A few years ago I was flying from Cork to London just a few days after elections to the Scottish Parliament. Browsing the newsstands at Cork Airport I was interested to note that the change of government in Edinburgh was the lead story on the front page of most Irish newspapers. A couple of hours later I arrived in London to find that coverage of the Scottish election was relegated to obscure inside pages in the UK national papers.
I was reminded of this last night when I was unable to watch the live TV debate on the Scottish Independence Referendum between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond. The debate was live on peak time ITV in Scotland, but not in the rest of the UK where viewers were instead offered an Alan Titchmarsh gardening programme and a documentary about US prisons. (Attempts by viewers in the rest of the UK to watch the debate online failed when the STV website crashed due to overwhelming demand.)
While there is certainly an element of “dumbing down” going on here – when did ITV last show anything even remotely serious or controversial in peak time? – I feel that this is another demonstration of the London centric bias of the UK national media.
In 2012 the TV debates between candidates for Mayor of London were shown throughout the UK, despite the overwhelming majority of us having no vote in that election. Network news bulletins now seem to feature Boris Johnson on a daily basis. Meanwhile any story from the English regions still tends to be covered with a patronising and cliché ridden “grim up north” approach. Many business and civic leaders in Liverpool have said to me that they are frustrated by the fact that national media coverage of their city rarely goes beyond football and The Beatles.
The metropolitan media bosses need to recognise that the majority of their audience do not live in the Capital and life does actually exist outside of the confines of the M25.