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Material facts

Peter Barron | 11:27 UK time, Friday, 3 November 2006

I hesitate to say more because I know many Newsnight fans truly hated the Madonna experience (which you can still watch here), but to put the subject to bed here are a few quick facts and figures.

Newsnight logoIt was certainly popular. Our audience share doubled, nearly three million watching three or more minutes of the interview. Grubby talk I know.

It was controversial, though not as controversial as the previous week's Taleban film. That attracted 300 comments to this blog. So far Madonna stands at half that. Most have been debating the rights and wrongs of the adoption, but a few think the episode signalled the end of a once-great TV institution.

Was it newsworthy? The interview spawned hundreds of articles worldwide, so if it wasn't that's an awful lot of us with rubbish news judgement.

Madonna, on that set..Regrets? Just a few, number one being that set. Yes, we should have tried harder to restrain the flamboyance of Madonna's stylist, which surely didn't do her any favours either. As one viewer put it: "Just promise me no more petals". I promise.


  • 1.
  • At 11:52 AM on 03 Nov 2006,
  • Ritter wrote:

I think you should so a 'big' celeb interview every week. How about BORAT next?

  • 2.
  • At 12:04 PM on 03 Nov 2006,
  • John Fee wrote:

I do not think she should have adopted this child. But it's not hard to see why Madonna is what she is. I loved the set - pure Madonna.

  • 3.
  • At 12:08 PM on 03 Nov 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

Now that more facts have emerged, it's clear BBC added its voice in unjustifiably inciting unwarranted hatred against someone in what should have been an entirely private matter. Madonna made it clear that she offered to provide financial support for the child in country without ever taking him away but found that nobody including the child's own father was at all interested in him. She only adpoted him because that was the only alternative to what would certainly have otherwise been a very bleak life. BBC, you have helped turn this private act of kindness, love, and charity into a media circus. Congratulations!

"Was it newsworthy? The interview spawned hundreds of articles worldwide, so if it wasn't that's an awful lot of us with rubbish news judgement."

Yes it is and regrettably, BBC has chosen to include itself in that not so noble crowd of scandal peddling ragsters. BBC, will you ever lift yourself back out of the gutter?

  • 4.
  • At 12:46 PM on 03 Nov 2006,
  • Mark E wrote:

There have been "hundreds of articles" about alien abductions, does that mean that Newsnight will be covering this in a show anytime soon?

Just because something is popular doesn't mean that it is newsworthy.

Big Brother gets lots of media attention when it is on, but that doesn't mean that the play-acting that passes for "reality tv" is newsworthy.

But hey - at least the audience doubled, and ratings are the important thing really. That is why there are so many comments about the BBC dumbing down because ratings are more important then quality.

  • 5.
  • At 01:00 PM on 03 Nov 2006,
  • John R wrote:


If Jeremy Paxman announced that next week he was going to stand on the newsdesk and do a striptease, I'm sure you'd have even more viewers and generate a huge number of news articles worldwide. Would that then justify the hit to Newsnight's credibility as a serious news programme?

  • 6.
  • At 01:14 PM on 03 Nov 2006,

I'm sure if your presenter's were naked you'd get more viewers (I wouldn't personally tune in you understand) On the basis of your last posting I suppose we can look forward to more dross. Including inter alia self serving interviews by interviewers who appear to be in awe of their subject. Even posing for a publicity shot! Lets have some hard news please!

  • 7.
  • At 02:11 PM on 03 Nov 2006,
  • Claire Warner wrote:

How media types love to drag down public fgures: Madonna,a powerful woman,has at the very least drawn her fans' attention to the terrible poverty and Aids-related deaths in baby David's village.

If she has rescued only one infant from starvation and an early death, then she has used her fame wisely

Even so, was it newsworthy? The horrors of Darfur, the workings of the new domestic abuse laws in India to protect women - surely either of
these, among others, were far more deserving of our time and your technology.

Am I the only one to note the irony that our leaders admit they can't really tell how many folk there are in Britain, even though in the next breath we're being told we're the most watched, recorded, videoed culture on Earth?

I know we Americans are ironically challenged, but please help me understand.

The next time you have a 'celebrity' being interviewed on Newsnight, maybe you could commission Chris Morris to conduct the interview...

  • 10.
  • At 04:59 PM on 03 Nov 2006,
  • David Cole wrote:

If it's not too late to comment on Madonna: The interview and set contravened Newsnight's values and for me has punctured Kirsty Wark's journalistic integrity - so sad as I have prized both. Madonna Richie is a past master at image manipulation. This absurdly self-aggrandising show woman should be quite able to deal with the kind of searching questions regularly put to politicians, who, whatever one may think of them are at least public servants. We deserved better that Wark's fawning -and would she really have her picture taken for the newspapers with a politician's arm around her?

  • 11.
  • At 06:35 PM on 03 Nov 2006,
  • Jacqui wrote:

Since we are the most watched nation on earth, how come the government or the powers that be cannot know how many illegal immigrants there are in this country and where they all are to be found?

  • 12.
  • At 07:20 PM on 03 Nov 2006,
  • Liam Coughlan wrote:

It was an appropriate story for Newsnight, who managed a scoop with the interview in the first place. The interviews elicited some facts amidst pages and hours of media speculation. The setting for the interview is irrelevant - it was obvious to all the interview took place on Madonna's terms. She (Madonna, not Kirsty) was like a cat on a hot tin roof, poised to abandon the interview if Kirsty had probed further.

  • 13.
  • At 07:28 PM on 03 Nov 2006,
  • Colin Shove wrote:

It was worth it simply to see Paxo's face throughout the programme, incredulous that Newsnight was leading with a celeb.

  • 14.
  • At 07:31 PM on 03 Nov 2006,
  • Jenny wrote:

The comments on Madonna are far more numerous if you take into account that they are split across several blog entries and that the BBC's moderators have not allowed any additions for almost 24 hours, including (as I write this at 3pm Friday) mine.

I didn't hate the Madonna piece, and taken with all the discussion I think the "event" rates quite highly. Kirsty is rarely the incisive interviewer off the Newsnight set that she is on it. It soon becomes too obvious that she chooses to interview creative people because she is fascinated by them. There's a reason savvy interviewees like to have these things done on their own turf. It's no different to the factors that make it less likely a visiting soccer team will win.

The thing is that friendly interviews can be ten-a-penny, and the chance to show that one has the answers to difficult questions (if there are any to be answered) can be welcomed, at least in retrospect. That is what made News24's Hard Talk, at least in its original configuration, so valuable. Although some of their interviewers mistake using a hard tone of voice for asking hard questions. It's such a shame hardly any of their interviews are archived on line.

This "celebrity" culture, that interviewing Madonna, and the massive international follow-up, reflects, is probably a return to the old reverence of "our betters" that enabled the Conservatives to rule the country for so long. There's little harm in using "celebrity" to explore serious issues - in respect of Madonna, immediately (as opposed ot her significance as a woman artiste, a religious exponent, and a US expatriat) private giving to Africa, African "orphans", and overseas and inter-ethnic adoption, as well as the effects of and using the media. As long as one does actually end up doing that.

There are some (small) signs that the "celebrity" tide might be starting to turn, in the USA, where a major women's magazine that has been "celebrity" obsessed for several years has recently appointed a serious (woman) news journalist to editorship with a brief to turn things around, since, with "celebrity" stuff almost wall-to-wall, there is little real competition and sales are falling.

I sure hope Newsnight isn't becoming the last on the "celebrity" boat, just as the tide turns.

Having said that, Kirsty elicited from Madonna a statement that she would like to work to improve the situation on international adoptions. If she does that with the intelligence I'm not sure I see in her promotion of her religious cause, that might be a significant addition to the expression of humanity's conscience. Well-meaning defenders of a child's right to connection with their "racial" heritage have not been met with suitable balancing on behalf of the humanitarian wish to share the best one has with children whose "native" culture oppresses them, such as orphans due to certain causes (such as AIDS, war, or death penalties), "mixed ethnicity" children in some countries, and female and "feminine" children in some others. There can be abuses, so it is not a simple matter, but the virtual impossibility that has recently been created in this, and many other countries, and which Madonna is falsely reported to have totally sidestepped is surely unjust in many cases.

  • 15.
  • At 12:25 AM on 04 Nov 2006,
  • m stewart wrote:

You say: Was it newsworthy? The interview spawned hundreds of articles worldwide, so if it wasn't that's an awful lot of us with rubbish news judgement.

Unseeingly you put your finger on the issue. We watch newsnight to escape, as far as we can, from the swamp of cruddy journalism and, yes, lowlife journalists that surround our lives. It is because, mostly, you do not have the the 'rubbish' judgement of the rest of the overwhelming majority of the media that you have a following. You betray yourselves and insult your viewers with this starstruck tosh.

  • 16.
  • At 01:47 AM on 06 Nov 2006,
  • James Koroma wrote:

i dont think this was good enough to be deemed as "news worthy".BBC should be paying more attention on serious matters instead of trying to hop on the media hype bandwagon. On another note,I welcome the Madonna adoption.I see nothing wrong with it as she is using her celebrity for a good cause.I really find it hard to be a publicity stunt for Madonna,thats just the news media at its best trying to provoke us viewers.Sadly,it worked.Do u feel good about it now BBC?

  • 17.
  • At 10:43 AM on 06 Nov 2006,
  • robin piper wrote:

I cannot understand what all the fuss is about, Madonna has the right to adopt who she likes. The comments I think are borne out of an underlying envy of her, as an international celebrity. She is being a 'good Samaritan'. However the question is, what will the unintended consequence to the proposed adoption be? Robin Piper.

  • 18.
  • At 09:40 PM on 06 Nov 2006,
  • Shueb wrote:

Such stories should be confined to the tabloids. Newsnight should stick to its principles of many years of important stories, quality analysis and probing interviewing.

  • 19.
  • At 02:38 PM on 16 Nov 2006,
  • john wood wrote:

I dont think it can be "put ... to bed" easily. I dont think Newsnight will recover from this. Thank God we still have channel 4 news for the time being,

  • 20.
  • At 08:07 AM on 06 Dec 2006,
  • Nigel Balchin wrote:

In this, I resent a) the BBC unashamedly allowing Madonna to use this programme to promote her recent book b) to promote her film (footage from which was provided courtesy of Warner Bros) and c) to promote all her other books through the seemingly worthy words of her daughter who was allowed airtime on this programme through the very vehicle of that film where she pronounced most wholeheartedly and favourably on behalf of all her mother's books. What an appalling abuse of the BBC's position. What arrogance this woman has - to even suppose that she can pronounce on the legitimacy or otherwise of any adoption law made by any elected legislation anywhere - and what hideous support bestowed to her by the BBC in allowing her the platform to express such a view. Why did nobody stop this? Why did nobody even ask what was the legitimacy of Madonna's position either in right or in the right to be on the screen expressing ANY view. For me, she had neither right and never once was any such right established.

Product placement - the video, the new book and all the other books that Madonna has on sale (the ones her daughter was selling in these video snatches) is not allowed on the BBC. Product references have to be editorially justifiable. At best, the references to the new book and to the Malawi effort were tenuously justifiable on editorial grounds. But the rest of it - where Madonna's daughter is allowed to sell all the rest of her mother's books on BBC airtime - cannot possibly be.

This needs to get referred to the people who police the BBC - these are major mistakes with public service broadcasting.

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