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What to ask the PM?

Gareth Butler | 16:09 UK time, Monday, 29 January 2007

Prime ministers don't give long, sit-down interviews for domestic TV very often - this is Mr Blair's first (which you can watch here) since Sunday AM in September.

politics_show_logo.jpgGiven that they're so rare, you might think there would be all kinds of shenanigans from the No 10 side - you can't ask questions about this or that, you can only have x minutes, it has to be such-and-such a location or whatever. Actually, in my experience such negotiations aren't nearly as common or extensive as people think, and there certainly wasn't anything like that in this case: we were allowed to ask Mr Blair whatever we wanted (although as viewers will have seen, he could still refuse to answer!). We were told he was likely to agree to speak to us over a fortnight in advance, and planning the interview began then.

The difficult thing with these planned interviews is finding the right balance between questions which you have always wanted to ask, and questions which you feel you have to put to him this particular weekend. Our first draft had no questions about the Home Office, and a big section on health. The day before the interview we more or less tore up our plan and started again.

The questions in the end were overwhelmingly topical. We had a list of about 30 we wanted to ask, and we had rejected many more; 25 minutes is very long for an interview, but it's never long enough for the man who oversees every area of government activity. The commonest complaint we receive about interviews is "why didn't you press him/her on such-and-such? Why no follow-up question?". Often a follow-up is absolutely the right thing to do, but viewers have to understand that for every time you batter away a second and third time on a particular subject, a potentially important question is squeezed out of the end of the interview. On this occasion, I hope we got the balance right.


  • 1.
  • At 07:19 PM on 29 Jan 2007,
  • umar tosheeb wrote:

whichever way a question is asked to politicians at this level, they are very good at answering the right answer.One can almost predict what their answer would be.

  • 2.
  • At 09:27 PM on 29 Jan 2007,
  • name wrote:

And journalists need to understand that if you do not batter away a second and third time on a particular subject, politicians will learn that they can get away with evasive answers, such as when BBC employees interviewed Tony Blair and they asked a suggested question about whether he would have told Jews in Germany to sign up to a National Identity Register and he totally ignored it.

  • 3.
  • At 02:02 AM on 30 Jan 2007,
  • Manjit wrote:

I thought it was interesting interview, thou would it have not been better to have focussed more on policy issues? It was pretty clear that PM was going to offer no comment on the Police investigation or his immediate future. It would have much more interesting to hear his views on the Home Office, NHS reform and the EU.

No doubt the Blair bashing will begin shortly ....

What is more imporant, that you get through 25 questions and recieve the stock answer, or you get through 5 questions and actually find out what the policy, the thoughts and where actually wants to go? If your Tony Blair, the former. If you're the public, whos good money is spent by this government, who we are meant to be represented by, then it's the latter.

And as I recall, the TV Licence Fee is from the public, to serve the public, not the Whitehall spin departments,

  • 5.
  • At 04:06 PM on 31 Jan 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

BBC interviewers should learn to ask questions which give insight into the views and opinions of interviewees, and the thinking behind them and not to engage them in debate, not to challenge them, not to express their own views as they so often do even at the risk of insulting the interviewee. They are not going to change the interviewee's mind but they might cause the interview to be terminated prematurely. This is the kind of gaff Nick Robinson committed at President Bush's press conference a few months ago when given the opportunity to ask him a question, was boorish and insulting by asking him if he had the knowledge and skill to understand what is happening in Iraq. Mr. Robinson, BBC's investigative efforts and researchers notwithstanding, the President of the United States gets the benefit of more collection of intelligence about Iraq, its sorting, distillation, analysis, and expert recommendations in a week than BBC gets in a year. Keep that in mind if you ever have the privelege of asking him a question again. And also keep in mind where you are. Whether we agree with his politics or not, out of respect for his office, Americans hold him and his dignity in as high a regard as most Brits hold their Queen.

  • 6.
  • At 10:03 PM on 31 Jan 2007,
  • Bernard wrote:

#5 Mark you wrote:

Americans hold him and his dignity in as high a regard as most Brits hold their Queen.

I don't think so!

Most Americans according to polls would like to see the back of him. How can he be held in high regard? Mr Bush became President by fraud. The man should be in prison.

  • 7.
  • At 10:13 PM on 01 Feb 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Bernard #6
While that may be true of his political views and his performance on his job, that is not the same thing as his dignity or even his likeability. Most people who know him personally including those who sharply disagree with him actually like him. But even if it weren't so, the respect for the office of the President of the United States by American citizens trancends the person and the politics of the moment. Being elected to this most powerful office is the highest honor which can be bestowed on an individual in America and it represents the trust free people place in their leader. This is NOT like the way the Prime Minister of Great Britain is viewed as seen every week at Prime Minister's Question Time in the House of Commons. Watch that spectacle where members barely give him the opportunity to be heard when he speaks. Then watch a Presidential news conference or a Congressional hearing and notice the stark difference. Even with a full meeting of the House of Representatives with 435 members, you can hear a pin drop if someone has the floor. The slighest noise gets a gavel reminding whoever is making it to be quiet. If you watched the recent State of the Union address you will have noticed that even when President Bush said something his opponents didn't like, they sat quietly and politely while those who did approve applauded. We expect anyone who visits our country and has the privelege of addressing the President whoever he is to show the same degree of respect and courtesy. To do less as Nick Robinson did, as George Holloway did before a Congressional hearing is an insult to our nation. I've seen hired murderers in front of Congressional committees who showed more respect for our representatives than George Holloway did.

  • 8.
  • At 01:31 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Mike wrote:

Many americans do trust and revere their president. Unfortunately on his track record, I am with the BBC reporter, as I don't think President Bush does understand. I may turn out to be mistaken, and peace will break out in the middle east, and I will apologise if it does.
A politician is unlikely to give truthful answers which make him look bad. That's human nature. Not just a Labour party problem.

  • 9.
  • At 02:13 PM on 05 Feb 2007,
  • One Eyed Owl wrote:

I think the point here is that Americans hold the Office of President in high esteem, not necessarily President Bush himself.

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