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Britain Conservatives General Election 2019 Labour Media Political Parties Politics

What matters more, a televised General Election debate or how it’s portrayed afterwards?

By Joe Blackburn: @JoeBlackburn42

In two separate televised events last week, party leaders faced off. Whether against each other or Fiona Bruce, each of the party leaders involved had the chance to put forward their own policies and have a bit of a dig at their opponents. They did so with varying levels of competence, but ultimately all of the viewers came away with their own opinions of what happened. 

Those who didn’t watch, however, had their minds mostly made up for them. Everyone that couldn’t see the debate or in-depth television analysis afterwards was informed of the event by the country’s media afterwards, and as you’d expect, they all had their own spin on the day’s events. 

The ITV Debate

The most obviously one-sided outlet following the ITV debate on Tuesday was The Sun. In a screenshot of their news page just an hour or so after ITV stopped broadcasting, you can see that every article they highlighted was either a pro-Johnson piece or discussing how Corbyn was “mocked” and evaded questions. Every news outlet did the same in support of their own institutional biases, so the Independent went after Johnson along the NHS for sale line for example, whilst the BBC did its best to offer middle of the road coverage. 

There was a significant discussion about trust in politics in this debate, and the idea that politicians and the media should tell the truth that almost every single member of the audience agreed with. However, fairly presenting the truth gets far more difficult when everyone has a different idea of what the truth looks like, and almost every member of the audience would have told the story of what happened in a different way. It’s hard for a news article to avoid spin when people can often perceive things completely differently and feel like they’re telling things the way they are.

This becomes even more of a problem, since everyone has their favoured news outlets and will likely stick by them. All they’ll hear of the event is that their favourite looked good and their opponent was horrible, cementing their views and perhaps making them even more radical in the process.

BBC’s Question Time Special

The Question Time special held by the BBC provided yet another opportunity for the media companies to put their own personal spin on the action, but this time there was a further focus put on how the BBC presented the night’s events in the following hours. 

After Boris Johnson was asked whether trust mattered in politics, a significant portion of the audience burst out into laughter. This was at a man that had been previously viewed as a liar concerning a wide variety of topics, so him being forced to answer prompted a good few laughs. However, in the short BBC News clip afterwards, the situation had been truncated to the question being asked, a round of applause, and finally Johnson giving his answer.

The BBC has since admitted that this was a mistake on their part, and the editing didn’t give an honest view of what happened. Considering that this may have been all that some viewers saw of the event, they might have been led to believe that the question was applauded, or even that Johnson was applauded (almost the direct opposite of actual events). 

Johnson received a bout of laughter in response to the ironic question about the value he places on the truth.

As the BBC is regarded as one of the most reliable and unbiased organisations, any bias peeking through, such as the video editor taking out the laughter are amplified since the BBC will likely be regarded as the “most authentic” source.

Ultimately, these events have cemented the idea that people’s views of any televised events are more likely to be swayed by what they’re told happened, since a huge amount of the population won’t have actually seen what happened. The best chance any leader has of improving their reputation is to persuade the journalists that report their message that they did well, and the best chance you have to get the most complete picture is to watch all the events you can, and read around.

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