Do you watch ‘Meet the Press‘ or ‘Face the Nation‘? The former is the longest-running (70+years) programme on any TV network anywhere and it was a pioneer in many respects ~ for females in journalism (it’s the first host was Martha Rountree) and, of course, it pioneered what I call “talking heads TV.” In 1982 the Public Television Network (PBS) pioneered a new idea in talking heads TV, veteran journalist John McLauchlin changed the format ~ no longer did a journalist or a small panel interview a politician, now a group of Columnists, opinion writers, debated issues amongst themselves and two ideas were born:
- The idea of “shouting heads TV” which was (evidently still is) deemed to be more “exciting;” and
- The idea that a “balanced” range of opinion needed to be presented.
I’m not sure I agree that either “shouting heads” or “balance” are necessary or informative.
On Monday night we saw panel after panel of journalists and former politicians and professors and political ‘strategists,’ all chattering at and past one another in a great display of “balance.” In my opinion, the smallest of the national English language network, with (perhaps not coincidentally) the smallest panel, did the best and explaining what was happening.
I, personally, have stopped watching almost all network “panels,” even those which feature journalists I hold in high regard. They have devolved into little more than fora in which political partisans ~ which too often includes working journalists, themselves, regurgitate campaign propaganda from this, that or the other party. At least some journalists are honest enough to emphasize that “a [Party] insider told me” … too many offer a highly partisan opinion as if it was their own idea and, therefore, information rather then propaganda.
I would love to see news networks follow something more akin to what Steve Pakin does on TVO and Fareed Zakaria does on CNN: informed, well-researched, one-on-one interviews with public figures. I would watch e.g. Mercedes Stephenson or David Akin, of Global, both of whom certainly have strong opinions on issues, interrogate political leaders without having to pretend to be “balanced.” I would equally, watch a “panel” of say two or even three journalists like John Ibbitson and Chantel Hébert or John Ivison and Susan Delacourt interrogate (I use that word, again, because it’s what I mean) political leaders on the issues of the day, one-at-a-time, without having to display fake “balance.” I would encourage more politicians to boycott “fair and balanced” panels because they are nothing more than partisan “shouting heads TV” programmes ~ infotainment, at best.
Which brings me to election debates.
I was horrified at the debates in the 2019 campaign. The organizers and moderators of the one and only English debate did a disservice to Canadians and they should be ashamed.
In his post-election press conference, on 23 Oct, Prime Minister Trudeau said that “I think there were big ideas that weren’t fully debated.” The Conservative Party should help to ensure that doesn’t happen in the future, for the good of Canada.
I would like the Conservative party to announce, very soon, some terms and conditions for future election debates:
- The CPC will participate only in debates that are organized by a team consisting of a news media outlet and a university or university-based think-tank. That is to say that the Munk Centre debate that Justin Trudeau ducked should be the rule, not the exception;
- The CPC will not debate with any leader whose party is not an official party in Parliament ~ in other words, “no” to Elizabeth May and Maxime Bernier and so on;
- The CPC will participate only in debates which are bilingual ~ each roughly 20 -25% in French and >75% English; and
- There must be a minimum of three (and a maximum of five) debates during a five-week campaign ~
- One must be on fiscal policy, which might have to include trade and industry policies,
- One must be one social policy, which may have to include e.g. indigenous and environmental issues, and
- One must be on foreign, defence and security policy.
Let’s try to make politics a little bit more about informing Canadians and little less about satisfying journalistic agendas … and egos. Let’s also have the Conservative Party seize the debate high ground, first.