Sunday, August 13, 2006

Tony turns the tables

I caught most of Channel 4's programme earlier this evening - Tony Benn Interviewing The Interviewers. It was trailed by the Press Gazette, which used the word 'grill' in its headline to describe Benn's approach to interviewing John Humphrys, Jon Snow, Nick Robinson and Jeremy Paxman.

I wouldn't describe any of the interviews as a grilling. In fact, Benn deliberately avoided using such tactics as bullying or interrupting to prove a point that interviews could elicit more light and less heat if conducted in a less aggressive manner.

Interestingly his approach did seem to unnerve his interviewees. Especially for Robinson and Paxman, Benn gave them plenty of rope and they almost hung themselves by waffling on and admitting that they are accountable to their audiences - which means that ratings do matter - and that certain phrases, e.g 'the international community' are overused and meaningless in political news reporting.

But he did get some candid responses as well. Snow argued that any point that couldn't be made by an interviewee in 30 seconds isn't worth making. Robinson defended the news media for not covering certain public meetings that were 'boring'. And Paxman's bottom-line was that his basic motivation behind any interview is to 'find out things', which would explain why he is noted for asking the same question over and over again until things are found out.

Benn's own motivation was to reiterate his concern over the power of the news media to set the agenda of public opinion and the responsibility of presenters to allow the public to have full access to the facts.

By the way, Nick Robinson's blog is worth the occasional visit for an inside view of the life and thoughts of the BBC's political editor. Actually he's on holiday at the moment and the blog is being kept up to date by BBC News 24's James Landale.

Filed under:
interview    politics    Channel 4    Press Gazette    BBC

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