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January 29, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 8:52am

BBC should be better at ‘exploring nuances’ of political debate over chasing soundbites, says Tony Hall

By PA Mediapoint and Press Gazette

Outgoing BBC director-general Lord Tony Hall has suggested the broadcaster has contributed to a toxic public discourse with journalism aimed at trying to catch politicians out.

Lord Hall (pictured), who will move to head up the board of Trustees of the National Gallery after leaving the broadcaster this summer, said the BBC had to more carefully consider its role in political debate.

“I am a great believer in the long-form political interview where you can explore at length, not in soundbites, the real policy decisions that politicians are making,” he said.

“And I think our journalism needs to reflect that making decisions is difficult. It’s rarely 100 per cent that way and zero per cent that way.

“Things go in the middle and exploring those sorts of nuances is an important part of what we should do.”

The 68-year-old was speaking at the Edelman Trust Barometer 2020 event in London yesterday. Maintaining trust is a key objective for the BBC, which faced criticism over its election campaign coverage last year.

Newsnight lead presenter Emily Maitlis responded to Lord Hall’s comments by warning against scripted interviews, insisting “engaging” and “enlightening” encounters would ensure audiences want to keep watching.

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“That doesn’t mean everything has to be a battle, far from it, but you do have to leave the audience feeling if they look away they will miss something,” the journalist told The Times.

Former Today editor Rod Liddle told the paper it sounded like Lord Hall was “tired of the big beasts of the political interview”.

“A lot of director-generals in the past have been unhappy about both the publicity and the national adoration of these big beasts, and have tried to stamp down on them,” he said.

“The truth is, you need a combative interview from time to time. Andrew Neil is the benchmark.”

Former Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman added: “I like Tony Hall. But he really must stop spouting the bleeding obvious.”

Senior Tories are continuing to boycott BBC Radio 4’s Today programme at the request of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s special adviser Dominic Cummings, seen as the mastermind behind his election win.

Amber Rudd, the Tory former home secretary, described Number Ten’s boycott of Today as disgraceful. “Trust will not be rebuilt with the public by a government avoiding scrutiny,” she told the Edelman event.

The BBC is expected to announce cuts to its news division today as part of a drive to find £80m in savings by 2021/22.

Plans to axe Victoria Derbyshire’s BBC Two programme have already been leaked, while flagship shows like Newsnight and Radio 4’s Today programme are also expected to have to make efficiencies.

Lord Hall’s departure takes place during a turbulent time for the broadcaster, with job cuts at the top of the agenda along with equal pay disputes and claims of political bias, diversity concerns and questions about its funding via the licence fee.

Picture: David Parry/PA Wire

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