Newspapers struggling to challenge politicians’ lies, says UK press regulator

By on 12/12/2016
Matt Tee, chief executive of the Independent Press Standards Organisation

The rise of politicians who “lie routinely” has created a problem that journalists “just don’t understand how to deal with”, the head of a UK press regulator has warned.

Speaking in an interview with Global Government Forum, Matt Tee – chief executive of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which regulates the vast majority of Britain’s press – argued that some politicians lie so frequently that journalists aren’t able to challenge every untruth.

If a politician has “just told you 20 whoppers in the course of an interview, you’ve just not got enough time to go ‘But that’s not true’ of every whopper – and so a proportion of them enter the public dialogue as being true,” said Tee. “They don’t get confronted in the way one might hope they would. I don’t know what the answer is, and I think it’s a fairly new phenomenon.”

Traditionally, said Tee, journalists have “played the game by certain rules”. Whilst reporters know that politicians will “stretch the truth, they won’t tell the whole truth, and occasionally you’ll catch them out telling a proper porkie pie [lie]”, the underlying assumption has been that “politicians, most of the time, tell the truth.”

“Somebody said to me a bit after the Brexit referendum, when the US presidential election was at its height, part of the problem here is that we’ve played a game by certain rules for a very long time,” Tee commented. “What we haven’t had before is politicians who just lie routinely, and part of the reason I think that some politicians have got away without the scrutiny that we might expect is that the usual techniques we would use in journalism to scrutinise that don’t work.”

Tee also argued that the loss of specialist ‘beat’ reporters from much of the mainstream press means that fewer interviewers have the expertise to identify and challenge politicians’ lies. “If you don’t have specialist correspondents on the mass market papers, then the questions they will ask of those who should be held accountable are of a less good quality,” he commented. “Their interviewing will be less forensic than it would have been in the past, where [reporters] would have been more senior, more experienced, and a with a greater understanding of what they were doing.”

Read the full interview with Matt Tee here

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See also:

Matt Tee, chief executive of IPSO, UK: Exclusive Interview

Strengthening citizens’ voice in public policymaking is key, says new OGP chief

UK cabinet secretaries defend pre-vote Brexit planning

Former UK chancellor condemns ‘idiotic’ Brexiteer lines on EU talks

About Matt Ross

Matt is a journalist and editor specialising in public services, policymaking, government and management. He was the editor of trade title Civil Service World from 2008 to 2014, serving an audience of senior UK officials; and the features editor of weekly news magazine Regeneration & Renewal between 2002 and 2008, covering urban regeneration, economic growth and community development. He has also been a motoring and travel journalist, and now combines his role as editorial director of Global Government Forum with writing for other publications including The Guardian and Planning magazine.

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