Saturday 28 December 2013

Call for responsible reporting

Last Sunday Vince Cable appeared on the Andrew Marr (TV political discussion) Show and made a few mildly critical comments on some of the directions the Conservatives are taking in the coalition.  The Guardian headlined its report as Cable  hits out. . . and reported bitter personal poison  in relationships within the coalition, though in my view the remarks seemed reasonable, obvious and put without apparent animosity..  Perhaps not surprisingly the newspaper has chosen not to print my letter admonishing them, so here it is instead.

                                                                                              24th December 2013
Letters to the Editor,
The Guardian.

Dear Editor,

Twice this week you have alleged "bitter personal poison" seeping into relationships within the coalition.  (Cable hits out at Tories overmigrant 'panic' Monday 23rd December, and MP urges Cable to quit cabinet after Enoch jibe, Tuesday 24th December).    In my view this is unjustifiable hyperbole based on perfectly reasonable remarks made by Vince Cable on the “Andrew Marr Show." 

On the economy you quote Cable's reference to "a raging housing boom" in the south east.  Well, there is, isn't there? And on immigration: "We periodically get these immigration panics, I remember going back to Enoch Powell and 'rivers of blood'  and all that . . . I think what's happening here  is the Conservatives are in a bit of a panic  because of Ukip."  Well, they are, aren't they? "The simple point is there is very little evidence of benefit tourism from people coming from eastern Europe."   True, and said in a mild and unbelligerent tones.  No “hitting out” at all in my estimation.

For years our political parties have been afraid to air the mildest disagreements within themselves for fear of being pilloried by the media as being prone to splits and unfit to govern. Realistically disagreements and differences of emphasis are even more likely when two or more parties form the government,  a likely possibility in Britain in the future. 

If our democracy is to operate in an adult and rational manner then, certainly, politicians need to recognise that democracy is "government by discussion" rather than by hurling insults at each other.  But they need to be supported in this by media willing to report such discussions in a balanced and reasonable manner and not by imputing exaggerated  animosity to every disagreement.

We expect a newspaper with the standards and traditions of the Guardian to lead the way in this rather than follow the tabloids.

Yours sincerely,

(I note that the newspaper does not necessarily use the same headlines in the on line version as it does in the printed version, but I assure you that what I wrote in the letter is what was printed.)

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