Peers to grill Paxman and Humphrys on interviewing techniques

By David Rose

Peers plan to turn the tables on Jeremy Paxman and John Humphrys by grilling them on how they question politicians.

BBC chairman Michael Grade has consented to the confrontration by
saying he has no objection to the journalists being summoned to the
House of Lords.

Peers this week openly accused the BBC of
treating politicians with disrespect when Grade and BBC director
general Mark Thompson were questioned by a committee on the
corporations’ charter review.

The exchanges follow the
on-screen row between Paxman and John Reid after the Newsnight
interviewer branded the health secretary a Labour “attack dog”.

Lord
Kalms complained politicians were not given sufficient respect and were
often disparaged. “Several of your excellent reporters do that almost
as a matter of course.” He demanded: “Do you have a policy on the way
Jeremy Paxman treats politicians?”

Thompson said controversy over
politicial interviews were not new and stressed that if peers examined
tapes of interviews of politicians conducted by Sir Robin Day in the
1960s and 1970s they would be surprised how similar it was then.

But
Baroness Gibson said that at least Sir Robin “would ask his question
and then shut up. “John Humphrys speaks more than the person he is
interviewing. It is not broadcasting because you can’t hear the answers
of the person he is interviewing. The same happens on Newsnight. I find
myself shouting at the television, much to the anger of my husband.”

Thompson
said exchanges which produced more heat than light were to be
deprecated. There were, he said, lessons to be drawn for BBC
journalists and politicians on the best way of “getting light from the
subject”.

Committee chairman and former Times journalist Lord
Fowler asked Grade: “You wouldn’t mind if we were to interview one or
two of your interviewers?” Grade replied: “No.”

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