Politics and The Opportunity For Linear Broadcasters

person dropping paper on box

The UK has just had two more by-elections on Thursday – votes in a constituency held when the MP can no longer keep the seat for reasons including bad behaviour, resignation over disagreements with party policy, ill health or… death. Labour overturned huge Conservative majorities in both Wellingborough (MP wrongdoing) and Kingswood (MP not agreeing with policy). The coverage was fairly standard, despite the huge swings achieved by Labour. 

Over in America, there has been a days-long meltdown over President Joe Biden’s age, memory and mental aptitude. I’ve seen countless social media posts about the way the New York Times covered the topic and read a punchy Erik Wemple Washington Post column on how MSNBC failed to do so properly.

Now, I don’t want UK coverage to be quite as fraught as it is across the Atlantic, although it got to that point during the Brexit years. We already have enough news speak and false equivalence as it is. But robust political coverage and debate – not just the “here is what happened in the House of Commons now back to the studio” News at 10 style stuff – matters. A lot. Obviously. 

Threads Says ‘No’ to Politics

It matters particularly if social networks are trying to veer away from politics. For instance with Threads, Meta is trying to stop politics from happening. As Dave Lee put it in a brilliant new Bloomberg News column:

Not for the first time, Meta is demonstrating that it seeks to create a social network without the hassles of society…  It wants facile users who talk about Elmo and Oreos instead of committed ones challenging racism or advocating for reproductive rights. Sorry, Meta — it doesn’t work that way. Either you want the world or you don’t.

There is plenty of politics elsewhere online – YouTube channels, Twitter, blogs and newsletters – but equally that is not the main type of content people think of when they consider the creator economy.

The truth is Meta, and probably TikTok, just want a bunch of pretty 20-somethings saying “Hi guys” to the camera and showing off a product they are testing. (YouTube would have an easier time if people didn’t politics on there too, but that horse has long since bolted.) Such an approach might make for nice advertising revenue but it will not make for a healthy news ecosystem or democracy.

Streaming services have not exactly done well at news either, although those connected to news networks are starting to find solutions.

I’m not claiming that your average 17-year-old is going to sit gripped by election night coverage. However, linear broadcasters do have an opportunity. Can they provide political coverage that is neither boring nor hysterical? That is both honest and robust? They are going to have plenty of chances to try over the coming months…

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