went live today. Unedited copy below. Read the final version here.

“Well that’s what happens when you have three Weetabix for your breakfast”. So said the Sky News anchor as the camera cut back to her from Adam Boulton’s interview with the Prime Minister at Party Conference last month. Angry with Boulton’s “filtering” of his precious policy initiatives through the lens of the Sun’s decision to take its backing away from Labour, Brown had given his interlocutor a decidedly cold sign off. The clip exists in many forms online, including one which shows Brown flouncing off – to Boulton’s protests – after the shot has cut back to studio. Each has attracted tens of thousands of viewers.

But aren’t we all a little sick of it? Even before they’ve had their Weetabix, Today programme listeners have digested several rounds of linguistic shadow-boxing as presenters try and shoehorn the statements made by their Westminster guests into this week’s media agenda. It would seem that the benchmark of a successful interview is if its subject is left flailing for words on political ground his handlers have briefed him to avoid – no matter how consequential that ground be to the real issue. The increasing trend of bringing on a BBC editor after the eight o’clock politics interview to tell us all what just happened is surely indicative of a widening communication gap.

The day of David Cameron’s speech to the Conservative Party conference, Newsnight opened with an eye-watering interpretive line-up. After an authored report, two Westminster heavies weighed in, followed by Newsnight’s own panel of experts. In total, they played under 4 minutes of the actual speech. Online, these orchestrated analytical spectaculars are far less popular than the raw footage they dissect. A search for each of the party leaders in YouTube reveals that the occasional gaff (Brown’s flounce, Cameron’s Twitter “twat-gate“), mixed with long-form footage from Parliament and Conference, are the most popular. Like middle-class mothers, it seems we prefer picking over the raw ingredients of our politics to accepting the pre-packaged, sugar- (and spite-) laced alternative.

It is fashionable to condemn internet culture for shortening our attention spans and deepening our prejudices. But is it possible that the increased availability of political speeches – online and unmediated – might be a good thing for our democracy? Parliamentarians take note: there may not be anyone in the galleries, but that doesn’t mean we’re not watching you.

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