Brendan Gisby: Let’s tone down TV interview aggression

Jeremy Paxman's aggressive interviewing style is a turn-off for Brendan Gisby
Jeremy Paxman's aggressive interviewing style is a turn-off for Brendan Gisby
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A highly unsettling ­phenomenon has been sweeping through our television news programmes of late.

The phenomenon may have been inspired by the behaviour of that rude dreep, Jeremy Paxman. Or its origins may go back even ­further to the bad-tempered, dismissive approach of the singularly ­curmudgeonly Robin Day, he of the ridiculously oversized, spotted bow tie.

I’m referring, of course, to the aggressive interview, particularly of politicians.

The Jeremy Paxman 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 is at it.

At least some politicians knew how to deal with it. Recently I caught the tail-end of the BBC’s HARDtalk (the ominous uppercase letters are the BBC’s, not mine), billed as in-depth interviews with hard-hitting questions and sensitive topics being covered.

It was a cosy, self-congratulatory chat over lunch between the main presenters of HARDtalk, who were reminiscing on memorable ­interviews they had conducted.

One smug fellow recalled the time he interviewed the late Mo ­Mowlam when she was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. It seems the bold, brave Mo kicked him under the table when he pressed her to answer a particularly sensitive question.

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 alright 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 don’t wish to know what you think or what makes you angry and contemptuous. We do wish to hear what your interviewees answer in response to robust, probing ­questions.

But we demand civility at all times in your approach. Above all, we demand objectivity.

Brendan Gisby is a retired businessman. He lives in Crieff, Perthshire and runs McStorytellers short story ­website: http://www.mcstorytellers.com