Reading of the new format for TV3’s “The People’s Debate” I have to admit that it is not a show I’ll be in a hurry to watch. Of course, it would be grossly unfair to pass judgement on a TV show I haven’t even seen, but I’m not hopeful. The problem is that the format seems to be yet another replication of the “all heat no light” format that permeates TV coverage of Irish politics. You know the form: open with a vague question. “Do the Irish people deserve a world class health service?” Cut to various heart rendering individual stories where the system didn’t work well, and then spend the rest of the debate tearing a stuttering junior minister apart for wilfully ordering the HSE to make Mary’s granny cry in the filth encrusted corridors of St. Verucca of the Gippy Knee.
Can we not try something new? Like what, asks you? Well, seeing as you asked..
1. When was the last time you saw a politician seriously put under pressure in an interview? I don’t mean the usual waffling to use up time, knowing it’s a short interview. Imagine, instead, we had a hour long panel format where a politician is questioned by, say, two pol corrs, and two experts in the field of whatever the live issue of the day is, or if it’s a minister, two experts in his or her field. I suggested such a format once to a political hack, and he said that no Irish politician would ever agree to go through such a vigorous process, but I’m not sure. I’ll tell you one thing: watching candidates for the European Parliament be grilled about European issues would be a public service.
2. Make the public accountable. I’m sick of watching TV shows where members of the public just whinge and demand easy solutions from politicians. Of course the public should contribute to political debate, but the public are as much a part of the political process as politicians, and should be held to account as individual voters. Given that politicians are always afraid to attack members of the public (One exception is Regina Doherty TD who gave as good as she got at a public meeting on Seanad abolition, and went up in my estimation as a result) why not have a Agent Provocateur panel in the studio, possibly of college debating types, whose job is to keep the audience honest, and challenge them on the usual “The government should give me everything I want, for free!” . After all, people are entitled to their opinions and the right to voice, but they also have an obligation to justify them. It would at least allow for debate on issues to develop beyond the usual “Politicians: are they all bastards, or are some of them just pricks?”