Archive for the 'Media' Category

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The revolution will not be televised

Sunday, June 16th, 2019

The sleeper topic that will corrode the government’s ratings

 

Allow me to tell you the most middle class joke in existence.  Q: What do gay men do in bed? A: Eat biscuits and listen to Radio 4, same as everybody else.

OK, it’s all in the delivery.  Radio 4, and the rest of the BBC, have long term concerns about the delivery of their services too: where is the money going to come from to fund them?  This is a central problem for a broadcaster that does not take paid advertisements and that is dependent on public funding.

The BBC’s funding in large part comes from the revenues for the television licence fee.  In 1999, the government made licence fees for the over 75s free. It did so by the government meeting the cost and paying that sum over to the BBC.

In an era of burgeoning deficits, George Osborne could not afford such largesse.  When the BBC’s charter came to be renewed, it secured the BBC’s agreement in 2015 that the government would phase out this subsidy by 2020, leaving it to the BBC to consider whether it would continue to offer free licence fees for the over 75s.

The BBC duly consulted and earlier this month announced that it would be discontinuing free licences for all over 75s as from June 2020.  It would continue to provide free licences for those over 75s who were in a household where one person received the pension credit benefit.  However, this excludes most of the pensioners who previously enjoyed this benefit.

The news broke, the howls of disappointment were heard and the news cycle moved on.  It is far from clear, however, that the general public is as philosophical about the matter.  A Parliamentary petition to reverse this decision has already reached more than 160,000 signatures with little publicity, putting it comfortably in the top 10 for live petitions (four of those above it relate to Brexit).  Complaints about this decision are whistling around Facebook feeds – you might well have seen posts like the one at the top of the thread.

There is a certain irony about resistance to changes to television licence fees being organised online.  For the internet is one of the essential challenges to television’s future as a medium. It is, however, now much easier than ever before to see what really motivates voters (or at least what they are talking about).

It’s not necessarily that the BBC’s decision is a bad one as a general principle.  Pensioners are on average wealthier than the average and they are much more likely to be watching television in the first place – the average age of viewers of both BBC1 and BBC2 is over 60.  It isn’t immediately clear why wealthy old people should have their entertainment subsidised by younger poorer people. You can imagine their collective choking into the ovaltine if it were proposed that Netflix subscriptions for millennials were to be paid for free from the exchequer.

This is not a cheap subsidy.  The cost of providing free licences to the over 75s accounts for roughly a fifth of the BBC’s budget.  Contrary to the message in the tweet above, the cost is roughly £750 million a year.

However, the public rightly has a special tenderness for the needs of the elderly and a sizeable proportion of the public is hostile to the idea of exposing them specifically to any aspect of austerity, whether or not those being asked to pay could in fact afford it.  And the central point of British politics should not be forgotten: old people vote.

This decision is likely to be blamed on the government and there is a real prospect that it will help lose the Conservatives votes.  No wonder some of the Conservative leadership candidates, including that fluffy dewy-eyed liberal Esther McVey, were looking to reverse it.

In the longer term, the problem of funding the BBC remains.  One of the live petitions that has the most signatories advocates scrapping the licence fee completely.  That raises the question how the BBC should in fact be funded. Fewer and fewer people are watching TV (television viewing hours are dropping steeply at present) and young people are not in the habit in the same way as earlier generations.  The BBC remains relevant to all – for example, 81% of the public get news from it in one way or another. But if the licence fee itself is becoming an anachronism, how is the BBC to continue to thrive in an increasingly multi-media world?

And what of those gay men I mentioned at the outset?  Just 1% of 16-24 year olds get news from Radio 4 (52% of them get news from Facebook).  Unless the public’s habits evolve further, those gay men are soon going to have to start doing something else in bed instead after all.

 

Alastair Meeks



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On the eve of the first ballot some of this morning’s front pages

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

Will the rain dampen Boris’s chances?

Mike Smithson


 



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Coming up at 2100 GMT on Channel 4 – Brexit the movie

Monday, January 7th, 2019

PBers in the UK, no doubt, will be glued to their TVs

Join the discussion while it happens here. I’ve little doubt it will cause controversy and maybe shape perceptions of what happened. It, of course, comes at the most critical time for the Government as it desperately tries to secure the agreement of the Commons on the Brexit deal.

The writer, James Graham, made a big name for himself a few years back with his National Theatre play “This House” about the 1974-79 LAB government which extraordinarily managed to last for nearly five years. It covered a period in my career when I was working at Westminster and I thought it brilliantly caught the drama and madness of that period.

I’ll be watching and the following thread looks set to be interesting.

Mike Smithson




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After 30 years the curtains close on regular Guardian/ICM polls

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

The longest lasting poll series in British politics comes to an end.

This is something of a sad moment in British politics. The longest lasting polling series, ICM for the Guardian, has come to an end after a total of 30 years. Polls have been running from the firm in the paper at least monthly since January 1989 when ICM replaced Marplan as the paper’s voting intention provider.

The first one, as seen in the chart above, was in January 1989 when Mrs Thatcher was still heading the Conservative Party and showing a 4% lead.

Andrew Sparrow of the Guardian political team tells me:“We couldn’t justify the cost given that scepticism about the reliability of polling makes them less newsworthy than they used to be in the past.But we haven’t cut our links with ICM and will still be commissioning polling from them on a more ad hoc basis”

During the three decades of running polls for the paper ICM established a formidable reputation. It was the first to take action after the GE1992 polling disaster when none of the firms got it right. Under its then boss, Nick Sparrow, it pioneered past vote weighting to deal with what was then a systemic bias towards LAB in voting polling caused partly by what was described of the spiral of silence amongst CON voters.

For a long period Guardian/ICM polls were regarded as the “gold standard” a reputation that did not survive GE2017 when its final had the Tories with a double digit lead.

A notable correct prediction in more recent times was the ICM/Guardian poll for AV referendum which was correct to 1 within decimal point.

ICM also did remarkably well with the Brexit referendum with it last polls published online and phone surveys more than a week ahead showing Leave 4-5% ahead.

The pollster that’s still around  doing voting intention surveys the longest is MORI, now Ipsos-MORI, which began in the run-up to Mrs. Tharcher’s victory at GE1979.

Mike Smithson




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The Daily Mail’s change of tone Brexit should help Mrs May sell her Brexit deal

Friday, September 14th, 2018

Welcome to this Bizarro world where in the eyes of the Daily Mail traitors are the hard Brexiteers.

The tweets atop this thread show some excerpts from various editions of the Daily Mail this week we can see the impact of Geordie Greig taking over the editor’s chair last week, it appears the Mail’s tone on Brexit has changed.

The Guardian observes

The initial editions of the Mail under Greig appear to suggest a more nuanced editorial line, where a soft Brexit is a price worth paying to keep Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, out of No 10. The shift is in line with what Daily Mail insiders told the Guardian last week.

So if one of the staunchest supporters of Brexit is softening their support that should help Theresa May sell to the country a Brexit deal that isn’t quite as Brexity as the ERG would wish. I suspect out the Sun and Telegraph only the Telegraph wouldn’t support a pragmatic Brexit. I’m not sure how the Daily Express now see themselves now they are aligned with the Mirror Group.

What a world we live in that the Daily Mail might be the best hope of a soft Brexit/BINO.

TSE



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The end of an era. Sir Paul Dacre is said to have edited his last Daily Mail

Monday, August 13th, 2018

We can expect fewer powerful pro-Brexit front pages like these?

The biggest political development over the weekend, I’d suggest, was the report in the Observer about the replacement of Paul Dacre as Daily Mail editor with the Geordie Gregg, of the Mail on Sunday, who has taken a totally different view of the referendum outcome.

Gregg will start in September a couple of months earlier than planned and it is hard to see, given his views, him carrying on with Dacre’s strident approach epitomised in a whole series of striking front pages. UK Press Gazette is reporting that “Dacre is understood to have edited his last Daily Mail

The Mail is enormously powerful both because it has the second largest UK circulation and by some margin the busiest online presence. There’s little doubt that it has a big influence on public opinion. The Observer report noted:

“The incoming editor of the Daily Mail has indicated that he will only gradually tone down the strident pro-Brexit agenda espoused by his predecessor when he takes the helm at the powerful rightwing tabloid at the beginning of next month.

Geordie Gregg has told staff not to expect an immediate change in political coverage when he takes the reins from Dacre who spent 26 years in charge, for fear of alienating readers and because the wider political situation is so uncertain. Instead the focus will be on ensuring that the country achieves the least damaging form of Brexit and developing a more nuanced editorial line by next spring, a shift in emphasis that will be welcomed in Downing Street, where Theresa May is battling to control a revolt from the right of her party.

The planned Greig approach of achieving the least damaging form of Brexit appears to chime with that which is being followed by TMay.

The changeover could also impact on whether there’s a CON leadership challenge and the position of the Etonian hard line Brexiter duo of Moggsy and BoJo. It is hard to see them getting the backing from Greig that you’d expect Dacre to have given?

This, of course, comes at a key time in the Brexit negotiations and in the run-up to the party conferences.

Mike Smithson




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The places where people would most like to live mostly voted Remain

Friday, July 20th, 2018

Away from Brexit for moment with some polling on what are seen as Britain’s desirable locations to live.

With Channel 4 going through a process of choosing a location outside London for a new creative hub YouGov have been carrying out the polling which no doubt will prove controversial.

On my Twitter feed it was observed that most of the top choices all voted remain at the referendum. You have to go down to 9th place, Nottingham to find a Leave location and even there the referendum was a very close thing.

Essentially what this assertion is showing is that demographic groups most likely to back Remain tend to favour what are perceived as the “nicest” locations.

I think this is a bit unfair on Hull which I very much like as a city and Peterborough which has a lovely cathedral and no longer has Stewart Jackson as its MP.

Mike Smithson




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Theresa May’s staunchest supporter in the media announces his departure but could it be good news for her?

Thursday, June 7th, 2018

Picture: Depending on your view the (in)famous Daily Mail front page the day after Theresa May called a snap election.

Last night it was announced that the editor of The Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, would stand down from the role in November. Given how unlucky Mrs May has been it would be no surprise to see her staunchest supporter in the print media replaced by George Osborne, who as editor of The Mail might not be so supportive of Theresa May as Paul Dacre.

Ladbrokes have put up a market on who will be Dacre’s successor. I don’t know enough about The Mail to confidently bet on this market, but I expect it won’t be George Osborne. Even though George Osborne’s tenure at The Evening Standard has been a success the time David Cameron tried to get Lord Rothermere to sack Paul Dacre for his pro-Brexit views might be held against Mr Osborne.

The timing of Dacre’s departure is interesting, which is around the time our Brexit deal is being finalised, with the favourite to succeed Dacre being the relatively pro-European editor of the Mail on Sunday. If Mrs May offers a relatively soft Brexit she might not be monstered by The Daily Mail which could make a soft Brexit an easier sell to her party and the country.

TSE

PS – This is my favourite Daily Mail front page featuring Theresa May.