By Iain Dale is Presenter of Vox Politix on 18DoughtyStreet Talk TV
Political television in this country is on the decline. The BBC appears to think that it can only get ratings for political programmes if it invites comedians and celebrities to pontificate on great affairs of State. Have we really reached the stage when we have to listen to Shane McGowan or Jo Brand making a mockery of political discourse?
Political programmers reckon that most of the British public have the attention span of a flea and cannot listen to a debate for longer than four minutes. Listen to most current affairs programmes on Radio 4 and Radio 5 and count the number of times the presenter utters the dreaded phrase ‘I’m sorry, that’s all we’ve got time for’. What has happened to the hour long forensic interview such as those Robin Day or Brian Walden used to conduct? You won’t find them in any current channel’s schedule.
There’s also an inbuilt liberal bias in the BBC and most other broadcasters. It’s not necessarily party political, but broadcasting institutions tend to be staffed by people with a certain world view. It’s just the way it is. That’s not to say there aren’t notable exceptions. There undoubtedly are, but let’s take two examples to illustrate what I mean. The continual sneering at and caricature of George W Bush together with the unbalanced and emotional reporting of Orla Guerin and Fergeal Keane in the Lebanon demonstrate that whatever aspiration broadcasters might have towards impartiality, they can rarely achieve it.
The New Media world of blogs and social communities has opened up the old media to a new dimension of scrutiny. People are demanding transparency in a way they haven’t been able to before. Journalists are now being held accountable by their readers, in a similar way that voters hold politicians to account. Some journalists are embracing this new world but others remain deeply troubled by it.
This is the background to Britain’s first political internet TV channel, 18DoughtyStreet.com Talk TV, which launches on Tuesday evening. The interest in it by the conventional media has taken us slightly by surprise, but it is living proof that such a channel is needed.
18DoughtyStreet is going to be opinionated, edgy, anti-establishment and different to anything you might see on terrestrial TV. All its presenters are people who hold strong views and they will be encouraged to express them. We’re not going to pretend that we are something we are not. We’re going to be open about where we’re coming from and let the viewer judge what we’re saying. We’re going to be offering politics for adults in a way that conventional broadcasters seem unable to.
We not striving for impartiality, an assertion that had Channel 4 News’s Krishnan Gurumurthy spluttering through an interview with my 18DoughtyStreet colleague Tim Montgomerie recently. He just could not conceive that you could produce current affairs TV without being completely impartial. You can and we will.
It has to be said that Channel 4 News is the very personification of a media outlet with an overtly liberal world view. Actually, it’s a great programme and I make no complaint about its world view, but we’re going to try to provide something different –even complimentary.
Yes, 18DoughtyStreet is run by some well known Conservatives, but that does not mean that it is Tory TV. If we’re ever thought of as the broadcasting arm of the Conservative Party, we will have failed in our mission. Describing us as ‘Tory TV’ is a trap wise media journalists would be unwise to fall into. I suspect some of our programmes will cause just as much angst among the Conservative hierarchy as among our opponents.
Just because our presenters aren’t impartial does not mean that there won’t be an element of balance across our schedule. Two of our main presenters are on the left and most of our programmes will have a left of centre input. We want to provoke controversial debates so we need different views. Talk Radio led the way with this format and Talk TV will now follow.
Because we are broadcasting on the internet we aren’t regulated by OfCom. On the internet there are no rules about impartiality, balance – or indeed much at all.
We’re quite prepared to face an onslaught from media correspondents who have been conditioned to expect BBC production values. We make no bones that some of our programmes won’t be perfect. We’re a new station, using new presenters, new formats and new technology. We never actually intended to launch in the gaze of the media spotlight although is hugely encouraging to us that we have attracted so much interest. Our aim is to reflect the priorities of the great mass of the British public. They remain fed up with conventional politics and the Westminster village gossip circuit. We will try to reflect the priorities of the guy in the street rather than the metropolitan elite.
This is why, to use marketing speak, our unique selling point will be our reporters. We don’t have the budget to hire celebrity names and even if we did, we’d spend it elsewhere. Our reporters will be ‘citizen journalists’ – one hundred of them, many from the blogging world. We’ve given them each an MP4 mini camcorder and they will file short reports as MP4 files which will then be used as the basis for studio discussions. Our website will have a live blog for each programme so our viewers can influence the debate and the subjects we discuss on air.
We believe we are at the forefront of a new internet revolution. At the moment few people realise they can hook up their computers to an adaptor at the back of their TV screens and watch Internet TV on their normal television sets. Just as a year ago most people in this country were ignorant of the rise of blogs, most people at the moment don’t even know about Internet TV. But just as blogs have become a big media story in 2006, Internet TV will be the big story of 2007. Our aim is to be a market leader in anticipating where new technology is taking us. We are adapting to the modern world in a way that established media brands have failed to.
So what’s the next step? I heard an amusing anecdote the other day. Apparently some people at Conservative Central Office are nervous about 18DoughtyStreet and think it is the precursor to a new political party. That’s ludicrous of course, but it would not surprise me at all if at some point the internet did not give birth to a new political movement. There are more ‘Amazing Mrs Pritchards’ out there than people think.
18DoughtyStreet.com launches at 8pm on Tuesday and will broadcast for four hours per night on weekdays