The Reading Room

Silly games

Eddie Mair quizzing John Hutton repeatedly on radio 4 about whether he was the Minister two years ago that said Gordon Brown would be a “disaster” as PM reminded me of a ridiculous children’s game. Once Eddie got the answer he wanted he was like the cat that got the cream. Is this what all those years of BBC training boils down to? Just how well can you get the politician to say something that sounds like it might run as a headline for the next few hours.

“So you admit that the health figures of two years ago may have been slightly wrong ?” “So you’re admitting it ?” What is this endless need to get politicians to admit something ? “Did you or did you not speak to the Prime Minister about wheather we would have have new rolling stock on the East Coat Mainline ? So you’re not denying it ?” What is this endless need to get politicians to not deny something ?  – Cue to headline – ‘Minsiter doesn’t rule out that PM wasn’t involved in decision which may have led to Christmas day train delays.’ What is going on and what a waste of time. You can almost hear the journalist panting with pleasure at the end of their shift becaue they feel they got some kind of breakthrough. How sad and how short term. Journliasts are letting the public down by trying to always generate headlines rather than help us understand often very complex subjects. I know the Sun has to sell papers but I don’t expect this nonsense on every single radio four news programme. ‘World at One’ certainly has a lot to answer for.

The media often go on about Humphries and Paxman interrupting but I don’t mind this so much. There is a far worse sin by a backlog of radio and TV presenters (particularly on News 24) that simply play an endless game of “Catch the Politician out.” If you’re going to get up that early in the morning, put on all that make up and get paid an awful lot of taxpayers money – call me old fashioned but shouldn’t you then try and be a journalist? – Is it too much to ask that you read and know your subject well ? They might as well hire call centre workers to do the job as they have years of experience of asking silly questions with a straight face. The absolute comedy is how these journalist think they’re imitating John Humphries – but it is only a cheap imitation. Humphries asks pertinent questions to get to the truth behind bland statements constantly churned out by politicians. He, personally, doesn’t seem the least bit interested in a cheap headlines.

However, there is a change which is bringing equilibrium to this madness. It seems that broadsheet newspapers are now breaking into visual and sound interviews because of the magical internet. I found it intriguing that Gordon Brown chose to do an interview with the Guardian’s Deputy Editor Ian Katz in the run up to Copenhagen. It was set up exactly like a TV interview with the traditional lamp and bookcase in the background.

Because Ian Katz is a broadsheet journliast he is not caught up in the headlights of 24 hour TV sensationalism. He didn’t care one iota about catching the PM off guard and there were no questions about whether he now takes pain killers. The interview was slower and the questions more detailed. He calmly asked the PM where he felt, from his comversations, the sticking points were in other countries. The PM seemed surprised by this genuine question and relished talking through the percentages carbon reductions he felt could be achieved from some of the discussion he had. The journliast also asked the PM to clarify exactly what he felt would be a good result. The PM, again, gave a frank assessment of what he hoped could be achieved. I actually learnt something from this interview instead of getting what someone else thinks is a headline rammed down my throat.

What was perhaps most interesting was that some of  these questions could have been asked by a BBC journalist but the PM wouldn’t be so frank in his answers. He would have been too scared about what they would do with his replies and in what context they would present them to the public. The BBC it seems have now shot themselves in the foot. The Guardian simply posted the whole interview up on their website and let the viewers make up their own minds. Simple. PS

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