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Mis-Communicator of the Week: BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4

1st June 2017


There is some misguided view amongst journalists that the UK can only be a true democracy if we have live televised debates at election time.

This meant that, within minutes of Theresa May calling a general election five weeks ago, the UK's broadcasters - egged on by their newspaper colleagues - were demanding the party leaders agree to some form of debate.

Now they are done. ITV had theirs last week when both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn chose not to attend. Then two this week featuring just the two leaders most likely to be prime minister in a week's time, hosted by Channel 4 and Sky; followed by the BBC's effort last night.

It is easy to imagine the planning meetings: "let's get Paxo in"..."great idea"; "we must have all nations represented...oh what about Northern Ireland...sod 'em"; "which polling company will give us an audience which will be really left wing and shouty"; "We want the leaders of all the parties...does that mean we have to include both the Greens?"

I've prepared politicians for debates for many years and in some interesting places - I've never seen formats so poorly conceived,  that fail to give voters a chance to learn something new, being used so close to polling day.

We had shouting, bickering, rudeness...and that was just from Jeremy Paxman inexplicably taken out of interview retirement to try out his tribute act to his own former glories. It was terrible. He went so hard on Jeremy Corbyn it was easy for the Labour leader to shrug Paxman off. The questions aimed at the prime minister were equally bizarre.

The panel debates offered even less to the floating voter producing noise and thunder but little light. Too many parties included, with too little time to make a point, leads to a sound bite arms race making those on the debate panel perform like robots.

On June 9 let's hope the broadcasters start putting together a considered plan of what they want the TV debates in 2022 to look like. Cobbling something together at the last minute has been shown to be worse than having none at all.

When the BBC's own assistant political editor, Norman Smith, concludes live on air that the broadcasters need to think again about the format then it is easy to conclude why the BBC, Channel 4, Sky and ITV are my Mis-Communicators of the Week.

Mis-Communicator of the Week is written by Edward Staite.



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