Former British PM Liz Truss criticises media for treating politics as a ‘soap opera’

EBU director general, Noel Curran, urges media to call out attacks on its freedom and independence

The media treats politics as a “soap opera” and concentrates too much on “froth” and personalities rather than policy ideas, former British prime minister Liz Truss said in Dublin on Monday.

Ms Truss, who was UK prime minister for 44 days last autumn, told the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) News Xchange conference that social media had helped foster “a more short-term, instant gratification culture” in politics and media that made long-term policy planning difficult.

“I do think sometimes politics is sort of treated as a branch of the entertainment industry – who’s up, who’s down, who says what about who. It is a bit playground when there are some really serious issues going on and that’s frustrating,” said Ms Truss in an interview by RTÉ’s David McCullagh.

“There is too much focus on the people and seeing it as a sort of entertaining story to follow, a kind of soap opera, rather than discussions of the ideas and I particularly find that true on economics. I think the level of understanding of economic ideas in the media and the ability to explain them is very poor indeed.”


A broad spectrum of economists criticised Ms Truss’s ideas before and after she was elected prime minister.

The mini-budget she unveiled alongside her chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, in September 2022 received praise from some Conservative-supporting newspapers but sparked chaos on financial markets, leading to policy U-turns, the sacking of Mr Kwarteng and her ultimate resignation as prime minister.

“Did I and my colleagues get everything perfect about communication? No, we didn’t,” Ms Truss conceded.

After Mr McCullagh suggested she had been “no slouch at social media” in the lead-up to her election, Ms Truss rejected the idea that she had sought to channel the image of Margaret Thatcher in certain Instagram posts.

“I just think, frankly, it’s lazy thinking on people’s part. It’s not something I’ve consciously tried to do at all.”

Ms Truss said she had received “sympathy” when travelling around the world because the British media was known for being “particularly vociferous”.

During the interview, she praised television channel GB News as “a very good development in presenting different views from what are the orthodoxy in the United Kingdom” and said she regarded the Daily Star’s comparison of her political shelf-life to a lettuce as “puerile” rather than funny.

Asked how she felt about participating in a series of bruising BBC local radio interviews while prime minister, she said the interviews had “all slightly faded into a blur” and she was not aware of their exact impact.

“Look, I think I did too many media interviews. There’s constant pressure to do media interviews when you’re a minister and in Number 10 and the number of media outlets has grown and grown and grown.”

The brevity of her reign as prime minister was not due to any “specific media interview”, she believed, but was the result of her policies “not falling on fertile ground” despite an apparent mandate from Conservative party members.

“Although I have suffered personally from it, I’d rather live in a country where there is a robust debate than what the alternatives look like.”

EBU director general, Noel Curran, opened the conference urging news organisations to unite to publicly call out attacks on media freedom and independence more than they have done to date.

Mr Curran, the former director general of RTÉ, said it was important to spotlight cases of government interference, attempts to stifle news reporting and threats against journalists.

He raised the case of Evan Gershkovich, the US reporter detained in Moscow. The Wall Street Journal correspondent was arrested in Russia in March on espionage charges and his pretrial detention was recently extended with no date set for his trial or his release.

“This is unacceptable and we cannot forget Evan or countless other journalists like him.”

He also said the EBU, an alliance of 112 public service media organisations in 56 countries, had seen a rise in “day-to-day bullying of newsrooms” by governments or their proxies.

“I see it every year and it is rising. Today, public media. Tomorrow, private [media]. It is a common threat because once a government learns to flex those authoritarian muscles, it becomes addictive and no one is really safe.”

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics