Channel 4 News anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy has said the media’s decreasing access to senior politicians has become “worse than farcical” and “very bad for democracy”.
In his Ways to Change the World podcast, Guru-Murthy said it had become “relatively rare” for cabinet ministers and other high-profile politicians to engage with the media.
But, he said, 20 years ago they would appear on programmes like Channel 4 News, Newsnight, BBC Radio 4’s Today “and pretty much anyone who would ask”.
Podcast guest Conservative MP Ken Clarke said that although he was a “very controversial minister” he had always thought it was part of a politicians’ job to speak to the media.
“I wanted to go out there, take part in the debate, explain why I was doing what I was doing, answer my critics, and answer the criticisms,” he told Guru-Murthy.
“I think you were expected [to] in the Thatcher and Major governments and before that. Cabinet ministers had to combine some executive skills with the ability to go out and look out for themselves and argue their case and try to win the argument.”
Clarke added that the political parties had begun to “raise too much money” and spend millions on experts teaching them message discipline to win elections.
He said: “So all this stuff that, what you need is a simple message, a slogan, and you have to repeat it all the time because it won’t sink in unless you repeat it.
“And you control what all our ministers do. So you only give interviews on subjects where the opinion polls show that you’re popular and you don’t give interviews on subjects where you’re unpopular because that’s the other side’s subject, so don’t feed the debate.
“And that you organise a grid whereby ministers have to seek permission when they go out, get clearance for their speeches, learn the slogans, and then are permitted to go out and argue. It’s farcical. That’s why no political party can actually win an election now.
“I mean, one does win because he gets more than the others but campaigns on both sides are usually useless.”
Guru-Murthy responded: “It’s worse than farcical, it’s very bad for democracy.”
Clarke went on to say it “feeds a very considerable public cynicism about politics”.
Guru-Murthy has since doubled down on the topic on Twitter, saying the media’s access to politicians is “worse than anytime I can remember”.
He said he used to interview Theresa May “all the time”, adding: “Then things changed and it became normal for senior politicians to refuse to account for their actions and defend themselves more often than not.
“As Ken Clarke told me recently, it’s one reason so many voters despise politicians.
“But it’s also why I respect those like Jacob Rees-Mogg who don’t run away from the argument. It’s easier – and kind of your job – as a backbencher without executive power, but I think instinctively he’s one of those who will always take questions.
“It started under Labour, got worse under the coalition (who would often just put the Lib Dems out for interviews), and now is worse than anytime I can remember. But I’ve always felt voters want to see their politicians – even those they support – facing the hard questions.”
Picture: Channel 4 News