Why TV Debates Are A Good Thing

One half of a ‘yes/no’ debate for Epigram

There is one particular conclusion that people are liable to jump to when discussing TV debates, which is that they promote a politics of personality and not one of issues. I must dispel this immediately; the truth is that the modern media has already made politics personality-driven and ‘presidential’ in outlook. TV debates have not and will not change this undeniable fact, whether it be good or bad, but what they certainly will do is advance actual politics, because the discussion will be political, not personal – or, at least, the politics will be the centre of discussion, whether or not personalities interfere beside.

With that laid down, let’s consider why TV debates have been introduced to the United Kingdom. It has been many years since the days when the main form of campaigning was whistle-stop tours around the country, in which political leaders would address crowds of thousands. Television – and, vitally, internet television – is now the primary form of communication technology in the world, and modern politics must adjust to this fact. This is where TV debates suddenly appear far superior to unrecorded speeches and perhaps even radio, because they will be broadcast to millions, who can watch them without so much as leaving the sofa, and they will be accessible after they have been broadcast because they will be on internet television. One need only spend two minutes on youtube to find the footage of the 2010 debates. This is a huge development, as where before words would vanish into the ether, now they are accessible to almost everyone all the time.

And why on earth would you not want to bring something as vital as a general election to the immediate attention of a voting public? Consider, for example, the incredibly low numbers of 18-24 year olds predicted to vote in this election, something that is always a contentious issue. Bringing politics to that age demographic will evidently be most effective through the most widely used medium of television and the internet. If something is out of sight, then it is also out of mind; TV debates would bring politics into sight.

Consider also the significance of the television medium. It appeals to all age demographics, it is enormously accessible, and it is also unbiased. Newspapers and all print media are intrinsically unreliable, because they report issues through another human being. It is a fundamental truth about language that it is nigh on impossible to say anything without some kind of prejudice, so television gains a new significance as the only digital medium that is unbiased. Political leaders will deliver their arguments without the need for a ‘middle man’, and the viewers can make their own judgements.

And, with the BBC and ITV introducing seven-party debates, including the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, UKIP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru, the 2015 debates could be the most politically explosive yet. Consider the reaction when a vast swathe of the public realise that there are actually other parties in our country with real policies, who are capable of debating with Labour and the Tories? Imagine what might happen if the Greens successfully explain that there is a genuine alternative to austerity? These debates will give an invaluable and rare opportunity for minor parties to come to the fore in our otherwise unwieldy two-party system, which I sternly believe is something our democracy desperately needs.

TV debates are an important addenda to 21st Century democracy, because they promote political engagement in an accessible and unbiased way, and with participation from minor parties their importance soars.


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