Right of Reply

The producer of `Jonathan Dimbleby' puts the case for political interviews on Sunday television
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The Independent Culture
DAVID AARONOVITCH'S article on the death of the political interview smacks of surrender. Of course "press release" television, such as Sir David Frost's breakfast programme, is highly successful at getting politicians on for a cosy chat. Their purpose is to get the headline, be clipped on the day's news and offer an alternative avenue for the ministerial announcement. But to suggest that the rest of us pack our bags is a betrayal of the viewer and of the political process.

Political television has grown up from the days when David Aaronovitch was a "cub researcher" on the ground-breaking Weekend World. There is still soundbite television and chin-wags on the Sunday morning sofa, but also the more in-depth forensic interviews, done so successfully by Jonathan Dimbleby.

Each weekend, television's most incisive interviewer grills a politician for 20 minutes on the big issues before turning them over for quizzing by an audience of 100 voters. This makes for intellectually engaging viewing, relevant to the lives of the audience rather than gossipers in the inner loop of Westminster.

Of course, we would love the power to subpoena politicians when they are in trouble. We know they can always opt for the easier get-out, but the public are wise to this. Jonathan Dimbleby's interview with Conservative Trade Secretary Ian Lang on the publication of the Scott Report was one of the toughest I have seen - yet the minister earned credit with the audience for engaging with difficult questions, rather than ducking them.

There is hardly a front rank politician who hasn't been on Jonathan Dimbleby - and returned for another go. It may be more of a challenge, but most have the confidence to face such a cross-examination.