I’m referring, of course, to the aggressive interview, particularly of politicians. The Paxo style of interview – attack like a Rottweiler from the off, never let up, and then when your victim is bleeding and defeated smile sweetly and say thank you – seems to have spread to all the news presenters. Even that cloying, homely Fiona Bruce – she of the Blue Peter school of presentation, with her constant hand gestures and undulating voice – is at it.
Although tucked away on its News Channel, the BBC actually devotes a whole programme to the phenomenon. HARDtalk (the ominous uppercase letters are the BBC’s, not mine) is billed as: In-depth interviews with hard-hitting questions and sensitive topics being covered. Recently, I caught the tail-end of an interview on that programme with 98-year-old Ben Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials. I ask you, hard-hitting questions directed at a man who has more gravitas in his pinkie than is possessed collectively by a studio full of self-important news presenters?
Not long after that travesty, I also caught the tail-end of another broadcast on the programme. It was a cosy, self-congratulatory chat over lunch between the main presenters of HARDtalk, who were reminiscing on memorable interviews they had conducted over the years. One smug fellow recalled the time he interviewed the late Mo Mowlam when she was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. (He spoke her name so disdainfully that he might as well have added the word “Oik” after it.) It seemed that the bold, brave (but clearly uncouth) Mo actually kicked him under the table when he pressed her to answer a particularly sensitive question. Oh, how they all laughed!
I’m not against aggressive interviewing per se. What I object to are the aggressors. They are increasingly rude and surly to their interviewees. They have the arrogance to believe that it’s perfectly all right to impart their personal views, their personal values, with the rudeness and surliness. And they have the audacity to presume that they are representing the same views and values of their audience. Given that by and large the interviewers are ex-public school, ex-Oxbridge members of the upper middle-class, I hardly think they could ever represent my particular views and values. Yet I think they do believe their role is to act as the public’s moral guardians.
So what can we do to combat this phenomenon of the aggro television interview? Perhaps if enough of us complain to Ofcom or sign a petition that’s debated in Parliament, the current pack of interviewers will receive a message from the public they haughtily presume to represent. You are not our moral guardians. We no longer wish to know what you think or what makes you angry and contemptuous. We wish to hear what your interviewees answer in response to your robust, probing questions. But we demand civility at all times in your approach. Above all, we demand objectivity.
(While we’re at it, we could also get a message to BBC News. Get rid of Fiona Bruce – the woman is useless.)