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WE Hold YOU to Account: Why the Broadcasters Need to Send a Clear Message to David Cameron

18/03/2015 11:39 GMT | Updated 17/05/2015 10:12 BST

The situation surrounding Prime Minister David Cameron and the will-he-won't-he with the TV election debates is fairly amusing from the outside, but it provides a huge insight into how politicians actually view the press.

With the news from Number 10 that the PM will take part in one debate with seven other party leaders, other parts of the political spectrum have questioned whether Mr. Cameron is "running scared" (as Labour puts it) of taking on Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg. The truth is, the Prime Minister's media-savvy enough to take part - it's just not that much worth to him.

It's a game of poker, where he's confident the broadcasters won't call his bluff. He knows it's unlikely a head-to-head with the Labour leader will be billed if he doesn't agree. The odds of an empty podium and an Ed Miliband Q&A session are very, very slim - despite that being exactly what the TV companies should do if he refuses.

Back in 2010, the Conservative leader was keen to take part because he had it all to gain. He'd look across at Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg and know he had the upper hand, even if the Lib Dem was something of a wildcard in how well he performed in the end.

I daresay Mr. Cameron would do the same in 2015, however he's in a position where he's little to gain from doing it, compared to the other party leaders. Five years ago, when he had everything to win and little to lose, he was in like a shot - but now he's not, he's not so keen.

I was recently invited to speak to the PM when he was visiting the patch, supporting the local prospective MP. I was given half a day's warning that he would be doing a media event. In total, there were just two reporters there - myself and a chap from the local newspaper - and we were both told we would be allowed one question each, and no more.

Allowed one question each. Allowed.

This is the leader of the country, giving his backing to his prospective MP in a marginal seat (currently held by a Liberal Democrat) and still he's not willing to do more than give one answer to any of the local media. That doesn't give the impression of a man who wants to do his all to get himself a new member of parliament, rather a man that would rather do the bare minimum because he knows that there is very little value in what he's doing.

In other words, the local media needs him more than he needs the local media. His interview might get a few more people to vote, but the effect will be negligible and he's got more important things to do. And that situation breeds a power play, where he can dictate what he will and won't answer and how long he'll speak to the reporter in question.

If the press asks something he or his media team doesn't like, then that journalist from that outlet doesn't get to speak to him next time he's in the area. And this isn't a David Cameron only thing - this goes for all frontbenchers or all parties. So you get into a situation where the very people who are supposed to hold those in power to account and make sure that they're not talking rubbish being so desperate not to lose out to their rivals that they aren't able to challenge what they hear to the full extent.

We're not talking Nick Robinson or Andrew Marr or Jon Snow - institutions like the BBC or Channel 4 are in a far better position to risk being cut out of the loop, since they're more useful to the politicians - but that completely disregards that a general election is voted on a local level. Local issues that people care about get so easily ignored and politics is reduced to cross-party attacks on what "the other lot would do with the economy or NHS if they got in".

No wonder people feel disillusioned and that politicians don't engage with the electorate.

In the end, I asked two questions. After the PM's answer to my follow-up, he shifted his body to turn to my fellow reporter, almost showing me his back - despite the newspaper reporter sitting right next to me. He managed two questions, too, before Mr. Cameron wrapped it up by saying "thank you" and standing from his seat.

Agreeing to one TV debate feels like the Prime Minister is saving face. The broadcasters need to send a message to the country's leaders that it is the media that holds them to account and they won't be played for fools. They can start by scheduling the three debates as planned, and whether or not Mr. Cameron turns up is his call.