Has the big interview had its day?

The big interview

Ten past eight on Radio 4 on any weekday morning is the often the time for a bruising and bloody confrontation between politician and presenter. Likewise, on a weekday evening, as many are donning their slippers, Jeremy Paxman and his colleagues are strapping on their breastplates, ready for another gladiatorial contest.

It is often an enthralling spectacle as the big beasts lock horns. The dust flies and injuries may occur.

But have the crowds now stopped baying? Is the great spectacle too often ending in anti-climax?

Richard Sambrook, professor of journalism and my former editor on the BBC Six O’Clock News seems to think so. “For at least 25 years British broadcasting has been enthralled by the adversarial devil’s advocate form of interview,” he says. “Personally as a form I think it is all but exhausted and increasingly tiresome –and seldom reveals as much as a more forensic approach could achieve.”

So farewell John Humphrys, Jeremy Paxman and the ghost of Robin Day? Perhaps. But what is to replace the Big Interview?

It is undoubtedly true that these confrontations often generate more heat than light, but the politicians and leaders must continue to be put under pressure. “A more forensic approach” may suggest that they are being let off the hook. Less shouting and less interrupting might be welcome to the audience, but to be replaced by what? In news programmes, time is short and there is often no time for a more detailed, in-depth approach.

Certainly most people would like to see, and hear, more facts, more truth and a more clearly defined end result, instead of the highly-rehearsed avoidance techniques used by so many in public life. But surely there is still room for both. To lose one or the other would simply dilute the strength and variety of broadcast news programmes.

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