It didn’t take long for the BBC’s Acting Director-General Tim Davie to trend on Twitter today, thanks in large part to his decision to walk out of an interview with Sky News presenter Dermot Murnaghan.
Many have been quick to claim this “storming off” was a very poor start to Davie’s new job. But others have defended his interview behaviour, including ITV’s UK Editor Lucy Manning, who tweeted, “If it’s not wrong for ITV person to stick up for BBC not sure Davie actually stormed off. Sky had v long intv & we and others were waiting..”
So is there ever a right time for an interviewee to walk away from an interview?
Yes there is. In fact there are a several occasions. But it’s not just the right occasion; it’s also doing so in the right manner.
The first is when the interviewee has been “doorstepped” in a crisis, that’s to say ambushed by the media outside an office, home, hotel etc
For the majority of “victims” these can be disastrous occasions, simply because they fail to understand the rules of engagement.
The good news is it is possible to be trained to handle the toughest “doorstep” and even emerge with an enhanced reputation. They key is in swiftly establishing control.
Once this is achieved and the interviewee has stayed long enough to answer a fair number of relevant questions, it is perfectly acceptable for him or her to say something like, “I’m sure you’ll understand this is a fast-moving situation and I need to get back to dealing with it, thank you.” And it would be even better if they were to add, “…and I’ll update you later with further information”, as that might avoid a barrage of further questions as they head off – the media will be reassured, knowing there’s more to come. The interviewee must then walk away confidently and not be tempted to answer further questions hurled at their back.
So that’s the ambush interview. But the Davie one today was a different occasion. For a start he wasn’t “doorstepped”, he’d agreed to the interview. Viewers could therefore expect him to stay and handle questions licence-payers might reasonably expect him to answer, no matter how tough they might be – and indeed were.
And stay he did, apparently for around eight minutes, which is an extremely long time in broadcast news terms. Then he used the ambush “exit card” saying, “I have a lot to do. The BBC is taking action…I’ve got a job and I’m going to get on with it.”
The thinking, after such a long time was understandable, but the manner let him down. It didn’t sound very convincing and a very hesitant exit, as he heard Murnaghan ask another question as he strode off, with the camera following his exit, meant it looked anything but decisive – not the vision of a man “getting a grip” of the BBC crisis.
If he’d only perhaps introduced a little levity and said, “I’m sure you can understand that in the interest of balance and fairness, it’s only reasonable I move on to answer other waiting journalists’ urgent questions and continue dealing with this issue!” he would have received far greater sympathy.
Of course his performance wasn’t helped by his wavering eyeline either. Sky News was quick to show the possible cause – Mr Davie’s PR man, whose reflection was in shot. Perhaps the “minder” was pointing to his watch or indicating in some other fashion it was time to wrap up and move on…Whatever the reason, when you are doing a “down-the-line” interview from a remote location to a presenter in the studio, to avoid giving an impression of being distracted or ill-at-ease, you must ALWAYS look at the camera.
As any good BBC presenter will tell you.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must get on and deal with pressing issues…