At the end of last week one of our tutors organised for the political journalist Rob Merrick to come and speak to our class. Rob is in the Westminster lobby and has been since the late ’90s (he first went to Westminster a year or so after Tony Blair came to power), and now writes for the Northern Echo, the Bradford Telegraph and Argus and the Southern Daily Echo.
Understandably, Rob declined to indicate his personal politics, but what he did make clear is that being a political journalist for over a decade doesn’t mean he has lost his own sense of (simplistically) ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, or at least which side of an argument he agrees with. This is in contrast to a couple of other guests we’ve met since the course began, and I was pleased to hear it.
Of course I understand that the closer one gets to the coal face of politics, the more detail there is to see, and the less easy it may be to discern the best course of action. But I would argue that, if you lose your ability to place yourself in relation to a debate, then do you really, properly understand it? And if you don’t understand it, how can you report on it? If I’m not completely convinced by the rules around political neutrality for the British broadcast media, then I at least understand the context, and, regardless, those rules aren’t going anywhere soon; when I do join a broadcaster, I’m fully prepared to uphold the highest standards of neutrality. But that doesn’t mean that I will stop holding a personal position – much of my interest in politics, culture and society stems from my political beliefs. To lose them would be to lose my connection to the subjects of so much news reporting.