The media has long been lauded as the fourth estate – helping keep those yielding responsibility in check, acting on behalf of the public in a watchdog role. In times of political intensity – such as elections and referendums – this role becomes ever more important.
In today’s media savvy world, that means there is a game played between media managers within organisations and the members of the media. While much of the time this relationship is symbiotic and there is an understanding of mutual benefit, during elections the trust this depends on is stretched to breaking point.
A case in point is the situation that played out in Cornwall this week, where print journalists were allegedly locked in a room during the Prime Minister’s visit to a factory visit to drum up support for the Tory cause in the lead up to next month’s snap General Election.
It would seem the media management team offered separate levels of access to the visit to print versus broadcast journalists. If we forget for a minute that the line between the two is increasingly blurred as print journalists increasingly provide video content for their online channels and visa versa for broadcast journalists, the ultimate intention must surely have been to shine light on a positive visit of a serving leader at a successful local company.
Again it is important to recognise of the shrewd media landscape in which we live. There is much talk about how social media offers unheard of access to our leaders directly. There is an expectation of transparency in terms of access – particularly for these stage managed events. To limit that for the most traditional channel of the fourth estate – the regional press – would seem like an own goal. The story inevitably became about the media management of the situation rather than the positive platform.
Brace yourselves – it is likely we’ll see many more of these battles between media managers and journalists spill over into the narrative of the election campaigns over the next few weeks.