It's vital we go back to basics, warns Marr

By Dominic Ponsford

Former BBC political editor Andrew Marr has condemned the
preponderance of “trivial” and “personality” stories in modern
political reporting.

He also said a “collapse in trust” was partly to blame for lower voter turnouts and falling newspaper circulations.

at the Scottish Parliament for its Festival of Politics he said: “I
started as a correspondent where you just sat for hours taking
shorthand notes of what politicians were saying in the chamber.

was all pretty pedestrian but it was considered to be an absolutely
essential part of what a proper newspaper did. I don’t think there is
any newspaper in the country that does that now.

“One by one it’s
all gone. I do think there needs to be at least one or two newspapers
that give something of that service and don’t simply do the trivial
stories and the personality stories.”

He added: “What I am trying
to argue for is giving a sense of what is really going on. I don’t know
how many people here, reading a paper or listening to a broadcast would
have any idea at all what either this parliament or Westminster was
doing on any particular day. And yet laws are being made that will
affect most people here.”

Marr also spoke about the drift of
power away from the House of Commons towards the Prime Minister, and
the role that journalists have played in this.

“The executive has
more and more power, partially because parliament has let that happen.
And parliament has lost a lot of its original authority and self
confidence because of the withdrawal of reporting.

“I believe
parliament has to start pulling power back to itself. But it requires a
journalism which is prepared to sit and listen to some of the slightly
more boring things.”

When asked about the “double crisis” of
falling voter turnout and newspaper circulation he said: “So far as
journalists are concerned, we have to be much more conscious and uneasy
about the collapse in trust in what we do.”

He added: “The fact
that almost all newspapers are selling fewer copies year by year… The
fact that if you ask people who they trust, journalists are so far down
the scale… There isn’t really any way of measuring what journalists do
that doesn’t come out looking pretty bleak at the moment.

think it requires leadership from editors and senior broadcasters and
so on to try and turn it around and come back from the position where
we are opinionated first and come round to the facts later. I don’t
believe in legislation, I don’t think that really helps. I don’t think
you can order journalists to behave in a different way.

“But I
think people in the industry can show leadership. And after all, if all
newspapers are losing circulation, maybe it’s just worth trying to go
back to some reporting to see if that might be the reason – even if
only one newspaper tried it to see what happened.”

Speaking about
politicians, Marr said: “What is extraordinary is that so few
politicians seem to feel it is worth their time trying to push people
like me aside and take that slot for themselves.

I and my
colleagues are only there because they can’t or won’t do it properly
themselves. I do think there is a fundamental lack of professionalism
in our politics.”

Marr takes over the BBC One Sunday morning interview programme, formerly known as Breakfast with Frost, later this year.

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