Strained relations - Politicians vs. Press

20 Oct 2012

Politics needs the press. The press needs politics. Such a marriage is essential, however, when one cheats, the other seeks revenge. Relations between the government and the media have been happy, tense, controversial, and threatened for years, although perhaps more publicly known since the emergence of the Leveson Inquiry last year. 

Phone hacking, politicians stress, is an unacceptable invasion of privacy and those responsible should be prosecuted. Very true. However, what David Cameron didn't expect was for the tables to turn against him when it emerged that he exchanged numerous text messages with former News International executive, Rebekah Brooks. Interestingly, the content of these texts have largely been shielded from the public, though that did not stop the revelation making its way into the hands of Lord Justice Leveson who brought Mr Cameron in to be grilled on the issue. Politics 0-1 Press.


Clearly the length and intensity of the inquiry has damaged relations between the government and the media, however, there is more to it than that. When I was invited up to Westminster to witness the action inside the Commons first hand, one could tell that relations between politicians and journalists were mixed to say the least. Many MPs will be happy to give you a quote criticising another party or confirming a rumour which may have been circulating around the coffeehouses, however, it is a different story when you so much as glance at the doors of the main Chamber. 

"Whatever you hear past these doors is strictly off the record", I am told when a political reporter granted me exclusive access. You may hear a piece of inside gossip which turns out to be breaking news, but alas, "a source tells me" is as far as you can report.

Later that day as I wondered into Portcullis House (the coffee-stop for loitering journalists and politicians), I sensed a crowd emerging in the main lobby. Something is about to break. Someone is going to tell us something, I am thinking. However, two hours later the gathering has subsided and the rest of us are left none the wiser - we haven't been told anything; no one has heard a thing. No breaking story. Evidently, the government does not necessarily give you the scoop when you want it. An example of this can be seen in the timely resignation of former Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell after his controversial outburst to Downing Street police officers last month. Releasing his resignation to the press at 18:30, more than a few journalists would have had their Friday night plans punctured as they sat up all night covering the story. Lunchtime would have been much more convenient for the media, but then that would have given the story more coverage in the papers the next day. Politics 1-1 Press.

Another factor which has caused friction within politics is Twitter: loved by journalists, loathed by politicians. During the recent party conferences, thousands of tweets were posted throughout the main events which kept the public in the know. Key points were posted along with a few exclusives (those which wouldn’t make their way into the papers the following day). Like it or not, the government realises that with the growth of social media and the lingering journalists surrounding Westminster, press coverage is inevitable. Whether interactions between politics and the press will improve or degrade further is anyone's guess, but might it not be a bad idea for both to work together, bringing trust and stability back to the relationship - a happy marriage? Where's the fun in that? Much more interesting to keep the game alive, waiting for someone to shoot an own goal.

By Emily Stacey

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