Monday 24 September 2018

No way to run a national station

Whenever I watch a TV courtroom drama there usually comes a point when a particularly nasty and aggressive lawyer is reprimanded by the judge for “badgering the witness”.

This is what I was reminded of as I watched a repeat this morning of Deborah Schembri being harangued on either side by both Clyde Puli and Norman Vella during TVhemm.

But this was no courtroom and Deborah was not there to answer for any wrongdoings. I thought I was supposed to be watching a discussion programme but what I saw was an outrageous shambles where a guest could not get a word in edgewise. Arnold Cassola hovering on the edge was equally at a disadvantage.

I had vowed to stop watching Norman’s programme because it is seriously bad for my health, but I made an exception after a friend suggested I should watch it. She was appalled at the completely unacceptable way the presenter was behaving and she wanted my opinion.

Of course, she was absolutely right.

Where’s Everybody have been very vociferous in disagreeing with the BA’s draconian list of directives which has clamped down on how presenters should conduct political discussions. The directives have been described as a muzzle and a threat to journalistic freedom, and in normal circumstances I would agree that a presenter should not be dictated to in this way. But WE are not helping their own cause one bit by letting Norman barge on regardless in what he seems to think is an example of what a ‘hard hitting interviewer’ does.  Take it from me Norm, it’s not.  What we have every evening on PBS is more reminiscent of an interrogation.

There isn’t even an attempt to pretend to be impartial. As he has done in previous programmes, Norman allowed Clyde Puli a free hand to pound his political adversary non-stop with a barrage of rhetoric but each time Deborah tried to interject, he mowed her down, barely pausing for breath. She finally shrugged with a bemused expression and gave up.  Arnold Cassola was also trying his best to be heard but Mr Puli was like a mechanical toy which had been wound up too tightly, and he could not, would not, be stopped.  When Deborah did get a few precious minutes to speak, Norman interrupted her continuously. And what is this habit of repeating the same question over and over again, using it as a club to beat a person into replying? (Another flashback to TV courtroom dramas: “The witness will answer the question!”)

Believe me, if a politician is waffling about and not directly answering the question, the viewers can figure it out for themselves and will come to their own conclusions.

These are not “discussions”, they are more like staged set-ups from which sound bites are carefully lifted and used accordingly; the whole programme is simply a disgrace to the national station.

To further compound the impression that whoever is pulling the strings at PBS has a political agenda, let me present you with just one example I noticed myself recently.  Waiting for the 8pm news, I caught the tail end of TVhemm with Beppe Fenech Adami and Toni Abela and Norman doing his usual “hard-hitting interviewer” act. Toni was being cross-examined about Anglu Farrugia’s interview in The Sunday Times.

The programme, which usually takes us right up to the news, was abruptly cut short at around 7.45pm, which I already thought was odd. Then in the news bulletin itself, one of the first items was the Anglu Farrugia interview (fair enough, this was newsworthy) but what do we get exactly afterwards? Hey presto, Toni Abela’s sound bite on the subject hot off the press from a programme which had finished barely moments before. Wow, that was some swift editing there – hats off to all concerned for such incredible efficiency.

There’s nothing wrong with it, of course; in fact, we should have more of this diligence and this hardcore, snappy “news as it happens” method. Like, oh I don’t know, maybe we could see such swift reactions, aggressive interviewing, conveniently lifted sound bites, and hastily produced news items all the time, and not just when it happens to fit in with the campaign of one political party at the expense of another?





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