Question Time: Can't the BBC allow us one hour of unashamedly highbrow televison?

We no longer have reasoned arguments between people who know what they're talking about, interspersed with intelligent contributions from the audience

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I don't care if you call me a miserable old codger, but there are times when I just despair of the modern world.

It doesn't happen very often, yet I couldn't help but sink into a pit of desperation during last week's edition of Question Time.

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.

For the past 18 years, David Dimbleby has moderated the discussion in unimpeachable fashion. But something has happened relatively recently to the programme, and I suspect it is the result of how debate is conducted outside the cloistered environment from where the broadcast emanates each week.

For a start, we no longer have reasoned arguments between people who know what they're talking about, interspersed with intelligent contributions from the audience. In the era when everyone has to have an opinion, when the idea of proper discourse is a barrage of ill-considered comments on internet sites, this once intellectually challenging programme seems to have descended to the level of a local radio phone-in.

Almost everyone in the auditorium gets a chance with the radio mike, including one memorable contribution last week from a man who seemed to think the new HS2 rail link was a road.  Clearly in an effort to chase a wider, younger audience - Why? Can't the BBC allow us one hour of unashamedly highbrow televison?  - the makers of Question Time increasingly invite comedians, actors and celebrities on to give us their views on the big political issues of the day.

Last week, the panel was made up of two politicians - Alan Johnson, Sayeeda Warsi (better known as Baroness Patronising of Platitude) - two journalists, and a comedian, Dom Joly. Now, I bow to no one in appreciation of the talents of Mr Joly, and I happen to know he is an erudite, well-travelled man with wide interests. But I couldn't have been alone in wondering why I was watching a programme in which he is giving his opinion on the military intervention in Mali (he made the dubious point that it was refreshing to see the French in action, if you're interested).

I found it all rather pointless and depressing, mainly because it felt a reflection of so much of what happens in real life. All heat, no light, and precious little nuance. Of course, the democratisation of communications is a good thing, if up to a point. The fact that we can all now find a channel to disseminate comment and information is a benefit conferred by the digital age, but a cacophony of voices will not necessarily lead to illumination. Certainly, on the evidence of Question Time, answers may now be even harder to come by.

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