Sound bites have been an increasing menace within politics and public life in general for a long time now. I’d always assumed that the news editor would edit down a short interview to an even shorter sound bite to give a bit of talking-head-action to brighten an otherwise fact-heavy story.
It’s always revealing to see behind the curtain. I’ve watched a couple of videos this morning which, when seen together, are certainly that.
The videos themselves are one from this weekend of Ed Miliband and a second from George Osborne from last year where they repeat slight variations on the same phrases in response to the differing questions of the interviewer. It’s clear the politician and their PR hawks have come up with a single sound bite that they are damn well going to see being used on the evening’s news—whatever the interviewer may ask.
The interviewer in Ed Miliband’s case has written a post describing the experience, and he sure finds it as weird as it appears to the watcher.
If news reporters and cameras are only there to be used by politicians as recording devices for their scripted soundbites, at best that is a professional discourtesy. At worst, if we are not allowed to explore and examine a politician’s views, then politicians cease to be accountable in the most obvious way. So the fact that the unedited interview has found its way onto YouTube in all its absurdity, to be laughed at along with all the clips of cats falling off sofas, is perfectly proper.
It’s clear the politicians and the media have been playing a game, trading access for coverage. At a time when politicians are widely mistrusted, the solution is to retreat from conceits like this. Sadly, it’s more than likely that PR flacks are driving this arse-covering practice ever harder.