This new Tory-Lib Dem pact is going to disrupt the visual grammar of political television, says Mark Lawson
Viewers of TV political shows know that the image of two lecterns side by side in the Downing Street garden means only one thing: a press conference between the British PM and a foreign leader. On Wednesday, though, the familiar picture meant two leaders from the same UK administration.
And this oddity was symbolic of how the coalition is going to disrupt the visual grammar of political television. For example, Question Time (BBC1) builds its panels around a Con-Lab-Lib trio. But now two of the three main parties are sharing 363 seats in parliament, they should get only one chair on Question Time: otherwise, two of the panellists are boringly bound to agree.
In the very short term, there might be a case for booking a pair of blue-and-yellow bedfellows. But, if the coalition outlasts the novelty of its existence, there can only be one pair of buttocks, which raises the supplementary question of the balance of invited panellists between Tory and Lib-Dem. If the speakers come mainly from the majority partner, then the liberal voice will effectively disappear from TV.
News bulletins will also have to readjust. For generations, Westminster coverage has suffered from the tic of triplicate soundbites in which three party mouthpieces offer a view on an issue of the day.
Cameron and Clegg argued in the rose garden that their parties will retain their separate identities. But, if TV journalism continues to observe this distinction, the Labour opposition will lose 2-1 in every piece. The solution will presumably be to give additional space to minority parties. That switch may have a democratic benefit, but these are new and hard questions.
Numerous guidelines – from both Ofcom and broadcasters – lay out what balanced political coverage means. Now, though, the committees who decide these issues will be forced to begin meetings as long and fraught as the coalition talks themselves. The end of the rule of three leaves political TV at sixes and sevens.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2017