Monday 6 January 2014

A Game of Chess

A few BBC interviews really stood out for me over the past week - and none of them were by the BBC's regular interviewers.

The first was Dominic Lawson's Across the Board interview with former Soviet dissident/Israeli deputy prime minister Natan Sharansky. 

Mr Sharansky's chilling description of his experiences of solitary confinement in the Soviet Union were a reminder of something we very rarely hear discussed on the BBC - the sheer viciousness of the Soviet Union, even after the days of Stalin. His conditions of imprisonment sounded uncannily like those experienced by the hostages in Lebanon (the likes of Terry Waite, for example). The difference was that Mr Sharansky also faced numerous, relentless KGB interrogations during those grim years in the Gulag. 

And he preserved his sanity through playing chess games in his head - often three games at a time. He also then used those chess strategies to outwit his KGB interrogators. 

The whole interview, though lasting less than fifteen minutes, was full of insights like that. If you have the time please give it a listen. 

Part of the interview's success was down to Dominic Lawson. 

Dominic Lawson isn't an impartial BBC interviewer, of course. He's a right-wing outsider given the chance to present a short series of interviews by the BBC. That may have made all the difference.

The result was something that sounded like genuinely fair broadcasting. 

It also sounded fresh because Dominic really was interested in hearing what his interviewees said. He listened to them, interacted with them, encouraged them. He didn't impose himself or his own agenda, even though he didn't disguise where he stands. And his interviewees responded in kind. 

Such as Labour's Rachel Reeves. (Before it disappears you must treat yourself to that interview.) 

The other gripping BBC interview this week was Joan Bakewell's Belief interview with Douglas Murray on Radio 3.

Yes, Joan Bakewell was a BBC insider for many, many years and, yes, she's now a Labour Party baroness (surprise, surprise), but her interviewing of Douglas was better than anything you would have heard if one of the BBC's numberless legions of pedestrian egotists had interviewed him. She let him speak at length. She asked him interesting questions. She listened. She even let him criticise Islam.

And the result was fascinating.

Douglas's description of his own journey of belief struck a real chord with me. His affection for a particular conservative strand of Anglicanism, the Book of Common Prayer, the King James Bible, churches and cathedrals is one I share. His early church-going is something I relate to too. His fairly recent loss of faith is something I also share. (He lost his faith through studying Islam and seeing how religions can be constructed). His more recent softening of that atheism into a kind of sympathetic Anglican atheism is something that seems to have happened to me too (though I seem to have become something of an Ordinariate atheist!)

Now, we know where Labour's Baroness Bakewell stands, so the remarkable change that came over her interviewing style towards the end of the programme, when the subject changed to immigration, wasn't surprising - nor was it irritating.

She suddenly started sounding uncomfortable with what Douglas was saying about the problems with mass immigration, multiculturalism, diversity. She started putting up straw men. She started challenging and interrupting him. Her bias shone through for the first time. 

Well, she's a Labour peer. Her government was responsible for the latest, biggest wave of mass immigration. She is obviously going to get a bit agitated when Douglas Murray skewers that record. 

Yet still she let him speak. Still listened. Still engaged. It remained fair interviewing.

And we listeners can judge him and can judge her because we know where both of them are coming from and what they believe. The pretence of impartiality  no longer exists.

Maybe that's the way the BBC should go. Scrap the pretence.

If it does so though, it needs to ensure that its interviewers come from a wide, fair and representative cross-section of UK political opinion....

...which means it would need to do a lot of hiring!

1 comment:

  1. Spot on Craig!
    Listened to the whole series of Across the Board. Knew it would be good when Natan Sharansky would be the last guest...but all of them were of interest.
    Mightily impressed by Lawsons chess prowess...and his ability to ask good questions( even though a few guests stated that their chess suffered as a result...fair enough!).
    Thanks for Douglas Murray-a great man and one of the few heavyweights of the Right already...I`d heard Sally Phillips the week before, which was odd-but of interest.
    Thanks for this.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.