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Social media at odds with democracy says Sir Peter Luff MP

Much of the health of UK democracy rests on the shoulders on the BBC. Its role in spreading a measure of common experience that is mediated and contextualised is essential for UK democracy to work.

This is the view of Sir Peter Luff MP speaking at the CIPR Fellows’ lunch at the House of Commons last week. Sir Peter, himself a CIPR Fellow, is the Member of Parliament for Mid Worcestershire. He is standing down at the next election in May 2015.

Sir Peter’s assertion is that in an era of fragmented media, BBC TV news has held-up at two-thirds of UK adults every week for the last decade. Radio One Newsbeat reaches 42 per cent of all 15-to-24 year olds with its two daily programmes.

Social media at odds with democracy

“My contention is that democracy is diminished, not enhanced by electronic communications – but the perception is very different. […] We live in a transactional world where the customer is king. Our online gratification through Amazon is immediate and we expect the same service from our politicians,” said Sir Peter.

“Campaign groups like 38 Degrees who bombard [Members of Parliament] with emails from constituents who have been hoodwinked by brief campaign messages from the organisers do harm, not good,” he added.

He rallied against social forms of media offering a contrarian perspective. Rather than acting as a force for good Sir Peter told the audience of Fellows that social media build ghettos of mutual reinforcement.

“They also lend themselves to brevity and assertions, often abuse, more than to reason and explanation. 140 Twitter characters is just too few for the complexity of most important arguments,” he said.

Journalists required

In this new fragmented media environment the traditional media is facing a battle for survival. News is now fragmented, transitory, sensationalised and often wrong.

“That recklessness is in large part a product of the need for speed, […] forget the 24 hour news cycle – now it’s more like five minutes,” said Sir Peter.

Yet the role of good journalism is more important than ever to provide clear analysis and to root out and investigate important stories.

“I’m worried about a declining respect for the truth and an increasing recklessness in political comment that would make even harlots blush,” said Sir Peter.

“As much as ever, perhaps more, we need the media – and that means journalists, good journalists, to mediate, to explain, and to comment. To [contextualise and] to provide background and reason.”

“Journalists and commentator like Matthew Parris and Danny Finklestein, like Steve Richards and Robert Peston, like Andy Marr, John Humphries, Jeremy Vine and Nick Robinson – who whatever their personal views, clearly care about politics and society.”

“But, in many case, the approach to politics of too many journalists and editors has become trivial at best, destructive at worst,” he added.

My thanks to Sir Peter for hosting and speaking at the CIPR Fellows’ lunch. You can download a full copy of his speech titled The New Media and Democracy online.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

6 Comments

  1. Sir Peter is so right. Single issue fanatics are beginning to rule. People are living at such a fast pace they don’t want to take time out to read an informed piece, whether online or in a newspaper. PR mantras like content, engage, are fine but I doubt they are sufficient.

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