Live from Downing Street: The Inside Story of Politics, Power and the Media by Nick Robinson

live from downing streetSymbiotic relationship…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Nick Robinson, Political Editor for the BBC, has managed to do in print what he does so well on a daily basis on TV; communicate interestingly, informatively and enjoyably. He has divided this book into two parts – before and during his own involvement in reporting on politics.

The first part covers the history and growth of political journalism from its earliest days, showing that some of the tensions we see between present-day politicians and journalists have always existed since their symbiotic relationship began. He recounts the fight for journalists to have access to parliament, first as a presence in the press gallery, then the later development of the ‘lobby’ and finally the struggle to get MPs to agree to televised coverage of the House. Not surprisingly, a lot of his story is focused on the BBC, first as a radio broadcasting organisation then moving into television. Well researched and presented, he shows how the famous BBC ‘impartiality’ came into being, and how it has been consistently called into question throughout the Beeb’s history.

Gordon Brown's relationship with the media was never easy...(source: bbc)
Gordon Brown’s relationship with the media was never easy…
(source: bbc)
The second half mainly covers the Blair/Brown years. By this point, Robinson was covering politics himself and the book takes on a more personal, partly autobiographical tone. As he relates the story of the years of spin and the increasing conflict between media and politicians, he openly questions where the faults lay and while he places some of the blame on the politicians he doesn’t shy away from criticism of journalists, including his BBC colleagues and himself. We are treated to a surprisingly sympathetic, revealing and almost intimate view of both Blair and Brown from this man who spent years following each around the globe. This, of course, was the period of the Iraq war, the global crash and, not least, two major inquiries into the relationship between media and politicians: Hutton and then Leveson, which had not yet reported at the time the book was written. His insights into the political background of all of these events are fascinating as he reflects on the role of the media in each.

In the afterword, Robinson discusses the possible future, focussing on whether impartiality will remain desirable or even possible in the Twitter/Facebook age. He suggests that there is a strengthening body of opinion that there may be a place in broadcasting for bias, much in the way that Fox TV has changed the face of broadcasting in the US. It is clear that his own bias, however, is to defend the principle of impartiality – without dismissing the problems that are inherent within the current system, he clearly believes it is still better than the alternative.

Always dedicated...(source: bbc)
Always dedicated…
(source: bbc)

In summary, an interesting and thought-provoking book, well and approachably written and impressively objective on the whole. It is brave for a working journalist to discuss so openly the strengths and weaknesses of his profession and himself – I felt that, as he wrote, Robinson was critically reconsidering and reassessing his own past performance and I will be intrigued to see if his future reporting is influenced by what seemed, at times, as if he were undergoing a reflective learning experience. Highly recommended.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

3 thoughts on “Live from Downing Street: The Inside Story of Politics, Power and the Media by Nick Robinson

  1. I have always liked Nick Robinson and his political reports. His coverage of the last election was sublime and I would be hard pressed to think of anyone else who does a better job. There is an air of authority and erudition that surrounds Nick and his broadcasts but he never patronizes the listener. I will have to put this book on my reading list.

    • Yes, I like him too, though like most of the media I think he sometimes goes too far in trying to create news rather than just reporting it. A point he considers himself in the book, where he does seem to re-analyse his own behaviour particularly with regards to the Brown fiasco. Haven’t noticed it changing his approach, really, though…but he’s still head and shoulders above most of them.

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