It’s taken grief from all sides, just as it should. But not only has the national broadcaster learned a few new tricks, above all it has proven the value of a well-prepared interviewby Mark Damazer / December 12, 2019 / Leave a comment
Who would have thought it? The big media story of the election revolved around a 70-year-old white male BBC interviewer presiding over the most traditional of formats—the extended one-on-one interview with a party leader in prime-time on BBC1. All very retro.
For all the pre-match hype about killer moments in TV debates, it was an abrasive, well-qualified interviewer brimming with a lot of facts, figures and research that drove fear into the party media managers.
Their assessment was right. The hoopla around the debates derives from American political experience; we have a much shorter history of them, and they are yet to produce any real drama. The BBC’s Nick Robinson and ITV’s Julie Etchingham chaired them admirably, but they were mildly diverting moments compared to what Andrew Neil was about—and indeed Andrew Marr gave the leaders a punchy testing.
The BBC had every reason to believe the Prime Minister would ‘do’ Neil along with the others, but there was no nailed down arrangement by the time Jeremy Corbyn came on and fumbled his way through the experience—with big and bad knock-on effects for him and Labour.
The Neil monologue—reciting to the audience the questions he would have asked Johnson, plus the wide shot of the studio with an empty chair—has now been seen 5 million-plus times on social media platforms and was palpably justified by the context. OFCOM, if called upon to judge, will not give the matter more than a second of its time.
Some things have changed, however. At last, the BBC has begun to insert its fact-checking capability properly into at least some mainstream programmes. An hour or so after a politician has circumnavigated the evidence, or ignored it, there is a temperately expressed corrective—but, of course, the politician has then escaped the studio and, probably, the consequences. The BBC’s own fact-checking operation Reality Check isn’t quite the same as stopping an interviewee dead in their tracks until the dodgy statistic has been sawn to pieces, but that is easier said than done when an interview often has so much ground to cover.
This BBC election campaign this time was shorn of Humphrys as well as Paxman. Those two did many valuable things in a previous era but the BBC has…