Journalists need to ‘find a better way’of holding politicians to account in interviews, without coming across as bullies, according to BBC political editor Nick Robinson.
Speaking at a Brighton Festival debate on political trust, Robinson responded to criticism that colleagues such as Jeremy Paxman and John Humphrys effectively ‘harassed’interviewees who failed to give a straight answer.
‘There’s no doubt we’re less respectful than people who did my job two decades ago,’said Robinson.’I do think there is a danger of a bullying attitude in interviews. I’ve screamed at the radio or TV on occasions.”
Robinson’s comments came after reports that Downing Street had complained to the BBC about a John Humphrys interview with Gordon Brown on Radio 4’s
Today programme. Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee, who was chairing the debate, asked: ‘What about John Humphrys interviewing the prime minister, not allowing him to say more than three words in every sentence before he was in there harassing him?”
Robinson said it was ‘desperately difficult’to get a straight answer from Brown – a problem exacerbated by the tight time constraints in broadcast interviews.
‘Why is there a problem? Because Gordon Brown won’t say anything,’he said. ‘He’s a very difficult person to do a courteous interview with.
He added: ‘The dilemma for us is that all the opinion polling work that the BBC does shows that people’s main annoyance is that we don’t push politicians to give straight answers.
‘We need to push for answers but we need to find a means of doing it that isn’t rude. It’s a fine line we tread.”
Guardian journalist and writer Melissa Benn used the forum to question Jeremy Paxman’s grilling of junior ministers on Newsnight.
She said a recent interview on the programme was ‘painful to watch because Jeremy Paxman was exuding the power and authority of the BBC and the junior minister had absolutely no flexibility”.
But Oona King, the former Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, said it was often understandable that politicians were reluctant to admit mistakes to the media because ‘we are destroyed when we do”.