BBC Complaints: The link you need!

Monday, 24 August 2009


After a day spent trawling through the stinking undergrowth of Beeb bias, it's good to be able to offer praise for a BBC presenter. Yes, Laura Kuenssberg was standing in for Carolyn Quinn again on 'Westminster Hour', and she put in another exemplary performance.

Her 'politics panel' consisted of three Scots - Tom Harris for Labour, Pete Wishart for the SNP and David Mundell for the Conservatives. Laura's handling of the discussion could not have been better. She asked each speaker a similar number of questions, allowed them time to answer and didn't interrupt any of them - even once. She listened to their answers and asked her next question on the basis of that. Her questions were perfect illustrations of the art of unbiased interviewing, being true devil's advocate questions tailored to the relevant interviewee, coming from a range of possible perspectives - so much so that you would never guess what Laura Kuenssberg's own opinions were. The debate flowed, with passion (and at the end humour) - thanks to Laura's light-touch style.

This was a breath of fresh air - and so unusual for the BBC.
Maybe this 'triple interview' could form the basis of a new in-house training package for the BBC! Or the basis for some new rules for impartial interviewing:

1. Only interrupt an interviewee if they are taking an excessive amount of time to answer, or if they are not answering the question you put to them (though give them enough time before jumping to that conclusion)

2. Treat all your interviewees in the same way. Never allow your viewers/listeners to suspect favouritism. Ask each a similar proportion of questions (appropriate to the length of the interview), share out the time in multiple interviews fairly, and interrupt each interviewee the same number of times (if at all) wherever possible. Go out of your way to be scrupulous in this regard.

3. Ask your questions from a range of standpoints. Be a devil's advocate that can come to an issue from many angles. Never allow your viewers/listeners to know what your opinion is. Do not always ask questions from a single ideological/ethical position regardless of who you are interviewing, especially over a number of interviews - and don't put on a silly voice when you are playing devil's advocate to show that you don't believe what you're saying! At all times, try to think outside your own beliefs.

4. Remember that the interview is not about you. It's about the issue/story of the moment, and the views of your interviewees. Maintain a firm but low-key hand on the tiller of the interview. Allow it to flow. Never be a prima dona.

These guidelines should be common practise at an impartial broadcaster like the BBC.
I think you'll agree that they are breached by most of the Beeb's big (and not-so-big) hitters on a regular basis.

Well done Laura.

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