Saturday 11 January 2014

"You’ve made that point well"

Matthew Holehouse, political correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, follows his article about BBC's Radio Merseyside 'biased' interview with David Cameron with another piece about biased BBC interviewing - this time Evan Davis on yesterday's Today programme

The article cites complaints of bias against Evan from three Conservative MPs and thirteen listeners. 

The main charge is that Evan Davis gave the pro-EU Lord Mandelson an easy ride whilst giving the Eurosceptic Lord Dobbs a rough ride. 

Matthew's article (and the complaints from the MPs) concentrates on the alleged pro-EU bias in the line of questioning Evan pursued with each guest. Evan's line of questioning with Lord Dobbs was to get him to admit that his referendum bill was a "waste of time" and a "charade". Evan's line of questioning with Lord Mandelson wasn't to challenge him about his reluctance to let the public have its say but concentrated on getting him to agree that pro-EU politicians aren't doing a good enough job in selling the benefits of the EU to the public. (Matthew helpfully lists all the questions put. I approve of that!)

The apparent bias is those contrasting lines of questioning is made worse by the fact that Evan Davis twice made complimentary comments to Lord Mandelson - "You raise an interesting issue" and "You’ve made that point well". No such complimentary comments were given to Lord Dobbs.

What the article fails, perhaps, to flesh out the contrast in tone and character between the two interviews. That seems to me why this seemed so "brazen" in its bias.

Lord Dobbs was subjected to an onslaught of interruptions and constantly challenged. He was given an adversarial interview. He was interrupted six times, never helpfully, and twice had to ask to be allowed to finish his point. Lord Mandelson, in contrast, was interrupted only one - and that was to be told "You’ve made that point well". His answers were allowed to go on and on.

That 6:1 ratio of interruptions appears even worse if you relate it to the length of the interviews. The interview with Lord Dobbs lasted 3 minutes and 22 seconds, while the interview with Lord Mandelson lasted 8 minutes and 1 second. [In terms of my old interruption coefficients that makes it 1.9 for Lord Dobbs and 0.1 for Lord Mandelson - 19 times tougher interviewing!!]  

Also Evan did that thing he sometimes does of continuing to contradict a guest as he's bringing the interview to a close, giving himself (and his contradiction) the last word - here rounding off Lord Dobb's contribution with the words “Unless it is repealed, which of course it might be,” the point he (Evan Davis) had been repeating throughout, and which he'd first introduced as a criticism made by Lord Dobbs's critics.

Finally, and just to amplify an earlier point, here's a schematic breakdown of both interviews.

The interview with Lord Dobbs ran as follows:

10:33 [after 8 o'clock!] Evan Davis
10.38 Lord Dobbs (1s answer)
10.39 Evan Davis 
10.42 Lord Dobbs (33s answer)
11.15 Evan Davis (interrupting)
11.18 Lord Dobbs (4s answer)
11.22 Evan Davis (interrupting)
11.25 Lord Dobbs (3s answer)
11.28 Evan Davis 
11.34 Lord Dobbs (11s answer)
11.45 Evan Davis (interrupting)
11.51 Lord Dobbs (2s answer)
11.53 Evan Davis (interrupting)
11.56 Lord Dobbs (39s answer)
12.35 Evan Davis 
13.07 Lord Dobbs (16s answer)
13.23 Evan Davis (interrupting) 
13.28 Lord Dobbs (20s answer)
13.48 Evan Davis (interrupting) 
13.55 interview ends
{Total amount of time Lord Dobbs got to speak without being talked over: Two minutes and nine seconds.}

The interview with Lord Mandelson ran as follows:

13.55 Evan Davis
14.01 Lord Mandelson (6s answer)
14.07 Evan Davis
14.13 Lord Mandelson (26s answer)
14.39 Evan Davis
14.58 Lord Mandelson (1m 53s answer)
16.51 Evan Davis
17.13 Lord Mandelson (27s answer)
17.40 Evan Davis
18.00 Clip of EU Commission VP Viviane Reding urging on pro-EU supporters and denouncing anti-EU "myths"
18:32 Evan Davis
18.47 Lord Mandelson (1m 43s answer)
20.30 Evan Davis (interrupting) 
20.32 Lord Mandelson (10s answer)
20.42 Evan Davis
21.03 Lord Mandelson (52s answer)
21.55 Evan Davis
21.56 end of interview
{Total amount of time Lord Mandelson got to speak without being talked over: Five minutes and 37 seconds.}

So, this was a deeply unbalanced interview on so many fronts. There can be no denying that - especially in terms of Evan Davis's treatment of his respective guests. It could hardly have been less fair in that respect. You can deny that pro-EU bias was motivating Evan Davis (as we can't read other's minds) but it was still biased interviewing, unquestionably not fair or balanced.

Needless to say, the BBC - flying in the face of honesty - flatly denies that. They can deny it. The Telegraph reports:
A BBC spokesman said: “Inevitably there will be disagreements about the reporting of any given political story, however we are satisfied that the views of both Lord Dobbs and Lord Mandelson were challenged and that our coverage of today’s story about the EU referendum bill was fair and balanced.”
Yeah right!


  1. I really don't think we need to be lectured on anything - let alone fundamental democratic principles - by a man twice sacked from the cabinet, and who is, by any rational standards, criminally guilty of defrauding his building society.

    If anything shows the utter moral corruption of both our national broadcaster and politics generally, this interview is as good an example as you could wish for.

  2. Lord Tebbitt has had his say on this interview in the 'Telegraph':

    "My old friend Michael, now Lord, Dobbs had a good day last Friday successfully piloting the European Referendum Bill through its first stage in the House of Lords.
    That was after a most extraordinary interview on the BBC Today Programme with Mr Evan Davis in which he was constantly heckled and interrupted to prevent him making his case or completing an answer to Mr Davis's questions. That was followed by a most pathetically obsequious interview with Lord Mandelson who it seems was not willing to be interveiwed together with Lord Dobbs and spoke from a radio car. Lord Mandelson was not interrupted, but just allowed to say whatever he wished, without any critical questioning.
    I would like to think that was because the interviewer knew that as a former commissioner Lord Mandelson is still bound by his oath and the security of his pension never to act against the interests of the Commission and the EU, but I rather doubt it."


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