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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 November, 2004, 13:34 GMT
Howard special 'not staged'
By Peter Barron
Editor, Newsnight

A Newsnight feature on Tory leader Michael Howard triggered a large response from audiences. Many said the piece - in which Jeremy Paxman joined the Tory leader on a visit to the South West - was sarcastic and staged. Editor Peter Barron answers the main concerns.

Jeremy Paxman and Michael Howard
Jeremy Paxman was accused of "sneering" by some viewers

Jeremy Paxman's film and interview with Michael Howard provoked a large response from viewers.

Many felt that the piece was unfairly biased against the Conservatives, that it had been "staged" and failed to reflect Mr Howard's views properly.

Others wrote to congratulate Jeremy on a refreshing change from the usual political coverage, which exposed the reality of the political photo opportunity and captured the atmosphere of Tory activism today.

The piece had been negotiated with the Conservative party over many months.

We hoped to have unfettered access to Mr Howard during his trip to Cornwall but, as it turned out, once on the ground our access was very limited.

Jeremy's interviewing style is famously robust - but it is robust whether he is interviewing politicians from right, left or centre
Peter Barron

Jeremy therefore interviewed the people he found and simply asked them what they thought of current Conservative fortunes.

These included the farmer in whose field Mr Howard's helicopter was to land, the Tory activists who turned out to meet him, and members of the public in Falmouth.

The film was a fair and accurate reflection of what he found, and was certainly not staged.

Jeremy Paxman talks to a woman in the street
Jeremy Paxman spoke to several members of the public

In the piece, Jeremy stressed that his findings were unscientific and impressionistic, but in politics it is often impressions of political leaders which matter most.

The film included two interviews with Mr Howard, which accounted for about half the running time of the entire item - I believe that is ample time for a senior politician to get his views across.

Jeremy's interviewing style is famously robust - but it is robust whether he is interviewing politicians from right, left or centre.

Some of the viewers' comments

  • "I used to like Jeremy Paxman, but he has gone too far this time."

  • "I cannot help but feel he would not have been like this towards Tony Blair. He was discourteous and ill-mannered, which was disgraceful for a BBC presenter."

  • "I felt that the programme was biased. The camera angles used on Michael Howard made him look ghoulish."

  • "I believe that Jeremy Paxman allowed his emotions to interfere in his interview with Michael Howard."

  • "The only people interviewed were those who held a negative view of the party. For example, a woman when asked what she thought of Michael Howard described him as 'dull, dull, dull'. It was obvious this was planned by Jeremy Paxman."

  • "I was impressed by the interview conducted by Jeremy Paxman with Michael Howard. It was exactly the aggressive and robust type of interview I would like to see in the run up to the election. It got to the heart of who Michael Howard is and what he can offer as a potential Prime Minister."




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Jeremy Paxman travels to Cornwall with the Conservative party leader, Michael Howard




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