I watched last night’s ‘Question Time’ with mounting incredulity. I have looked forward to this programme for many years as an opportunity of listening to politicians and others offering serious debate on topical issues. It began in 1979 with a panel of four guests, usually one member from each of the three major parties and another public figure, for example non-governmental organisation directors, newspaper columnists, or religious leaders (the first broadcast included the-then Archbishop of Liverpool). I have come to accept that the BBC now only invite ‘guests from the worlds of politics and the media’ to take part but last night’s programme holds out the prospect that the programme editors have decided it needs to be dumbed-down even more. As if having one egoistic, opinionated panel member was not enough, we were given two. Melanie Phillips’ unregulated, vitriolic outburst against the audience was disgusting and I am tempted to wonder if she was encouraged to be so provocative. Russell Brand behaved as if he was appearing on a BBC3 programme for teenagers. His main concern seemed to be self-promotion by playing to the gallery. His, frequently, arrogant, shallow responses hardly moved one to a deeper understanding of the questions posed and could have come from the mouth of anyone who reacts to issues rather than reflects on them.
The belief that the BBC has decided to dumb-down its programmes was enforced last night and, like others, I wonder if QT will descend into a pantomime. After a recent broadcast from Scotland the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) wrote to the BBC to complain about the lack of balance on the programme stating that: "Not only does the selection of panellists fail to represent the make-up of Scottish politics, but it also seems to be aimed more at pantomime than serious debate." Last night’s programme reinforced that comment.
Russell Brand was banned at one point by the BBC for his appalling behaviour but the Governors seem happy, now, to promote him by including him in a growing list of popular entertainers whose views are considered worthy of inclusion in what was once a serious programme. As Simon Kelner said in ‘The Independent’ (February3rd 2013): ‘Is this what has happened to public discourse in Britain? Has Twitter bred a generation for whom anything but a soundbite requires too much concentration? And is everyone given a voice, no matter whether they've got anything to say or not? I remember the time, not so very long ago, when ‘Question Time’ was reflective of serious national debate, and was a flagship current affairs programme. You'd have four serious politicians and a wild card, a journalist with a viewpoint or a notable public figure, and the exchanges would be informed, elucidatory and often entertaining. … (now it’s) All heat, no light, and precious little nuance. ‘ How true. And how sad.