STEVE SAMPSON offers some tongue-in-cheek advice to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on media bias and how to defeat the BBC
It’s a new political year. A thumping Tory majority to club any opposition with the enthusiasm of a seal cull. Boris’s political opponents are in disarray. Only the media are still seething – they believe they are the sole bulwark against his rampant extravagancies and Armageddon.
Here’s what Boris should do when he gets back from his Caribbean break to whip the reptiles into submission.
For a start, lift the ridiculous BBC Radio 4 ban. Bans don’t work, just ask Sir Alex Ferguson who banned the Beeb for intruding into his family’s commercial dealings. It made the Manchester United sponsors jittery.
Is the BBC unbiased? Must be, it is being attacked equally from all sides. Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg is excellent, Andrew Neil is the biggest beast and no leftie. Can they move opinions and votes? Neil eviscerated Nicola Sturgeon on her record, left her floundering as never seen before. Didn’t alter a thing. Boris dodged him. The result is a thumping majority.
Solution: Ignore bans and petty squabbling. Drop a bomb instead, make Neil Director General, and take it into the Netflix future. Scrub the millions spent on local websites and insane ideas like BBC Scotland’s Nine, produce more brilliant drama, do a deal with Amazon to win back live Premier League football. Demand every newsroom has a subscription to the Daily Telegraph.
Channel 4 News makes no pretensions – it hates Boris, starting with “F*ck the Tories” geriatric presenter Jon Snow. It’s brilliantly self-indulgent journalism, so slanted it makes The Guardian look middle of the road. But it’s must-watch TV, especially on Election night where it was fabulously shambolic. Way more relevant than Sky News. But who needs it? The Government owns it, quite why nobody knows. It makes a profit unlike the railways.
Solution: Flog it for billions, stick the proceeds into the NHS and Redcar to keep your new Red Wallers smiling.
Sky is journalism’s germ-free clean machine. Hugely professional, covers everything beautifully. But does anyone give a damn? Ever hear it quoted or complained about? It has been so intent on distancing itself from The Sun and Fox News, the other Murdoch owned giants, that it has the identity of a hermaphrodite. Queen-building Sophie Ridge on Sunday hasn’t really worked. The only thing heavyweight about Editor at Large Adam Bolton is his monstrous girth. He squealed like a piglet when Alistair Campbell took him on. Worst of all – whoever thought John Bercow was a ratings winner should be shot. Don’t wait for dawn. Take Bercow too.
Solution: Keep them tight. Slow underarm bowling interviewing, that’s a plus. Murdoch has flogged it for billions, so no advantage in sucking up to them anymore for nice Sun headlines. Useful stick to beat those you don’t like, give Sky some exclusives to annoy them. Beyond that, no-one’s watching.
ITV is the well-oiled machine, packed with medium-paced seamers. A new poll shows it to be more trustworthy than the BBC. You can always rely on it for a highly professional performance which won’t frighten the horses. It won the Election night coverage by a distance which was a surprise. Alan Johnson taking on Momentum a genuine headline from a night of big headlines. An off-guard Prince Harry gave presenter Tom Bradby what will be an award-winning scoop. I bet no-one got drunk at its Christmas party or made a pass at the minxy blonde from the post room. They’re too buttoned up for malarkey.
Solution: No change is good change. ITV will give Boris a fair shake – which these days is the most a new Prime Minister can ask for.
The Sun won it for John Major by destroying Neil Kinnock with the infamous lightbulb front page. That was then, this is now. The tabloids don’t alter the course of Elections. Unless they catch you reversing out the backend of a camel in Oxford Street at 3am. Which in Boris’s case might be a vote winner. Major actually deluded himself that voters backed him. As opposed to rejecting Kinnock. I know – I was there. And the daily sale was over four million.
Solution: The Sun and the Daily Mail will stick with Boris – as long as he throws them some of the more wild republican ideas. No problem there then. More important to have them onside when he has another “red wine moment” with lover Carrie Symonds. The Daily Mirror, The Guardian? He’ll never win them over, so don’t bother. Does Redcar Man or Woman read them? Probably not.
Social media is the huge unknown. It has destroyed traditional media. Readers and personalities have long since by-passed linear TV and print. But who to believe? The users certainly sniff out BS fast, phonies get short shrift. You might like Boris but you won’t take spoon-fed hand-outs. The prize is straight line access to millions of targeted voters. No Andrew Neil lurking in the undergrowth. But how do you make it authentic?
Solution: Pour over the post-Election social stats. Keep piling millions into the dark arts. Threaten Facebook and Twitter with a real tax bill if they resist, not the sop of Prime Minister Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne. That should do it.
Lastly, the luvvies. Blair had all the coke-snorters in his new Camelot. That backfired on him like an Italian tank. Hugh Grant canvassed in four constituencies against the Tories. His efforts lost them all. Steve Coogan no better. One Election at The Sun we got the astrologer to ask Elvis, Adolf Hitler and Lord Lucan for their voting opinions. Way more relevant. They got it right as well.
Solution: Don’t go all Hollywood on us Boris. Stay as chaotically nutty as you are. You only need you.
Steve Sampson is former Assistant, Northern and Scottish Editor of The Sun newspaper and director of Trinity Mirror publications. He was a launch presenter of Radio5 Live, founder of First Press Publishing and contributes to the BBC. He is an investor/owner across a series of digital initiatives, and a media adviser.