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Friday, 29 April, 2005, 07:56 GMT 08:56 UK

I'm only human, says Paxman

In a rare interview for the NewsWatch programme, Jeremy Paxman talks about his interviewing style, complaints and why he can't help the way he looks.

Jeremy Paxman and Charles Kennedy

"I've spent my whole life being told I have a face like a horse. You are just what you are, aren't you?"

So said Jeremy Paxman when he found himself on the BBC's NewsWatch programme - but in the none-too-familiar position of interviewee, not interviewer.

He agreed to appear on the show - which aims to make BBC News more accountable - after his primetime interviews with the three main party leaders on BBC One sparked hundreds of complaints.

But while self-deprecating and admitting he does make mistakes, Paxman was unfazed by the number of complaints The Paxman Interviews generated.

Sit up straight

NewsWatch host Ray Snoddy explained the common concern was that Paxman was "rude and aggressive". Constant looks of disdain and hostile body language were also mentioned.

Nonsense, argued Paxman.

"I have spent all my life being told I look like a horse so I can't be responsible for the shape of my face.

"Ever since I was a small child, I have been told by my mother 'why don't I sit up straight?'.

"I'm afraid I tend to be thinking about things and not paying sufficient attention to one's posture, deportment and general cast of face."

"What you see is what you get"
Jeremy Paxman

Was Paxman concerned that more than 200 people complained about his recent interviews? Hardly.

Paxman argued that they were not representative of the audience as a whole - "they are representative only of themselves," he said.

But he added: "I always make a point, if people write to me personally, of replying. Quite often I say 'you may well be right'."

Specific concerns from the audience, put to him by Snoddy, got short shrift.

Would he speak to his mother like he does politicians, one viewer had asked.

"My mother's not the prime minister," came the answer.

Isn't his interview style too 90s, too adversarial, asked another.

"He may well be right," was Paxman's response.

Cutting to the chase

However, he gave more insight into his overall style when Snoddy asked if, when he interviewed politicians, he was "just doing what comes naturally to Jeremy Paxman".

"I think you can only be who you are," replied the Newsnight host.

Jeremy Paxman and Michael Howard during a 2004 Newsnight piece

"I don't think, in a matter of interviewing prominent politicians, I behave very differently to the way I behave in talking to anybody else or doing any other job as a journalist.

"I don't consciously adopt a tone or a style. I do work out in advance what are going to be the areas we are going to talk about and what might be the effective ways of pursuing and cutting to the chase.

"Do you get that right all of the time? No, of course you don't get that right all of the time."

He said politicians had numerous other opportunities to get their message across but what he was trying to do was "hold them to account, to interrogate them".

"It's incumbent on those of us who work with the media...to at least cut through some of the nonsense," Paxman added.

He said he respected the office of any politician, people who had the drive to be democratically elected.

But he added: "Does that mean you should tolerate any evasiveness or bullshit? No."

Ultimately, he said, "what you see is what you get".


NewsWatch is broadcast every Friday at 2045 and 0045 BST on News 24 and repeated Saturdays at 0745 BST on Breakfast on both BBC One and News 24.

For more details about the show, click here




Related to this story:
BBC and the 'Paxman problem' (20 Apr 05 |  Notes )
New anger at leader interviews (25 Apr 05 |  Notes )
Just answer the question... (02 Nov 04 |  Notes )
Howard special 'not staged' (24 Nov 04 |  Notes )

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