Wednesday 23 September 2015

Any Questions?

Last Sunday I was going to make a comment on Craig’s recent post about Question Time and Phil Burton-Carledge’s ‘forensic’ statistical analyses, which concluded that if there was indeed any partiality, which he tended to doubt, the bias was towards the right. I wrote half a comment but events prevented me from posting.

I was going to say statistics aren’t everything. In fact in the case of AQ and QT, they aren’t anything.

You can take the lists of contributors, over the entire history of those panel shows if you like, and you might also assess the political nature of the  selection of questions, the questions themselves, Dimbleby’s (either one) interruptions, and stick them into categories of your choice, but the conclusion is still a matter of interpretation. Up to you old bean.
 As Craig pointed out, you could put the non-politician guests and celebs (or the Lib Dems) into the left, right or centre column depending on which side of the bed you got out of that day, but the one factor you can’t explain is the audience. 

We’ve heard that you have to complete a questionnaire for the honour of watching Q.T., but the BBC says it does this in order to achieve a broad spectrum, or balance, or whateva, and who am I to doubt it. Apparently they ask how you vote, amongst other things. We must assume they have no choice but to trust that the answer is honest.

So what accounts for the audience’s clearly left-leaning responses? Is it merely that the left are more shouty? More vocal, more aggressive?

If the BBC was genuinely concerned about the criticism it gets, which, (apart from a couple of episodes featuring George Galloway) is always about lefty bias, it really ought to address this problem. Why? It's impartiality stupid.

Allison Pearson was battered and bruised after appearing on last week’s Any Questions. I didn’t listen to that episode, but the scenario she described sounds fairly typical.

I must say I’m surprised that she was even surprised. What did she expect?
Don’t these people ever listen to programmes they’re invited on to? Vilifying conservatives R us, it’s known as. Probably.

 My Leftie hell on Radio 4's Any Questions
Conservative voters, when 'Any Questions' comes from a school hall near you, get your coat on and go - the BBC audience could do with the balance”
Well, maybe you can with A.Q., but you can’t do so with Q.T. You have to apply.
How could it be, when almost all of Cambridgeshire and, indeed, East Anglia, is true blue that the Any Questions audience appeared to be composed mainly of Corbyn fans?”
I don’t know how it could be, but the BBC seems to manage it effortlessly enough. We tend to cluster round those with similar views to our own, confirmation bias and so on. I wonder if the BBC has Any Questions to ask of itself ? Maybe it’s Question Time for the BBC.
"You know, what shocked me most about Any Questions? Me. Faced with all that loathing, I started to think that perhaps I should suppress my own beliefs and say something that would chime better with the self-righteous fans of Citizen Corbyn.

The audience can turn into a baying mob at the wink of an eye. Very few panellists are thick-skinned enough to ignore their answers being greeted with a deathly silence or being booed while others receive loud applause and whoops of approval.
“After the recording, the show’s excellent host, Jonathan Dimbleby, sighed heavily and told me it was a constant problem.
He and the whole AQ team found it immensely frustrating that Tories simply did not show up on the night to add their voices. The producer said it would cost £5,000 a week to pay someone to assemble a politically balanced audience.”

Why? who are they going to hire? Wayne Rooney? 
How hard could it be? Just get hold of one of those lists gleaned from some god-forsaken market research survey, match it to the relevant demographic, region, political proclivity, send out some posh invites and Bob’s Yer Uncle. That’ll be £5,000 please; make the cheque out to me.
Or they could simply vet the audience differently so as to arrive at a more representative group, (don’t ask me how)  - refrain from emotive cinematographic tricks like cutting to Yasmin Alibhai Brown tutting and eye-rolling while others are speaking, try out a fresh, more assertive chairperson, call on the audience’s ‘opinions’ less frequently, or abolish the audience altogether.

No. Ain’t gonna happen. Before people like Allison Pearson are ever going to get a fair hearing on a BBC political panel show, the BBC needs to take a more balanced approach throughout its whole output, comedy, drama, political analysis and news reporting, they need to respect and reflect the views of that overlooked, unrepresented  75%.


  1. The QT producers admit on the show's website they give themselves leeway to rig the audience according to their interpretation of the local demographics. They admit that they will occasionally reach out to activist groups - the exact opposite of fairly representing the local mood - if they feel a certain viewpoint isn't represented enough.

    After the now legendary (if it's not, it should be) Leader's QT before the general election, the BBC bosses admitted that they actually do work with the producers to make sure the audience is assembled as honestly as possible. This either puts the lie to the defense we used to hear that we can't blame the BBC for the QT audiences because the show is produced by a third party and the BBC never meddles, or proves that the third party production company is biased and get away with it every week and the BBC bosses are so aware of it that they felt the need to step in this time. Either way, we were right all along.

    As for Any Answers, does it have the profile and a broad enough audience that ordinary, decent, non-baying people would be interested in attending? I would have thought that Question Time has a lot more relevance and interest.

  2. I have just watched question time 9/6/16.The way Alison pearson was ignored,cut off in mid sentence and just a few minutes speaking was abhorrent and rude.It is a pity because when she DID speak she presented argument with intelligence.SHe even had to but in to make a point.


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