Sky Leaders’ Debate – Murdoch Made 34

I really enjoyed yesterday’s liveblogging. 4,426 unique viewers dropped in.

In retrospect, the strongest impression was of Sky News’ Tory bias. The most startling moment was when Adam Boulton, the moderator, brought up yesterday’s Daily Telegraph slur about Nick Clegg.

But the directorial bias was what stayed with me. There was a telling moment when Cameron told a very weak “joke” indeed, and the Director instantly cut to three smartly dressed people in the audience who were improbably laughing uproariously. It happened again later, cut so quickly it must have been pre-arranged. When Brown was speaking, there was a lingering cut on a man yawning.

Sky had chosen the questions, and here the bias could not have been more open. The first question was a Europhobic one, designed to launch the debate on what they believe to be the Tories’ strongest ground. The phrasing of the second was remarkable – from memory “As leader, would you be prepared to take the tough decisions required to keep this country safe, by joining in multilateral military action to root out terrorism.” It was pure Fox News stuff.

[BREAKING NEWS – I have had Sky News on for half an hour. First they had a paper review with one Labour journalist and one Tory (Sun) journalist. No Liberal. Then they had Tory frontbencher William Hague and Labour frontbencher Douglas Alexander on to discuss the debate. No Liberal. Apparently dead to irony, the Sky newscaster asked them “In the interests of politicial balance, would you two like to comment on Nick Clegg’s perfomance”. Absolutely beyond parody.]

Back to the debate.

The other directorial trick Sky used was in cutting from speakers. The appeal of Nick Clegg talking direct to camera having been much discussed last week, the Sky director chopped him up, cutting rapidly around whenever he was talking. It was most evident in the closing statements, which Cameron did straight to camera. While Clegg was doing his closing statement we saw at different times the audience, his back and a Sky News caption. Cameron was given more “sincere face time” from the director throughout.

The most stunning moment of Sky bias was when Adam Boulton dredged up from his position as moderator the Daily Telegraph smear against Nick Clegg.

On substance, I thought Clegg the most impressive and Brown much better than expected. Cameron did OK, but no more than that. After the ground was so carefully prepared for him, the Tories must be in despair at his inability to shine,

Clegg’s opening statement was brilliant and absolutely different in tone and substance. His mention of conspiracy to torture, Iraq and the abandonment of British values in our foreign policy was the seam he should have mined. But then he allowed himself to be boxed in by the terms of debate set by Sky. That loaded pro-foreign wars question is where he should have broken out and queried whether illegal invasion, torture, bombing of civilians and invasion of Muslim lands, do not cause terrorism here rather than protect us from it.

But he didn’t. Instead he talked about the need for better equipment. I think there are two explanations. First I think he is anxious not to seem weak on defence. Secondly I think he is in any event less naturally liberal than whoever drafted his opening statement. Clegg tends to the bomber Ming Campbell wing of the party.

But on Trident, the two parties ganging up on him will have done him no harm, and hopefully have led some more Labour supporters to wonder why they are backing such a right wing party.

Both Clegg and Brown took on the shallow Tory Europhobia head on. The failure of this to boost Cameron in the polls must dent the Tory confidence that anti-Europeanism is a trump card. Clegg forcefully attacked Cameron’s alliance with right wing nutters in the European parliament and Cameron was pretty stumped, making the weak point that they had not attacked Lech Kaczynski when he had just died. I worry a bit about how many viewers knew what Clegg was talking about here.

A final thought. Alex Salmond got to make a few media appearances afterwards and showed the strength of a more forceful line against Trident and the War on Terror. Also some much harder blows on Gordon Brown.

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34 thoughts on “Sky Leaders’ Debate – Murdoch Made

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  • Frazer

    Interesting debate…I agree that it was a set up by Murdoch…Brown did himself no favours..

  • brian

    where cleggites squirmed a bit though was on failing to quantify savings from scrapping trident, just make up some plausible numbers – noone really knows anyway – and you blunt the main attack the others had

  • Control


    That aside from Adam Boulton about the newspaper was very strange indeed. I thought there was an issue with his throat and that he just through it in to kill time whilst he had some water. Wasn’t clear from the camera direction though.

    Also, I agree the direction was all over the place and for Sky to spend so much on the bells and whistles , the important part (ie the direction) was poor.


  • Paddy Paddison

    It was plain right from the start who was running the show and which party they supported. The Union flags cunningly placed so they only joined together when looking across at David Cameron were a reminder of Maggie.

    The director’s cuts were plainly deliberate and the cuts to the people agreeing with Cameron were clearly against the rules that were set out.

    Let’s hope that the BBC don’t swing to a left wing bias when it is their turn. But I think they will.

  • writerman

    It’s truly appalling that Murdoch, an American citizen after all, castes such a long shadow over UK society and politics. If I were PM I’d ban anyone, or any group from owning more than a single national newspaper and I’d be inclined to shut the Sun down as a health risk to democracy. Now, admittedly, this would put me in the same category as Castro and Chavez, but personally I could live with that, as I’d be doing the country a service, so it would be worth it. It would be a cross I’d just have to bear.

    But, of course, in the tawdry, real world, it wouldn’t be that easy. First, no one with even a remotely hostile attitude to Murdoch, or his ilk, stands a chance of becoming PM, because the massive filtering process built into our political institutions, precludes such a possibility or outcome. Expecting such a structurally corrupt system to reform itself from within is ludicrously naive, bordering on profound ignorance of how the political system functions and how the political class manipulates the electoral system and uses its power to maintain order and control.

    I’m beginning to think that we live in what I’m starting to call a form of “conditional democracy.” Which means that we have a form of controlled democracy, where a whole variety of conditions have to be fulfilled before one is allowed to take part in the process. In essence, democracy is under firm control and chanelled towards specific and permisable results, rather like most sports are.

    Come to think of it, modern politics resembles modern sport to a remarkable degree. In both spheres there is an assumption that there is a “level playing field” and that both sides have an equal chance in an “unrigged” and fair game, with rules that seemingly apply to all without bias. But is this really true, and an accurate description of modern sport, for example football, and modern politics?

    There seem to be so many other factors that influence the outcome on the pitch other than the players abilities. It’s like the actual game only represents the tip of the iceberg, an iceberg of structural “unfairness” that is mostly hidden from view below the surface, disguising a profoundly unjust system based on massively unequal access to resources and power, much like the realities of our political system and for that matter society as a whole.

  • Stevie

    Not suprising then that Ian Dale was complaining so much in advance of this debate on the lack of coverage it was going to get on terrestrial tv (i.e. late night on BBC2) – they must have seen this bias coming. People who watch Sky are a particular breed anyway…

    Good article in the Independent today on the Sun’s manipulation of polling figures.

  • Liz W

    That loaded pro-foreign wars question is where he should have broken out and queried whether illegal invasion, torture, bombing of civilians and invasion of Muslim lands, do not cause terrorism here rather than protect us from it.

    My 17-year-old son made the same point. One of the great things about this election campaign for me has been that all of my kids are coming out of it with a much clearer understanding of why politics matters.

  • Abe Rene

    I noticed that when Clegg brought up more than once the issue of regularising the position of illegal immigrants, all Brown could do was repeat a doctrinaire positions about giving the wrong signal and ignore the situation. Brown struck me as something of a parrot repeating carefully rehearsed positions: the theme of “not taking money out of the economy and hurting jobs” came up again and again. he must think that this is a vote-winner. When he spoke of the NHS I remembered how it has let me down and members of my family. I am determined to punish New Labour for this (and many other reasons) and vote for a rival party.

  • Rob

    “People who watch Sky are a particular breed anyway…”

    As a long term Sky subscriber, I take exception to that.

    On the subject of biased direction, I listened to, rather than watched, most of the debate (in spite of the joy of the new Sky News HD channel making Adam Boulton seem close to death and Gordon’s makeover an even more impressive achievement) from the kitchen. So perhaps unaffected by some of the direction tricks, I found Clegg impressive again on everything but defence where he should have been more bold. People are tired of the UK thinking it has some kind of Imperial international police role. I don’t care how many helicopters we have, I care about us invading other countries and killing thousands of civilians and creating a new generation of terrorists with ever more accessible technology. Cameron was average, dire on Europe and Brown seemed much better when I couldn’t see him horror-grinning at other people’s jokes about him.

  • wendy

    “That loaded pro-foreign wars question is where he should have broken out and queried whether illegal invasion, torture, bombing of civilians and invasion of Muslim lands, do not cause terrorism here rather than protect us from it.”

    i think you dont understand, all of the party leaders are signed up to the pro israel (ie not for palestinian people rights) and neo conservative foreign policy. you will not get anything different, that is iran paksitan and the african wars are all on the table.

    it was not without reason that from the iraq war usa politicians and generals claimed it to be a ‘war of 100 years’.

    didnt you notice the regime change that occurred when leadership change was invoked and the media bias in promoting clegg and cameron ?

    brown was always going to be on board.

  • Andy C

    “My 17-year-old son made the same point. One of the great things about this election campaign for me has been that all of my kids are coming out of it with a much clearer understanding of why politics matters.”

    Liz, I wouldn’t get too excited about that I’m afraid. In 1997 I was an idealistic 18 year old ready to play my part in kicking out the Tories and hoping for a better future. 13 years on and I’m so disillusioned that I won’t participate in this charade of an election. One choice is no choice.

  • Macha Maguire

    I sent a Tweet to Iain Dale asking him if he’d like to reply. He wouldn’t. Waiting to see if he even acknowledges the degree to which we are seeing the start of Fox News UK. I thought the graphic behind Nick Clegg was designed to cut him off at the shoulders – like the ‘tick’ above Cameron that became the flag from other angles. All straight out of the Karl Rove playbook.

    If I were a Tory, I’d be embarrassed that they thought my party needed that kind of ‘help’.

  • Sidmouth

    Am I being too paranoid about this or was the entire backdrop of a shattered Union flag a not so subtle reference to Cameron’s ‘Broken Britain’?

  • Mike Cobley

    Writerman, agree with you 100% – make it illegal for papers and magazines (and tv and radio stations) to be owned by gargantuan transnational corporations, or indeed any big corporations at all. Whose interest is the modern media run for? – the Davies book, Flat Earth News, revealed the awful truth, that papers employ less journalists to do far more copy than they did in the past. Result – pages filled with copy cut-and-pasted from wire services, and hardly any real investigative journalism at all. The BBC is a different case – the post-Gilligan regime is a lacklustre managerial-Blairite hybrid which has expunged any hint of genuine investigation from its news output. Arguably a negation of what the BBC fundamentally exists for.

  • mike cobley

    Andy C – I understand how 13 years of Blair/Brown cynicism and pro-business toadying can erode your confidence in the capacity of British politics to actually work. But sitting on the sidelines with your hands over your eyes going ‘lalalalalala-not gonna play’ just aint gonna get anything done, is it? Even if you think that the Lib Dem policies are a bit weak sauce, some of them are still convincingly better than those of the Labservatives. And even if you’re not persuaded by the LDs, there are other parties. Don’t go off in a huff, get angry and use your vote. The only wasted vote is one that isnt cast.

  • Keith Wilson

    I was shocked at the level of bias displayed. Many of the questions seemed hand-picked to play to the Tories strengths. Then there was a series of biased cutaways, most notably during Nick Clegg’s closing statement. Adam Bolton’s interjection re. the Telegraph smear campaign was laughable, and judging from his voice, even he was embarrassed to have made it.

    I also felt that Cameron received many more close-ups, many of which seemed suspiciously designed to be reminiscent of the Conservative’s poster campaign. Brown seemed to receive fewer and Clegg even less, often looking quite distant and small due to the camera angle. It would be interesting to see if an objective tally of the camera shots bore this out.

    As for the way that Sky called it for Cameron on the basis of a YouGov/Sun poll a few minutes after the debate had finished despite ITV and C4 polls putting Clegg well in the lead and Cameron last, this was laughable – as was the ‘reporter’ who presented the interview segment after the programme.

    I really hope that the current attempt at a political coup by the media establishment backfires in a big way for the Tories once people realise they are being manipulated into voting for Rupert Murdoch’s preferred candidate. What is Murdoch so afraid of? Being proved wrong, losing influence, or better regulation of who owns the press, I wonder?

  • Merlin

    According to the Guardian 100 complaints have been made to OFCOM:

    I think complaints to OFCOM might be made via this URL:

    The rules of engagement for the debates are here. Rule 63 seems to have been broken at the very least.

    It would be interesting to see statistics on the number of cut-away shots and so on per leader.

  • writerman

    If it’s accurate, as I’ve heard on my travels during the last couple of days, that the City, or the Markets, are expecting/demanding public expenditure cuts of around 20% from the new government; then this puts a lot of things in perspective.

    How on earth can one sustain any recovery by pushing through draconian cuts not seen for a generation? Isn’t this “remedy” precisely the same “cure” that pushed the world into the Great Depression at the start of the thirties?

    In one closely examines the debacle in Greece one discovers that Greece isn’t some bizarre exceptional case, but rather, just the first and weakest wheel on the wagon to creak, wobble, and begin to disintegrate, tipping the entire wagon as it goes. Spain, Portugal… and dare one say it, the UK are not in a vastly better position than Greece, if one examines the numbers closely; but of course, the consequences of recognizing the dire state of the UK economy are far more profound.

  • Jonathan Pollinger

    Some great points in your post. In addition on Sky News HD post event analysis, Kay Burley referred to Cameron having ‘won the debate’ as if it was fact. She even carried on after the majority of polls had Clegg as winner. Also, Sky broadcast the Sun/YouGov poll before available elsewhere and yet ignored the Guardian ICM poll for some time after results were published – at least 20 mins and maybe a lot more…I went to bed!

  • Andy C

    Mike Cobley – I’m registered to vote in Birkenhead where Labour got over 60% of the vote in 2005. According to my vote is actually worth 0.007 of a vote. So I hardly feel that I’m wasting my vote.

    I was previously a Labour voter from a staunch labour family. I cannot and will not vote for the party they have become. The Lib Dems have some policies I like but I cannot vote for a party that doesn’t advocate withdrawal from Afghanistan.

    The 3 parties are in my opinion now wings of the same faction. As I said before, one choice is no choice. Whatever happens in the election, life for the ordinary person will continue to get worse.

  • Leigh

    Adam Boulton’s desparate dredging of the Daily Telegraph’s empty smear was a disgrace. Adam Boulton was visibly embarrassed and could barely get the words out. He was clearly only “following orders”. Following the visit by James Murdoch and Rebekah Wade to threaten the editor of the Independent about mentioning the perceived co-ordination of the Murdoch Media Monopoly this should be no surprise. (Ironically they visited the Indie offices because they are close to the Daily Mail offices where they were going for a meeting – no doubt to co-ordinate something or other!!).

    Sky is a risk to balanced and democratic reporting. As we know members of the Conservative shaddow cabinet had previously attended a meeting with the Murdoch “team” and immediately came out demading the closure of “free” BBC (news etc) websites, reduction of the BBC, and for Sky to have scope to take over BT’s broadband connections into homes etc. It all looks very joined-up and dangerous.

  • Alfred

    But whatever the bias in the questions and the polls, it remains true that none of the party leaders said anything of the slightest interest on any subject. They all talked about ensuring all good things happening to everyone equally, but failed to mention where the money would be coming from.

    The BNP really make more sense:

    Well if you ignore the dreadful backdrop and the goofy helmet guy from the Red Cross.

    So why not start a real debate, Craig. On Trident, for example. This must be a Hellishly complicated issue. What is Trident? Is it an independent British deterrent? How can it be? The working parts must all be based on US technology, which at the very least means that it is an independent deterrent with a very short life since as it obsolesces, Britain must soon go back to the US for upgrades on terms which the US will dictate.

    And does the US have a veto on Trident’s use, or can Gordon Brown freely press the button without authorization from Washington, because if he cannot, then Trident is simply a British-paid component of the US nuclear force. And in that case, Britain’s participation in Trident amounts to the payment of tribute to the American Empire, or if you like, a contribution to the cost of joint defense.

    And if Trident is a contribution to joint US-British defense, how can Britain unilaterally back out of the deal? If Trident is due for a refit, then Britain has not option but to pay for it. To refuse would, in effect, amount to a declaration either of British neutrality or a British commitment to a European military alliance, would Britain not then be considered by the US a rogue nation?

    And what about American nukes in Britain? If Britain decides to give up it’s “independent” deterrent, can it also rid itself of British-based American weapons of mass destruction? How, tightly, is Britain tied to the US?

    And, if Trident is abandoned, what about British-built nuclear warheads? Would Britain dismantle these? Or would Britain develop its own means of nuclear weapons delivery? And if it would, how long would that take, so many years after having become dependent on US technology? And what would it cost?

    That’s just skimming the surface. So hearing Brown, Clegg and Cameron gravely say they would or they wouldn’t update Trident conveys essentially no useful information about what is going on or what would constitute a good policy. At the very least, the leaders could have stated that the issue was Hellishly complicated and impossible to deal with in a sixty second sound bite.

  • Michael Smith

    Who would trust anything the Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum of poltics, (alias Boulton & Randle) have to say. Their mandate is to make sure that Democracy is denied.

  • mike cobley

    Andy c – with respect, you’re straining to ignore certain things in order to say theres no difference between the 3. But that aside I have to say that your attitude towards the vote is not mine; I am determined to vote, and I would feel the same no matter where I lived or what the local political makeup was. Nothing will stop me from casting my vote. I am all too conscious that before universal suffrage the right to vote had to be struggled and fought for. At the very least, my voting is an acknowledgement of that. But hey, no pressure, eh?

  • David B

    I was most interested to read the comments on this article. I heard about 1/3 of this show on the radio. I thought Brown sounded better but still a bit inarticulate. He did come across better than he did last week where I saw him on TV.

    I will not be voting for any of the 3 parties represented. I would prefer the Tories to be the winners however. I want them to win because our economy is wrecked and it needs to be fixed. I think on past form they are more likely to fix it. Labour are corrupt. The Lib Dems would have my respect if they supported in Scotland what they advocated in England.

    Anyway, as to the debate points above. It did not occur to me that the program could be skilfully edited to bias it. I didn’t see it, but am now keen to see it. I do not approve of that at all. I would however point out that I thought the chairmanship was poor in the ITV debate, and Mr Cameron on that debate appeared to be the one on the receiving end of bias. Brown frequently interjected and the chairman really only shut Cameron down for breaching the rules. I assumed at the end Mr Cameron had been a gentleman, and his opposite number the pseudo-thug I believe him to be.

    I hope and expect Mr Dimbleby to be the most professional of the trio of chairmen next week, but will now be armed to watch for editing trickery.

    The BBC is a serious problem in our democracy. I grew up listening to it and watching it. Only in the past couple of years have I become so annoyed by the blatant pro Labour propaganda that has become its stock in trade, that I now refuse to watch or listen to any of its news output with the exception of QT and Any Questions. Even the comedy output is abysmal. We have a right to expect that a broadcaster we are all taxed to pay for should be scrupulously unbiased in its output. It is a shame that it has been made the mockery which it has become. We have a right to be informed if we are to be a free people. The BBC used to do that for me, but alas is no longer trustworthy.

  • Ruth

    I agree with writerman. I estimate the cuts to be at least 20%. And of course the government is expecting mass social upheaval, which is the reason for their reduction in civil liberties and huge increase in surveillance over the last five years.

    Perhaps there would be more sense in preparing for revolution than the election.

  • Tom

    The “loaded” question about protecting Britain from terrorist organisations abroad was asked in that way because that reflects the ‘official’ explanation – and to prove this, the only party of the 3 with any chance of offering an alternative view – the Lib-Dems – chose to endorse it wholeheartedly. If Craig Murray is right on this, perhaps he should stand for election himself.

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