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Last Updated: Friday, 9 December 2005, 14:01 GMT
Send in the clowns
Covent Garden location
Viewers said the circus theme was distracting
Politics may be important but it's not always the most engrossing television.

That's something the BBC recognises and in recent years it has tried to make its political coverage more relevant, interesting and even entertaining.

But did it go too far this week with the programme covering the Chancellor's pre-Budget report to the House of Commons?

An outside broadcast from a restaurant in London included circus acts such as acrobats and a strongman, who were used to explain some of Gordon Brown's problems and pronouncements.


Music was playing during much of the reports by presenter Jenny Scott, which also included a panel of guests holding up scorecards to mark the Chancellor's performance.

A balancing act for the Chancellor
Some viewers said it had trivialised the subject and described it as more like a game show or a children's programme.

"It seems to be a cross between the X Factor and a bad pantomime," said David Easby. "I was constantly distracted from what Jenny was saying by background noise and movement behind the camera."

Maureen Woollafton commented: "It was as if they were trying to make it interesting for idiots. It was childish, really appalling."

Jamie Donald, editor of live political programmes, gives his response:

When we're making political programmes I'm thinking about the importance of the subject matter we're doing and the kind of audience that like and enjoy serious political events.

Jamie Donald
Jamie Donald: Trying to engage a new audience
But I'm also thinking about the problem that more and more people in Britain are disengaging from politics. They're not voting, they're not watching the traditional types of political coverage.

This was our way of trying to engage the new audience that we feel is essential, that tends to be younger and tends to have loads of other kinds of TV to watch.

When we're tackling what's a terribly dry, terribly difficult subject to understand, we have to use metaphor, we have to use those televisual devices people are familiar with.


I absolutely respect those people who got in touch to say they didn't like it. I'm sorry they didn't enjoy it - it wasn't our intention to alienate them.

But you must balance that against those people we want to attract and the important point here is that the programme drew over a million viewers - that's three times the audience we usually get for the pre-Budget report.

And in fact the use of the scorecards was quite revealing. Often when you listen to guests on political programmes, it's hard to tell which side of the fence they're on. But by forcing them to give a figure, we actually saw them scoring Gordon Brown much higher than their words would suggest.

Tieless Andrew Neil
Going tieless can lead to complaints
So in future I would look at the loudness of the music and how far we would go with something like this, but I think it's important we make political television that is contemporary, relevant, open, accessible and fresh.

We often get complaints that political presenters should be wearing ties. But when we're trying to persuade people to engage with and enjoy political coverage, Andrew Neil or Jeremy Vine going tieless can help with that.

It's about trying to bring people into politics rather than trying to shut them out.

At a glance: Pre-Budget report
05 Dec 05 |  UK Politics


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