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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 November, 2004, 14:55 GMT
Just answer the question...
By John Humphrys
Presenter, Today programme

Too many interruptions and too confrontational. These are the common complaints BBC News receives about some interviews. NewsWatch asked Today presenter and renowned interviewer John Humphrys to respond.

John Humphrys
Yes, I've been too rude and even got genuinely angry in the past and it's always a mistake.
Have you ever been "too confrontational"?

I suspect that means: have you ever been too rude?

I'm not sure you can be "too confrontational", if that means insisting on an answer to reasonable questions. But, yes, I've been too rude and even got genuinely angry in the past and it's always a mistake.

I'd go further: rudeness can never be justified. We invite people on to the programme and they deserve to be treated with a degree of courtesy.

But that's NOT the same as letting them get away with a load of old rubbish or ducking the question or pretending they've answered it when they haven't.

Is confrontation a necessary part of some interviews?

See above. It's not a word I would choose but if the interviewee insists on taking the battle to the interviewer...well, you don't have much choice. Sometimes it makes sense to turn the other cheek, but not always.

And I don't know of any law that says you can't defend yourself.

How many interruptions is "too many interruptions?"

Impossible to answer that one. As a general rule, I don't believe one should interrupt during the first answer.

BBC PRODUCERS' GUIDELINES
The BBC has a code of ethics for its programme makers, called the Producers' Guidelines
They have advice on a range of subjects including taste, decency, impartiality, and elections

You have to give the interviewee a chance to lay out his/her stall, but if it then becomes obvious that they are not willing to engage with you but are intent on delivering a party political broadcast, well then you have to try to nail them down.

Incidentally, this applies almost entirely to political interviews. There are different rules for civilians.

How important is planning ahead before interviews? What constraints, such as time, do you have to bear in mind?

On a programme like Today - three hours of live interviewing starting at 6am - there's not much time for planning. You do get reasonably useful briefs, but if you don't have a grasp of all the big issues you're likely to come up against, then you shouldn't be in the job.

Is it difficult to remain impartial as an interviewer when the subject matter is something you care passionately about?

No. Lawyers do it and so should we.

What's your most memorable interview?

With a very old black woman who was standing in line to vote for the first time in free elections in South Africa. Her dignity and forgiveness impress me to this day.


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