Barney Jones

Getting answers from the PM

Persuading Tony Blair to come into TV Centre and do a major BBC1 interview, live, with no restrictions or caveats on the question areas is an achievement. Getting the PM to say something new on one of the key issues of the day is another matter altogether.

Sunday AM logoJon Sopel, battled valiantly last month trying to get the prime minister to say when he was leaving office, who would succeed him and how much his closing months were being overshadowed by the Cash for Honours enquiry. Very pertinent questions received pretty un-illuminating responses. So, how to get some answers that would leave viewers wiser about government policy, the PM's intentions or his legacy?

First, we decided to limit the area of questions to a small number of the topics that would - in an ideal world - be raised. Getting answers on inequality in society after ten years of a Labour government, the Iraq war, climate change and the PM’s legacy - leaving out other great swathes of domestic and foreign policy. Giving Andrew Marr time to question the PM closely on those issues that were raised.

Secondly, we tried to stick with it when the interviewee was gently veering off in another direction, and answering a question that was subtly different to one he'd just been asked.

Thirdly, we aimed to curb Andrew's natural inclination to intervene while the PM was talking. We were hoping to avoid the tetchy exchanges that might still fail to produce that elusive illumination.

blair_garfunkel_getty203.jpgSo, what success this Sunday? That's more for the viewer to assess than the producers (you can watch the interview here). However, the PM did talk animatedly about inequality in society, denying David Cameron's assessment. He did admit that he was "devastated" by the killings in Iraq, and did indicate that he expected the British plans for troop withdrawal to continue even if the Americans were busy pouring in more troops. And he did map out his commitment to climate control indicating that this would be a focus of attention post-Downing Street.

And was it too sugary at the end? Both Art Garfunkel and the PM both had reservations in advance about sitting down and chatting - on camera - with the other. In the event, after an interview that was a bit scratchy at times, it seemed right to end with a minute of warm exchanges. And you could argue that finding out that the PM still plays guitar "most days" adds something to the sum total of human knowledge. Well, just a bit.

Barney Jones is editor of The Andrew Marr Show


BBC in the news, Monday

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  • 19 Feb 07, 10:32 AM

The Independent: Columnist Raymond Snoddy on what the BBC must do for its employees. (link)

The Guardian: Steve Hewlett questions whether the BBC iPlayer is already out of date. (link)


BBC in the news, Sunday

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  • 19 Feb 07, 10:16 AM

The Independent on Sunday: Former Five Live assistant editor Tim Luckhurst asks whether the station is “becoming just a populist, lavishly funded competitor to commercial chat radio”. (link)

Sunday Mirror: “The BBC's Shipping Forecast is being released - as a dance track.” (link)

Mail on Sunday: Excerpts from former BBC journalist Robin Aitken's book on being a Tory working at the corporation. (link)

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