Thursday, September 11, 2008

End of Evan's Honeymoon?

Evan Davis has had a charmed life in broadcasting and I was one of the many who welcomed his arrival on the Today programme on Radio Four.
But this morning he made a bad error of judgement when interviewing Hilary Benn.

I think someone must have told him that, in his political interviews, he was giving people an easy ride. So today with Hilary he offered him outside, as it were.
If he thought he was hard enough.
He repeatedly said "If you don't know the answer, that's fine" which might sound mild but, believe me, was actually more insulting than anything that Humphreys has ever said. It was like a teacher being sympathetic to a special needs pupil. Hilary, who didn't have an answer to some of the questions, was being patronised to within an inch of his life.
And Hilary,who, according to 'insiders', has a fiery temper, was not amused.

But worse was to come. When Hilary tried to give the phone number for an energy-saving advice line, Evan shouted him down. "Please don't give the number. It's a waste of valuable time. We can put the number on our website."
Hilary tried to give the number but Evan talked over it.
Later, probably following complaints from listeners and Hilary banging the Today editors' heads together, Evan gave out the phone number and said he was 'pleased to do so.'

The stupidity of this was that the people most in need of help with energy costs, the elderly and the very poor, are the very people least likely to have access to the internet.
There's not just a 'digital divide'. There's a yawning chasm of incomprehension. Much of the media and political elite just don't get the fact that millions of people in the UK do not have a computer. And whilst most libraries now offer free internet access, people still have to know how to use it.

One entertainment at my local library is to spy on the internet classes they run for senior citizens. Some of the poor old souls look terrified, their fingers hovering over the Enter key as though pressing it might launch the UK's Trident missiles.
I don't wish to generalise. I'm sure there are some nonagenarians posting videos on YouTube of themselves singing The Batchelors' Greatest Hits or playing the spoons whilst farting there'll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover.
And I know of affluent middle class families whose houses are a computer-free zone, possibly from fear that their children will be groomed by paedophiles or that they will post an open invitation to a house party on MySpace.
So for many people the oft-repeated phrase "you'll find more details on our website" is about as useful as an invitation to a beach party in the Bahamas.

As for Evan Davis, he has yet to find a style of political interviewing that is rigorous but suits his personality. Hilary Benn deserved a rough ride because today's package of energy measures will be little help to people struggling to pay fuel bills this winter. Unfortunately, attention was focused on Evan getting it badly wrong.
Not that there are many good examples for him to follow. Sue MacGregor was the worst interviewer ever. James Naughtie can never ask a concise question. And John Humphreys often veers into downright rudeness.
Given time, maybe Evan will crack it.


At 11:28 PM, Blogger Tim Footman said...

Re: access to the informationwebintersuperhighnetway... I remember a time when you couldn't assume that everyone had easy access to a telephone. I'm sure there are still some people in the UK who are in this situation. The question is, what's the tipping point at which you take access as read? 80%? 95%? I dunno.

At 10:57 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

tim: I remember reading of a British Prime Minister in the last century (can't remember which) who had no telephone at his country home, so the local policeman had to cycle round there whenever there was a crisis.

I think home internet access is currently around 60% in the UK. Certainly not more than 70%. That means a hell of a lot of people without it.
There's a parallel here with non-car owners - about 30% of the population. Yet you often hear people say "everyone has a car these days."
I think you can 'take it as read' when the figure is in excess of 95%, as with TV ownership.


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