Against my better judgement, I watched the BBC debate between the Conservative leadership candidates last week.
The highly partisan questioners were the least of it. Frankly, such is the preponderance of a left-wing outlook among broadcast journalists in general, and the BBC in particular, that I have come to expect treatment of that sort as standard practice.
Rather, It is the format that is so biased in favour of the journalist and against the politicians participating -whatever their politics may be.
A ‘bun-fight’ fight is deliberately set up so that none of the participants can come out of it smelling of roses. The compere however, with prepared one-line put-downs, and giving little time for her targets to respond, comes out as the master, looking reasonable, clever and in command of misbehaving school-boys.
I am happy to be interviewed anytime, but for some-time now I have been refusing to do broadcast discussions, unless they are very strictly refereed -where one can only speak at the invitation of the referee. The moment participants are allowed to interrupt each other the whole thing goes the way that the broadcasters always intended: never content with reporting the news, rather they want to make it; by creating a spectacle.
As I have implied, all the participants lose out in this format by appearing pushy and unreasonable. Personally, I always come off worst in these arguments because I am just too polite: I was taught not to interrupt.
Of course, as an ordinary civilian, rather than in my persona as a politician, I interact in conversation just like anyone else. It doesn’t matter if I’m interrupted because I can wait, then proceed as soon the person who has interrupted has finished. In a radio or TV studio, you just don’t have that chance: you are at the mercy of their pressured schedules. It is that pressure to get one’s point across while there is still time -and before the compere or the other participants interrupt again, that makes the whole thing so frightful.
Formerly, as a member of the directing staff at the Army’s commissioning board I would put potential officers through any number of tests, one of which was to watch them engage with one another in conversations on controversial subjects. The objective, was to see that they could make an argument logically and communicate effectively, at the same time to see that they were not ‘hogging it’ and that they were properly mindful of the others. Indeed, extra merit might be earned by a candidate that turned to one more reticent candidates and afforded him or her an opportunity to participate.
Many large employers have adopted a similar format when recruiting graduates.
To work effectively however, it needs plenty of time, the one thing you don’t get in a TV discussion.
Putting five politicians on the spot and at the mercy of a compere with ‘reputation’ and only an hour to cover any number of subjects was bound to end the way it did: with none of the participants coming over well. As, I believe, was always the intention.
It was for that reason this I urged David Cameron not to challenge Gordon Brown to debates in the 2010 election. I failed. Three participants were bad enough, but in 2017 with six it was just excruciating.
TV seeks to entertain viewers with ever shorter attention spans. I regret having defended the licence fee in this column last week: Television is making morons of us. Please turn it off