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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 11:24 GMT
Is political coverage a turn-off?
Political coverage should not be sacrificed by the BBC in favour of entertainment shows which aim to win a ratings war.

That is according to Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, who said the corporation had a duty to be "imaginative" in attracting viewers back to politics.

Ms Jowell said: "Just because people say they are turning away from politics, that they're apathetic and negative, is not a reason for the BBC to stop covering politics.

The BBC is currently looking into new ways of engaging the public in the political process.

Is political coverage a turn-off? Is there too much of it, or not enough? What would make you enjoy political programmes?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your comments

Politics has increasingly become a technical argument over complicated issues

George, UK
Politics on TV, for all but the most extreme anorak-wearing activists, is a massive turn-off but to some extent this is not TV's fault. Whilst there are times when journalists fail to nail a politician with an obvious question I don't think the blame really lies in their quarter. The problem is that politics has increasingly become a technical argument over complicated issues and not a broader philosophical debate. The great days of tribal politics, of battles between socialism and conservatism, the nanny state and the free individual etc have all been lost to a rather faceless bunch of technocrats. However I do see signs of a philosophical revival in the Conservative Party and maybe this will encourage more young people to enter the fray.
George, UK

It would help if they answered the question that was asked and not something different
Ian B, Great Britain

Let's not blame the BBC here. If political coverage is a turn-off, then that's simply because most politicians are completely incapable of effective communication.
Adam, UK

Political coverage may be a turn-off, but hey, at least Jennifer Lopez is still a turn-on!!!
Marcus, London, England

If you're too apathetic to care about political coverage perhaps you should be taxed more heavily

John, England
I give thousands of pounds each year to the government in the form of taxes. How could I possibly fail to be interested in politics, politicians and the way they spend my money? If you're too apathetic to care about political coverage, perhaps you should be taxed more heavily until your attention is finally captured!
John, England

Political coverage I'll watch but like snooker it soon turns into much of a muchness but if the alternative is soaps and quiz shows then give me the politics every time. Mind you, if it's a choice of one or the other then someone really should start questioning why we have to pay a TV licence fee. Faced with wall to wall soaps, quiz shows and political chat shows I'd sooner not bother with a TV licence and just play the movies I've bought on DVD, except that I can't, can I? Even though there is a legitimate use for a TV receiver I still have to pay the licence fee. The sooner broadcasters begin producing programming of a truly broad nature and make that argument obsolete, the better it will be for all discerning viewers.
Bill, UK

I'd rather watch the dramas and soaps than the political acting we have to endure. At least the actors in soaps are meant to be acting. Just the sight of Tony Blair's fake smile and hand movements are enough for me to change the channels, let alone waiting to hear what he has to say. As for Iain Duncan-Smith, well, his first speech as Tory leader was enough for me to vow never to bother listening to him again.
C Smith, UK

Yes, it is a total turn-off, as all they do is focus on arguing with each other and never looking at the issues. There really is nothing more to say, as it is so depressing that grown adults are paid to mudsling for a living.
Mel, UK

Perhaps next time round we can be honest about this and have the style of voting found on "The Weakest Link"

Brendan Fernandes, UK
The media, particularly the tabloid press, have a tendency to appeal to base feelings and prejudice in order to gain market share. Politicians, in gearing their output to the media, will also tend to follow this line and thus a vicious circle is formed. Politicians also know that to criticise the media is a losing strategy.

In the end nobody wins - democracy is thus rubbish, and it is no wonder that the only reason many people vote is negatively, i.e. to stop the most appalling party from getting in. Perhaps next time round we can be honest about this and have the style of voting found on "The Weakest Link".
Brendan Fernandes, UK

In answer to the first two questions, yes and yes. What might extract some honesty from politicians and make for more interesting viewing would be a yellow/red card system. Invite viewers to vote on a particular politician's performance on TV/radio, and if enough say it is unsatisfactory then give them a yellow card. Two yellows and you get a red and get banned from that programme for a couple of months. The only problem would be that within a year there wouldn't be a single one on the box.
David Cox, UK

I think Tessa Jowell is right that political coverage should always be there, whether we are apathetic or not. But I would also say that the excessive coverage is partly to blame for causing the apathy in the first place. The phrase 'familiarity breeds contempt' is frighteningly accurate in this instance.
Reg Pither, England

Quality political coverage is great - if you can get it. What we seem to end up with (over here) is talking heads blathering on and analysing endlessly. I like ideas, debate and information, with a little opinion thrown in. What we seem to end up with is too much talk from people who like the sound of their own voices. Oh but wait, that's politics.
Di Stewart, USA

People don't want to hear the same old lies and watch the childish popularity contests in Whitehall any more than they have to, but unfortunately I really don't want any more depressing life-draining soaps like Eastenders! The BBC should not be government funded anymore, as the practice is outdated. If the BBC were forced to provide a service that relied on the public interest (how it should be) then we wouldn't be left watching such boring programmes. Get rid of the TV license and make the BBC earn the money they get.
Paul Charters, England

If you can turn people on to Marine Biology, why not use the same techniques for politics?

Stuart, Scotland
A number of newspaper articles I've read recently have all come to a radical conclusion about political broadcasting: it doesn't have to be about politicians. Politics is a much bigger subject and a more interesting one than the people who actually do it. Political programming should seek to tackle the actual issues at hand and tell the public the real story, not the spun version we get at the moment. A real investigation into foot-and-mouth, a proper assessment of NHS spending and management practices or a look at the real state of crime and policing in this country.

Give the public the facts and they'll be much more able to decide for themselves about the politicians and the parties themselves might have to start producing more substantial output when dealing with a better informed population. Millions of people tuned in to watch the Blue Planet. If you can turn people on to Marine Biology why not use the same techniques for politics?
Stuart, Scotland

I think that political broadcasting is important as a means of informing the nation on policies. The trouble is that people find it a turn off because of the format it takes. Politicians cant seem to come up with anything fresh at the moment - we are in a "political recession" where none of the parties have clear vote winning policies - hence only 25% of the whole electorate actually voting for our present government. Party broadcasts seem to assume that everybody is stupid in their presentation and manner; I can't believe anybody can't see through the spin. I personally am absolutely fed up with the only political subject in this country being the bloody NHS. Change the record.
Gavin, UK

Personally I'd ban Party Political Broadcasts and so on. I'd tell these politicians they're only allowed on TV if they go on the Jerry Springer show. More seriously, it's not really fair on the politicians. They go on TV and every one of them is supposed to have an informed opinion on everything from abortion to zero-tolerance policies. We need a system whereby politicians do work in areas they know something about and in other areas can admit they're as ignorant as the rest of us.
Alcuin, UK

No it's not a turn off, but you need more people like John Simpson who are not afraid to ask the hard questions, and avoid this bland news reporting where nobody questions what the politicians are saying. That IS boring and pointless. News 24 and its shows like Simpson's World and HARDTalk, and C4's news coverage seem to be about the only political shows that dare to question what the media consensus.
Marc, UK

Watching how politicians act in parliament is tantamount to watching five year olds in the playground. Everyone should watch just a couple of minutes every week to realise exactly what goes on - maybe then we will get a decent government voted in.

Yes, but then so do soaps and game shows. In fact I find very little on TV anymore that is worth switching on for at all!
M Maguire, UK

I'd like to see the BBC maintaining its comprehensive coverage and objective stance on political events. Whilst I have no recreational interest in politics, I feel strongly that we need to be constantly and reliably informed of what our politicians are up to. Keeping them in a powerful public spotlight helps to encourage them to make responsible decisions on our behalf, and increases the likelihood of their being held accountable for poor judgement and damaging decisions.
Chris B, England

The level of it is about right. What makes me turn off is the rubbish the politicians talk, what keeps me watching is seeing them (and big business mandarins) squirm under interrogation - a prime example being the bloke from Andersen trying to tell Jeremy Vine on Newsnight that the auditors weren't to know of dodgy dealings inside of Enron.
Phil, UK

Party politics comes across to me as a game played by childish little boys and girls

Chris, UK/Germany
I disagree with Tessa Jowell. The BBC would do well to minimise exposure of politicians to the electorate. It would give us a break from their crassly over-simplified arguments, which they like to validate with the term "debate". It might be a good idea for the politicians too; as the public might not find them so annoying once less exposure is given to them. I am apathetic towards politics in the UK. (Okay, I live in Germany most of the time, so UK politics are not very relevant to my-day-to day living, but I intend to return back to the UK someday.)

These self-important politicians should be finding ways to make the people feel more involved in THE PEOPLE'S democracy and implementing a restructuring of the executive layers of government to make decision-making more inclusive. Party politics comes across to me as a game played by childish little boys and girls, with little informed comment, and I have better things to do than follow it. IMO reform of the executive is urgently required, but the politicians don't want to do it as the structure reinforces their status, and this is more important to them than their constituents.
Chris, UK/Germany

The political coverage of the BBC is the only thing worth watching! Far better to get rid of all those 'makeover' and empty-headed lifestyle shows.
Andy, England

If politicians ever manage to drag themselves away from petty cross-party point scoring, I may find politics interesting. However, the current lack of any form of intelligent debate is a major turn-off for most.
Chris, UK

All media types should cut their political output by about 75%

Richard Fothergill, South Africa
Yes, its completely dull and there is far too much time spent on it. All media types should cut their political output by about 75%. Give us more sport, culture, religion and just about anything rather than the foolish grin of the Prime Minister.
Richard Fothergill, South Africa

Politics is the essence of life. But for those politicians who are failures, it is something worse than seeing hell.
K.Hamza, United Kingdom

Politicians are keen to blame others for the general lack of interest in politics. They should realise that the BBC is reflecting public disinterest. It is the self-serving, out-of-touch politicians who are creating that disinterest. The Labour Party has taken cynical media manipulation and political double-speak to new levels. It is no wonder that people are switching off in ever-increasing numbers.
James, UK

It really is Hobson's choice what we watch. On the one hand we have a collection of lazy, dreary, crooked individuals weasling their way through life, lurching from one drab little crisis to another in their unsavoury urban cesspools, and on the other hand we have the soap operas!
Shaun, Teignmouth UK

The quality of politicians or prospective politician that we have been offered over the past few years does not lend a quality to politics. It would feel better if politicians argued on their platform without ever mentioning the opposition parties and what they would do. We should also have a Prime Minister, and not a President.
Richard Tolaini, England

The BBC has an obligation to continue high profile, and quality political programming

James, UK
The BBC has an obligation to continue high profile, and quality political programming- who else will hold our leaders to account? The BBC has done, and is doing, a good job at both entertainment and serious stuff- keep it up! Don't start dumbing down- now, more than ever, we need to have, and be seen to have, a free, and quality media.
James, UK

It is hard to engage people's interest in a political system that appears to be morally bankrupt, hypocritical and self-serving. Watching the behaviour of career politicians attempting to procure promotion on the back of snivelling sycophancy to the executive, is it any wonder that the general public feel no connection with a process that no longer serves them or even appears to have any concern for them at all? The media must take some responsibility for the nature of their coverage but then, it's hard to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
Darren Stephens, UK

The sooner they remove the sanctimonious Blair and company form our screens the better. Nobody I know has any respect for this annoying dictatorial style government. Not one of them deserves the title of leader in the 21st century. Our country is the laughing stock of Europe and the political coverage only maintains the fantasy that Mr. Blair counts in this world. Put the political coverage on in the early hours of the morning where the few current affair programmes that are left are dumped out of public view. Welcome to the 21st century fantasy land of 'Great'? Britain.
C Thomas, Wales

The politicians who appear on these programmes all too often try to make them a turn off by never answering questions and just spouting their latest slogan. The only political programmes worth watching are when people like Jeremy Paxman actually force them to answer questions, or at least make it extremely obvious when they don't. I would also like to see more reporting on the impact that policies have on people - and then see politicians forced to answer for these impacts, rather than have too much sterile debate about what happened in Parliament.
Martyn Williams, UK

We are entirely convinced with the current political programmes of the BBC.
Khaaled Hamza, Ajmal Hamza, Afghanistan

See also:

04 Feb 02 | TV and Radio
Jowell warns BBC over politics
01 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Viewers turned off by election
15 Oct 01 | TV and Radio
BBC news move 'halts decline'
22 Jan 02 | TV and Radio
Dyke defends arts on BBC
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