Saturday, November 13, 2010

BBC Question Time: Behind the scenes

Picture is of me making a point on Thursday’s edition of “Question Time” about the media not being interested in reporting peaceful protests and demonstrations only “punch-ups”.  The actual panel was Theresa May MP, Home Secretary; Caroline Flint MP, Labour; Sherard Cowper-Coles - formerly Foreign Secretary's Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan; Clive James, Broadcaster and Journalist; Douglas Murray, Author and Commentator (& right wing nutjob)
I had registered on the BBC website a week or so ago.  Then on Thursday morning I got an email from the BBC to see if I was available to attend as a member of the audience that same evening.  I rang the contact and after a few questions she agreed to send me an e-ticket. Normally people get more notice so I assume that some had dropped out at the last moment.
The venue was the Library of Queen Mary University in Tower Hamlets, East London (a short walk from work).  We had to report to a university cafe bar with our invite and photo ID.  Security was pretty tight (I had a small UNISON flag “confiscated” for the duration).  We were given cards to write our questions – 30 words maximum but better if only 20 or less.  Most had also been given an opportunity to submit one question already by email.  I was told it had to be about a "live" or “current” story to stand any chance.  Mine were “Why have London inner city Councils such as Tower Hamlets being cut by £75 million while leafy Richmond by only £5 million? (I think you can guess the answer) and “since there are 4.5 million people are on Council housing waiting lists where are all the private tenants who face eviction due to benefit cuts going to live?  With hindsight they were a bit “last week”. 
Everyone was very friendly, quite chatty and a little excited.  David Dimbleby came in and gave us a charming and relaxed briefing.  It turned out only one person present had ever been on the show before.  We were then trooped into the studio which had been set up in the historic Library.  Firstly, there was a rehearsal.  Members of the audience were invited to sit on the panel and we had a mock debate and questions. This was to check camera angles and microphones.  I was one of those picked and sat in “Clive James” chair  and I had great fun nominating Nick Clegg to the person I would most theoretically like to see have a custard pie thrown in his face.  For his breath taking hypocrisy over student tuition fees.  We also had a short “knockabout” about causes and solutions for child obesity.  Afterwards the “panel” went back to our seats. 
I wasn’t picked to ask a question (those who were did ask snappy and short questions on very contemporary issues). However there was a (inevitable) question on the previous day’s massive march in London by students protesting against cuts and the rise in tuition fees.  A tiny number of demonstrators had done their best to wreck the demo by cowardly attacking the Conservative Party HQ. 
The response from the panel was largely sympathetic to the main student march and dismissive of the morons outside 30 Milbank. 
I put my hand up and David pointed at me (they said beforehand that you would know if he had picked you by his stare – and it was very true) and I brought up the role of the media and that they fail to report on peaceful protests and rallies unless there is a punch-up.  David argued back that yesterday’s violence was not a “trivial” matter since a Police officer could have been killed by a fire extinguisher that was thrown from the roof that day (which we have all seen on video). 
I responded by saying that I wasn’t trivialising the issue but pointing out that if the media fail to report anything about  peaceful protests but publishes 7 or 8 pages on such “punch-ups” then the ”idiots” will just be encouraged to be violent on future protests.  Which got a little bit of a clap.
You can see the whole programme for the next 12 months (lucky you) by clicking on IPlayer here.  My only contribution was about 8.30 minutes in.
I did try to make other points but I wasn’t picked.  I was even trying to volunteer to administrative “water boarding” to Neo-con panellist, Douglas Murray, (purely voluntary of course) in order to try and help him realise whether this disgusting and barbaric practice was torture or not. 
The “hour” passed really quickly and I did enjoy the debates that followed. Once it finished we all clapped in appreciation then filed out (and I retrieved my UNISON flag) and went home I think rather "happy" and "content". 
I would totally recommend that anyone who has any interest in politics should apply to be a member of the Question Time audience.  It was a really good night out.


Mike said...

Good for you John. As Old Labour and ex-NALGO (that many years ago!) activist myself, I think your efforts were well made. Personally I find the frenetic pace of most TV and radio - 30 words or less!?! - stifles / distorts debate, hence so frustrating that I can't bear it any more. This is an issue that we should all press whenever we meet anyone media people.

John Gray said...

thanks Mike. You make a good case. But I must admit to hearing so many daft, boring and silly points disguised as questions.

Anonymous said...

It is a pity that question about Council funding never got heard. Probably the first time I have remarked that you have put Newhams interest forward. Well done.

John Gray said...

Hi Anon 22.45

Many thanks!

Probably very, very true!


Montrose said...

why are the tories on their anonymous Newham site so scared that they refuse to pubish my comments?