The other day I picked up through Twitter an interesting link to a blog post by Graham Linehan, a writer, actor and director. The piece referred back to a recent interview on BBC Radio 4‘s Today programme, and was extremely critical of the adversarial interviewing techniques adopted by the presenter. Linehan felt he had effectively been set up for a combative exchange, and although I didn’t hear the interview in question, it didn’t take much for me as a regular listener of the programme to imagine what it must have been like.
I have some sympathy with Linehan’s observations. I went through a phase a few years ago where I found it quite hard to listen to the Today programme sometimes because of the interviewing style of certain presenters. For overseas readers who have never listened to it and can’t access it on the web, it’s a daily current affairs radio programme which covers a great deal of interesting and informative stuff, and can be excellent entertainment. But as Linehan found, there are very often occasions where interviews descend into adversarial, interrogative and frequently rather rude cross-examinations of an interviewee accompanied by a disturbing triumphalism on the occasions the subject is cornered into declaring white is now the new black.
Of course, sometimes the subject fights back, which makes for great radio entertainment. I’m rather sorry I missed the Linehan encounter, but there have been other rewarding moments where a presenter clearly pushes too hard on a particular topic and then flounders hilariously when deprived of the expected response.
Why does it matter? Is my unease just about impoliteness? Or trying to catch less experienced media players out? Or trying to put one over on sanctimonious politicians?
I wonder whether in some way it’s informed by our adversarial judicial system. There are times when an important issue demands a firm interviewing technique, and there are equally times when a politician or public figure merits a challenging and difficult interview. But attempts to railroad through a black and white opposing views of the world even when when truth and reality call for a more nuanced view are unhelpful in a flagship current affairs programme aiming to inform. And whilst I understand that journalism is about getting a story, I don’t think the story should come from an advance set up.
It just doesn’t credit the listener sometimes with much intelligence.