Thursday, December 15, 2005

Trial of the Century

Oliver Kamm has things to say regarding the Newsnight production "Allies on Trial".

The fact is that this particular type of current affairs programming is fundamentally unserious. The idea that the "verdict" reached is in any way analytical tends to be complete rot and the "prosecution" tends to take a substantial amount of ground by the simple gambit of self-righteous posturing and superficially plausible bullshit, asserted with enough conviction and furrowing of brows to play to the audience's preconceived prejudices.

The format was, of course, pioneered by Channel 4 News, which has produced a string of distinctly unedifying and lavishly one-sided "trials" of the following topics:

The Monarchy
The War on Terror
The USA
The Iraq War

The shows made for frustrating viewing for anybody whose worldview wasn't roughly within the spectrum running from the left wing of the Labour movement to the Socialist Worker's Party. The presenter, Jon Snow (whose pearls of insight run to dismissing the Iraq conflict as "Mr Bush's war for oil" in his memoirs), made a manful effort to keep his prejudices in check and, to his credit, succeeded for all of the first five minutes (watching him trying not to curl his lip whenever he's interviewing an American on Channel 4 News is like watching Dr Strangelove trying to control his right arm, bless 'im). If serious attempts were made to ensure the audience wasn't stacked they failed abysmally, with "defence" witnesses regularly being bayed down and the general mood among audience members seeming to bear no relation whatsoever to what, if the polls are to be believed, a genuinely representative cross-section of society would display. The whole sorry spectacle generally seemed to add up to not much more than a thinly disguised chance for the Channel 4 editorial team to give vent to their political angst.

Maybe the Beeb is better than that and the "trial" will actually provide an enlightening forum in which competing ideas can be tested in a challenging and intelligent way. I doubt it.

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