Saturday, March 12, 2011

Is Question Time Biased?

Every week on BBC's political panel discussion show Question Time we seem to have one, or more, utterly rabid right wing fiends. The spawn of Melanie Philips, as well as Shelob herself, stalk menacingly into the studio cackling as they go. At least that's how it feels to me.

It turns out that the right think it's infested with Communists, a claim so unutterably off the wall as to literally make my head spin round. No, hold on, not literally.

James Dellingpole rails against "the appointment of Vladimir Stalin – or “Nicolai Gentchev” to give him his current SPECTRE agent name – as Question Time’s new editor", an appointment caused by its imminent move.

Now I've met Nicolai Gentchev who is, or was, a Trotskyist and a very nice bloke. He also came across as someone who is professional, and more than capable of objective distance. I miss hearing his name as an editor of the Today Programme but I'd not noticed references to deflected permanent revolution in any of John Humphrey's pieces during his time there. More's the pity.

Personally I think if Gentchev's appointment means less Melanie Philips' and more David Mitchells I think the audience would heartily approve, but it may well not signal a noticable change of direction.

As the exception that proves the rule this week saw Green MSP Patrick Harvie's first ever appearance on BBC QT despite the Scottish Greens having been represented at Holyrood from its inception in 1999. This prompted twitter to cry "Who's this bald bloke? He's rather good."

Even Working Class Tory paid grudging tribute to him saying "The Green guy, Patrick Harvie, rambled on at several points, but the audience seemed to like it. He was the most left-wing panellist they've had on in about three years. He even looked like Lenin."

I'm not sure if he actually is the most left-wing panellist they've had in three years seeing as Bob Crow, George Galloway and Salma Yaqoob have all appeared in that time, and they're *almost* as Lenin-esque as Harvie. However, I know how to take a reflected compliment - so thanks!

However, what is clear is that the Greens provide a distinctive and interesting voice expressing a significant current of thought in this country. They should be part of the mix more often rather than as the occasional after thought when Melanie can't make it. As it happens her eminence Caroline Lucas will be on QT in two weeks time, they're like buses you wait all year for a Green on TV and then two come along at once.

There is a real problem that as the three main parties have come closer together politically (with two of them currently fused) mainstream politics is simply too shallow a pool to draw an interesting panel from that can represent the real political views of the country. One reason to support Jeff's petition to include Harvie in the upcoming Scottish leaders' debates.

Of course, I wouldn't be for excluding the professional ideologues of the right wing press. These off the shelf, bought and paid for opinionbots are part of the political geography of the country, but the same is just as true of those to the left of Labour and no matter what the right think they are simply far too scarce on QT leaving a good proportion of the audience tearing out their hair and feeling unrepresented.


Dougie Kinnear said...

It is biased Jim and not only toward the right but also toward Unionists. The last time Nicola Sturgeon was on Dumbleby censored her for talking about a Scottish issue yet we have to suffer Westminster only issues every week. Impartiality doesn't figure with the host.

Patrick Harvie was a breath of fresh air, however, that's not difficult to pull off considering the usual crew, you mention Philips but Starkey gets far too much time on that show as well. This week I nearly turned off as Michael Moore spewed forth his love for all things Royal.

I signed the petition btw.

Jim Jepps said...

I remember that - ridiculous. Does he censor MPs when they say 'in my constituency the bumblebee nursery...' no.

He did the same to Tony Benn when he wanted to answer a question about the IRA by referencing the British state's attitude to selling arms to other dubious people round the world. Let the audience decide if the answer fits the question!

I should have mentioned the SNP more generally though as they, and Plaid, panellists are also a refreshing change when they come on.

Norfolk Calling said...

The Greens are on there reasonably regularly. But you hardly ever see a true socialist these days. Gone are the days when the likes of Skinner and Scargill, and to a lesser degree Benn were on there frequently. By comparison, Harvie was blandness personified.

I'd rather see Will Self, Billy Bragg and Jarvis Cocker to be honest. It's not much more than a pedant's wankfest at best anyway.

Jim Jepps said...

Try telling Patrick Harvie he's on it regularly! It was his first go...

I agree that Will Self and Billy Bragg are worth the 'money' although Cocker was disappointing from memory.

'True socialists' are pretty thin on the ground these days but as I said Crow, Galloway, and Yaqoob have all been on over the last year or so.

I genuinely think we should see more small or big g greens - but as well as other interesting voices from the left and elsewhere.

What wears me out is the string of shrill opinionators they have on from the right. David Starkey? Please God no more!