Sunday, June 21, 2009

Internet Takes Over the Reporting of Parliament

Tom Watson has written a provocative article in the Independent on Sunday which, among other things, calls for the reform of the lobby system. He makes the very valid point that lobby journalists ignore most of what goes on in Parliament. Not a single national newspaper now has a page, or even half a page, reporting parliamentary proceedings. Watson writes...
I laughed in disbelief when told on my first day as an MP that "if you want to keep a secret, say it on the floor of the House of Commons". But other than for the most important front-bench speeches, it's true. Driven by the decreasing space allocated to Parliament in their papers, lobby journalists report only a fraction of Westminster discussions. Where, for example, can you read of recent debates on extreme solar events or addiction to prescription medicines? These and others were not reported because they were not the big story of the day – and all because a cartel of political editors convened over afternoon tea to decide that this was so.

Last month, Sri Lanka was the big story. This month, alas for the Tamils, it wasn't. So Siobhain McDonagh's debate on 12 June over the plight of 300,000 Tamil refugees was barely noticed.

The 238 pass-holding lobby journalists do not have an outlet for lesser stories, so they end up, pack-like, having to chase the same one or two stories each day.

Yet it is a stark reality of life in the internet age that parliamentary reporting no longer has to be constrained by column inches. The new Speaker should log on to see what is possible. See, for example, Ispystrangers.org. There you will read of discussions as wide-ranging as NHS provision in Cornwall and job losses on a missile range in South Uist.

But the great thing is that the internet is taking over the reporting of Parliament. Sites like ConHome, Dizzy Thinks and I Spy Strangers are now trawling through Hansard to find the stories which mainstream journalists don't seem interested in. They are far more deserving of lobby passes than many of the national newspaper hacks who have them.

14 comments:

Plato said...

Well said.

I couldn't face Hansard myself so great that there are selfless souls who enjoy this form of Parliamentary train-spotting.

wonderfulforhisage said...

It's a function of dumbed down Britain which in turn is a function of the education system and Marxist educationalists.

Orwell's 1984 was an uncanny series of prophesies.

politicalphilosopher said...

It is a shame how reluctant the old media are to report the smaller things - if anyone can say that of Parliament, which I doubt.

Maybe the new Speaker will allow bloggers access to Parliament, it would be possibly the best means by which the public could hold both the legislature and executive to account.

Besides that though, the blogs (as you've already mentioned :P) are the way forward; who needs the print-press when we can have RSS?:

shanecroucher said...

I did my own bit of Hansard trawling for the expenses saga:

http://shanecroucher.co.uk/2009/06/02/nick-harvey-mp-in-u-turn-over-public-opinion-on-mps-expenses/

I shall endeavour to do more.

Chris Paul said...

If they had lobby passes they wouldn't be doing the Hansard thing. Your point here is nonsensical Iain. As usual.

The man you defamed for eight hours on radio and TV and also in an inky outlet is right to a point. But lobby passes for all is not the answer, except perhaps in the sense of a virtual lobby with real time text or audio or VT and archives.

Interesting that TW bigs up SmcD (a plotter) and that you are biggin up TW. Hatchets being buried in backs everywhere.

JMB said...

Perhaps lobby passes should be withdrawn if the holder does not publish a minimum number of column inches / words / minutes of reporting of the proceedings of Parliament. Not unattributable leaks which is what many seem to live on.

Liam said...

Blogs reporting parliamentary debate, Twitter for immediate feedback on speeches or question times, on-line petitions, viral videos - the mainstream media aren't just playing catch-up, they haven't got their boots on.

Anonymous said...

Parliamentary debates don't get reported because they make not a blind bit of difference in the real world

Stronghold Barricades said...

Could it also be because under this government's tenure there hasn't been much debating of any kind?

Erskine May said...

Anonymous said...
Parliamentary debates don't get reported because they make not a blind bit of difference in the real world

Stronghold Barricades said...
Could it also be because under this government's tenure there hasn't been much debating of any kind?


Perhaps if you read some of the debates you would find out! There are debates, especially in the House of Lords, that are not only relevant and well informed but also make a difference.

Ellee Seymour said...

This is already happening with local council meetings which journalists very rarely attend in my area because of lack of staff. Thankfully, there is a great citizen journalist in Cambridge called Richard Taylor who is hot on this and writes some great reports on his blog.

The Grim Reaper said...

So what are you suggesting, Iain? Would you like to see The Times bringing back 50,000-word reports about the parliamentary proceedings of the day, as they used to do countless years ago? I sure as hell wouldn't buy a newspaper that did that.

There simply isn't enough room in your average newspaper to report every single story doing the rounds. The papers don't get it right all the time, but they do usually.

tally said...

The public would be surprised to know that the West Lothian Question and the case for an English Parliament has been debated a number of times since 1997 but never reported in the press. People should know what politiciansare saying.

Paul Linford said...

Question: With Hansard available online, parliamentary proceedings streamed live via parliamentlive.tv and government departments unable or unwilling to give you any information about anything unless it's on their website, does anyone actually need a lobby pass to do the job of covering Parliament anyway? So far as I can see the only residual benefit of them is that give access to the lobby briefings (the transcrupts of which are also published online) and to the Prime Minister's press conferences (which are invariably broadcast live.)

You certainly seem to manage okay without one Iain!