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Sunday, March 22, 2020

Has BBC's Question Time run its course?

I have not watched Question Time for a number of years. Frankly, I have too much respect for my blood pressure and the safety of my TV set. The problem as I perceive it is that some time ago the programme's producers abandoned the concept of informed debate and political balance, and chose instead to opt for sensationalism. The constant presence of Nigel Farage was just one symptom of this trend.

Reports I have read indicate that the post-coronavirus edition without an audience was a measurable improvement. Instead of the baying masses, and politicians seeking applause lines, we had panellists who were seriously trying to answer the question. However, that does not address the fundamental problem, that the show no longer understands what its purpose is, and tries to treat politics as entertainment.

When there is an audience, the BBC apparently seek to pack it with controversial people and then pick out the most outrageous parts to promote the show, as if the concept of political balance no longer applied to them. It is little wonder therefore that the Observer reports that the BBC has been asked to clarify if any efforts are made to “deliberately invite or attract” members of far-right groups to the audience of its flagship political programme, Question Time:

Baroness Warsi and Labour MP Debbie Abrahams have written to the BBC’s director general Tony Hall, asking him to consider also introducing a new code of conduct for panelists and the audience, and to stop sharing inflammatory videos from the show on social media.

It follows the BBC’s decision last month to upload on Twitter comments made by one recent audience member who claimed migrants “were flooding in” to the UK and costing public services too much.

Later, the individual was alleged to have stood in a general election for the neo-nazi National Front and be an active a supporter of the far right figurehead, Tommy Robinson, founder of the Islamophobic English Defence League.

Warsi and Abrahams, co-chairs of the new all-party group Compassion in Politics, argue that the BBC has a duty to avoid inflaming hate. Their letter asks how the Question Time audience is sourced and seeks a response to their assertion that far right supporters are invited to appear on the show.

The letter says: “We understand the producers of the show seek out ‘controversial members of the audience – including those of far-right campaign groups – in an attempt to curry large ratings.”

Recently the Question Time presenter, Fiona Bruce, described the “level of toxicity” on the show and admitted she had not anticipated how angry the show’s audiences would be.

Warsi and Abrahams write: “By providing a platform for views that are racist or sexist, the institution is normalising them and contributing to the coarsening of public debate and the growing toxicity of our politics.

“We therefore invite the BBC to let us know what steps it will now be taking to ensure that the recent controversies surrounding Question Time are not repeated.”

These concerns are all valid and deserve a considered answer, not the usual bland reassurances you get when making a complaint to the BBC. But let's go further - isn't Question Time past its useful role? Wouldn't it be better if the BBC just axed it altogether?
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