Wednesday, 6 November 2013

A Guide to Question Time

For years, the BBC's Question Time political programme has been scrutinised, ever since its apparent left-wing bias became sufficiently obvious to make the more attentive viewers sit up and take notice. It has been worsening ever since, and now considerably larger numbers are commenting on its ever-strengthening leftward slant.

Several people have not only been watching it all closely, but a few (most notably Beeb Bias Craig) have laboriously documented all manner of interesting statistics – such as numbers of interruptions of each panellist by the programme's host, David Dimbleby – and a whole range of other factors.

Here, then is a guide to what is done and how it is done...

The Panel

Usually five members, the odd number so that it can be made lop-sided by including someone who has no relevance to the political scene at all, and is usually a Lefty comedian or similar showbiz figure (this week it's a 'poet and author').

The panel will nearly always have at least three members from the political left (or allied to it, as in the case of the comdian or whoever is in the fifth seat), and they try to specialise in hetting one of the more left-of-party Conservatives on the panel, as often as they can. The same names crop up repeatedly. There will often also be a journalist among the five.

The solitary exception (as far as I have been able to ascertain) is that, once per season, they have it round the other way, to 'prove' that they are 'unbiased' and 'even-handed'. No-one is fooled by this; but it makes it impossible to do anything about it. Smugly, they continue as ever.

The seating arrangement is planned to suit the programme-makers' agenda as well. For example, in this short clip, we see how Labour's Harriet Harman got David Dimbleby to interrupt Conservative Iain Duncan Smith, which was oh-so-easy to do because of how they were positioned...

The Questions

These are, of course, chosen by the BBC production people from the many submitted – which is why the topics they cover are so predictable that at least two websites run a regular contest for their visitors to predict what will come up. Typically the actual subjects will allow for maximum bashing of the Right, will play to the Labour/Green member(s) of the panel, and will echo the BBC's own agenda.

This is why important matters that don't suit their agenda are omitted, and less significant ones can be debated for an inordinately long time. It is not unusual for more than a third of the programme's air time to be taken up dealing just the first question. They always ensure they make time for the frivolous 'final question', which someone in the audience has conveniently provided, without fail every week.

It seems likely that it is either scripted by the producers, or guided by them, in advance. No-one in the audience is going to waste their one chance to ask a question on something lightweight and (often) trivial, after all.

The Audience

These are predominantly public sector workers and students. They are largely brought in on coaches from other areas – which explains why so many called to speak don't have local accents. Certain ones, vetted by (perhaps even invited as personally known to) the producers will be made known to David Dimbleby, who will make sure they are called.. Usually, despite many people indicating are not called at all, one, two or three of these will be called upon twice, though occasionally the second time follows their first speaking bit being to ask one of the chosen questions. Perhaps that's thought to be less blatant..

Somerimes there are a few seats right at the front of the audience seating area, in front of the longer rows, and these are for 'those who must be called'. I think they also provide an occasional steer to David D on something (via gestures or hand signals), off camera but plainly visible to him.

The Chairing

The chairman specialises in selective interruption, attempting to derail any Right-winger on the panel by butting in just after they've started, and repeatedly interrupting. This tends to be done to the Lefties much less. He doesn't usually dare do this too much ro the non-politicians, though, such as David Starkey, I have noticed.

There will also be cutting-off if a Right-wing replay is making too good a point, directly counter to the BBC's own preferred message, if he can get away with it.

Generally, there will be an obvious (i.e. it's easy to see it being set up) ambush, prepared in advance, on any Conservative MP (or equivalent) panellist. Sometimes there are two; but it's easy to spot what is going on, once you have watched a few of these programmes, and to work out how it was devised.

In Conclusion

There is a lot more, but the above gives the flavour, and some detail. It will certainly make some of the more puzzling aspects of the show (and it is a show, literally) more understandable, when one realises that the whole purpose of it is to promote the BBC's own political agenda, and that is its sole purpose. That includes helping Labour, Greens and the like look good, giving them a relatively friendly platform, 'Tory-bashing', and messages on such matters as public spending vs 'the cuts', Israel/Palestinians, and lots of others

It's all obvious when you pay attention to what they are trying to feed the viewing public. It works; so the formula has remained the same for years – though the degree of bias has continually intensified, as it has throughout the Corporation's news and politics departments, and probably elsewhere as well.

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