Pin your colours to the mast: Should newspapers be compelled to overtly state their political allegiance?

With talk already turning to the next election we can expect the papers from autumn until May 2015 to be full of Cameron, Milband and Clegg peddling their pledges.  What is interesting is the treatment of each leader and party by media according to their political persuasion.

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In the broadcast arena programmers are mandated by Ofcom to maintain political impartiality, be it a commercial broadcaster such as Sky or a public service broadcaster such as the BBC, all major parties should be afforded fair coverage.  In contrast, British print media outlets are permitted to be highly politicised making no apologies for championing a particular candidate.  However, they do not have to overtly state their political allegiance.  There is an argument that for the less sophisticated consumers of media papers should be compelled to ‘pin their colours to the mast’. 

It also raises an interesting question, are consumers more highly influenced by the broadcast medium than print media when it comes to voting?  Could we see a more deregulated future, as the online and broadcast mediums converge, with American style overtly political news broadcasts?    How would the public react to overtly political FOX News styles reporting in the UK?

As we look forward to the next election it is worth asking why should broadcasters be impartial when papers do not have the same constraints?  As the media we consume is increasingly ‘dumbed down,’ it is somewhat surprising that it has not yet been mandated that papers have to publicly declare any allegiance. 

One could argue how can any writer be truly balanced on any given topic?  Many influences come into play when writing, driven by factors such as social class, educational attainment or religious persuasion.  However, when a journalist is writing on a political matter in the lead up to an election there is always the temptation, whether conscious or otherwise, to attempt to sway a floating voter and therefore frame the news through a political lens.  Perhaps the best defence for journalists struggling to write impartially is afforded by Aristotle, “Man is by nature a political animal.”

Should newspaper publishers be obliged to overtly state a political allegiance for their titles?

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