Adversarial Broadcast Media turns me off

Is Newsnight and its peers too adversarial?

I just watched Kirsty Wark bark a fair amount at Ed Balls. Now I know that EB isn’t necessarily the most attractive character, and Newsnight isn’t there to allow party political broadcast, however the need to get one over on the politician meant that it just turned into a row, and not a particularly smart one.

Ms Wark looking to trip Balls meant there wasn’t a strategic line of questioning, just a selection of accusations about how “anti business Labour might be due to the stated views of a number of high profile commentators. At the same time, Balls was trying not to do his Gordon Ramsey impression, trying to remain calm, not shout and not be to patronising. He wasn’t entirely successful.

The thing is, I don’t think we the viewers learned much, because it swiftly turned into a playground row. Kirsty the inquisitor even did a Paxo and was like a dog with a bone asking the same question about corporation tax 5 times – but one that didn’t actually seem significant at the strategic level. She appeared to become focused on the interview as a battle, as though she believed the accusations that she was putting to Balls.

This isn’t an isolated incident. Whilst much of Newsnight is great, including Kirsty Wark, (who is one of the UK’s great broadcast journalists with broad and deep knowledge and a wide hinterland) the overly aggressive interview is now often standard in UK broadcast media. Whether it’s the hectoring on the Today programme in the morning; a smooth skewering on Channel 4 or being asked the same question 13 times on Newsnight, I’m finding myself drawn to change the channel – and I’m as much of a news / politics / cap markets junky as most PR people.

I’m not sure what the solution is – or even if there should be one. This is a personal view, and most PR people would tell me to grow up and enjoy the conflict and theatre. I can always go and read Lex, Foreign Policy or the Economist if I want more careful and sober (but still hard hitting) analysis.

This isn’t a PR thing, but a consumer judgement. I’ve had clients both on Newsnight and it’s peers and I’ve also advised clients to avoid it and done my best to talk to producers out of covering a story as it was actually a non event. I just watch it less than I used to because if I want to deal with insane argument, all I have to do is tell my son he can’t have something and stand back.


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