I’M not in the habit of watching the BBC’s Question Time, and having unfortunately done so last week, I then sampled a couple of other editions on iPlayer because I couldn’t believe my eyes at the “circus” that I had just been watching. Its ringleader is Fiona Bruce.
To begin with the title of the programme Question Time – a national institution in the era of Sir Robin Day – now only just satisfies the Trade Descriptions Act. It begins with a question from the audience, but that’s about the only question that gets asked.
The rest of the programme – and of the other editions I sampled – rapidly turned into a party political debate frequently resembling the ignorant bad manners that we witness in the House of Commons.
Fiona Bruce not only appears to do nothing to stop it or to try to control it, but actually contributes to the mayhem.
Members of the audience, who raise their hands to respond to what a panel member has said, are the only ones who are allowed to speak without interruption. Members of the panel, on the other hand, constantly interrupt one another, and Fiona Bruce, as I say, does nothing to stop them.
She comes from a long line of current political interviewers on all channels – and especially the BBC – who need to learn about good manners and politeness. Typically they ask a question of whoever they are interviewing and then keep interrupting them with their own comments and challenges.
If it was me I’d say: “You invited me onto this programme to answer your questions. Either let me speak or else I might as well leave now because you are clearly not interested in listening to what I have to say.”
And if they did it one more time, I’d take off the microphone and walk out.
Ms Bruce seems to delight in stirring the wasps’ nest and then sitting back and watching the result. She certainly makes no attempt – as a good interviewer, moderator or committee Chair should – to maintain any semblance of order.
It would seem that the BBC considers that to be good television – I for one certainly don’t. Of course it may not be entirely down to her, she probably has the programme’s producer up in the gallery talking in her ear – still that’s no excuse.
The fact that the programme relies on the presence of a studio audience means that each panel member, who might just as well be on their soapbox, plays to the audience.
Some, whose background or expertise is the topic under discussion, seem to be able to make a positive contribution to proceedings, but politicians – no doubt carefully selected by the programme’s researchers – are clearly there to see how antagonistic they can be.
It’s just a party political debate for them, a chance to fly the party flag and criticise opposition policy. So it’s not really Question Time at all – it’s an extension of Parliament paid for by the BBC out of licence payers’ money. So much for the Beeb’s supposed impartiality required by its Charter as a public broadcasting corporation. Yeah, right.
Last week’s programme was on the topic of climate change and right from the start the premise was wrong: climate change and global warming are two entirely different things and while we may well be able to do something about global warming, we can do absolutely nothing about climate change and it is sheer arrogance to think we can control the workings of the universe.
One of the panellists (the columnist Julia Hartley-Brewer) was also of that opinion, but her efforts to say so were soon silenced by a representative of the Extinction Rebellion movement (Rupert Read) who then monopolised the proceedings with his ER propaganda – free air time for them care of the BBC – and Fiona Bruce just sat there impassively and let it happen.
The previous week’s programme that I thankfully only sampled began with her invitation to one of the panellists to respond to the introductory question from the audience, but then she kept interrupting him with the result that there was no response from the audience who, like me, had clearly missed the point he was trying to make thanks to Ms Bruce. And yet at other times she will let panellists go on and on, taking every advantage of their monopoly of the airwaves and the opportunity to propagandise.
As I said at the outset, I never usually watch Question Time and the one occasion that I happened to do so taught me a short sharp lesson and I will never watch it again.
I think Fiona Bruce’s talents are far better applied to her other programmes about art and antiques. Her earlier involvement on Crimewatch was oddly apropos. However, as the host of Question Time and the way she now conducts proceedings, she is committing crimes against good broadcasting.
Neil McNicholas is a parish priest in Yarm.