16/05/2014 Newswatch


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to govern for all Indians. Time now for Newswatch and this week, a


warhorse of BBC current affairs comes under the spotlight. Hello and


welcome to Newswatch with me, Samir Ahmed. Coming up: After to Malta as


couple of years for the BBC flagship programme, where next for Newsnight?


`` tumultuous couple of years. The editor is here to talk about its


mixture of political and international coverage and its


future without long serving presenter Jeremy Paxman.


Ian took over Newsnight editor last September. In a moment we have the


first broadcast interview with him since then but before we talk, here


is a reminder of some of the issues he faces on a programme with a long


familiar, that back in 1980 the idea familiar, that back in 1980 the idea


of mixing news and current affairs, along with an occasional taste for


the unexpected and quirky, was radical. Good evening and welcome at


last to Newsnight. That has remained through the years, as has its


capacity to arouse controversy, but it was the Government accusing Peter


Snow of being patriotic in the way the Falklands law was covered, that


interview with Michael Howard... Did you threaten to overrule him? Or


more recently the highly damaging rows over its failure to broadcast


an investigation into Jimmy Savile, following the calamitous error of


the McAlpine report which led to the resignation of BBC Director General


George Entwistle. Ian was hired a year ago from the Guardian, with a


brief to revitalise the programme, which had lost a third of its


audience in a year. He revitalised with things like this interview with


Russell brand and this dance with Kirsty Wark. But there have been


critics of this with out Nelson writing to us about the dumbing down


and intellectual castration of Newsnight. And:


Audience figures have stabilised but the challenge remains. How can


Newsnight provide a distinctive offering which will make it


compulsory viewing in a multichannel world with lots of news sources?


This point was raised by viewers: One of the programme's raison d'etre


has always been its in`depth coverage of politics. The task here


is to make the subject compelling, a challenge exposed by Ian's in the


mist wheat following this interview with Labour frontbencher Rachel


Reeves, who he described as boring snoring. `` Ian's tweet. But viewers


also found it revealing: Part of the mix is still lengthy


films on serious subjects such as last week's 15 minute report on a


slum skyscraper in Venezuela, made by the film`making residence at


Newsnight. It also has a team that implies that serious journalism


following the Jimmy Savile scandal is back. Jeremy Paxman is leaving


next month, so how will the man many regard as the grand Inquisitor be


replaced? Ian joins me now. Thank you for coming on Newswatch. When


you got the job, Newsnight was in a state of crisis so what have your


priorities being? There was an initial task of revitalising the


show and bringing back the energy levels. There was a staff of


fantastically talented journalists who had been through a tough year or


so and just needed the energy and confidence back. That was the first


thing. The second was to identify what was the formula for Newsnight


that made it for so many years, I think, one of the most wonderful


things on television anywhere in the world, and also to work out what was


missing in the application of that formula and I think it was the


breaking of original news, a classy analysis of the day that has just


happened and the day to come, and an air of jeopardy and excitement about


what might happen in the live show. Those other things I have worked on


bringing back in the last six months or so. Jeopardy is an interesting


word when a lot of what you know you are doing about rebuilding trust. I


would say it is absolutely the case that when it comes to the reporting


that Newsnight does, there was absolutely a task of re`establishing


trust after McAlpine and Jimmy Savile. What you want with Newsnight


is the sense that something exciting might happen during the live show.


You want viewers to think that they might miss something that could


happen live tonight that people will talk about later or tomorrow. Can


you give me an example of something like that that you think has


worked? Things like Matthew Perry arguing about drugs. Friends actor?


Yes, arguing with Peter Hitchens, which we all watched with our faces


in our hands in the gallery. We thought somebody might dump somebody


during the interview. That was one of those moments. `` thump


somebody. But also the interview with Terry Pratchett about his


Alzheimer's, that was one of the most extraordinary arresting


interviews, partly because we were not sure if it would work live.


Investigations are back on the agenda and he took on some


controversial stories, the Edward Snowden revelations and WikiLeaks.


We can't do that at the BBC, can we? I have left the Guardian so I


can't speak about that. I think Newsnight is in a fabulous position


to tackle complex and controversial investigations. We have hired a team


of really strong investigative reporters and we can give them the


time and space and support to do difficult investigations. I would


hope there is not a subject that we can't investigate. One of the


subjects that we got a lot of emails about whether a jokey pay`outs.


People can understand the idea of drawing in an audience, but they


feel the juxtaposition with a serious story can make them feel


uncomfortable. Is there a danger of trying to attract new and younger


viewers and alienating the loyal older Newsnight viewers? Not


everybody will love everything you do, which is an iron law, and when I


look at the Twitter response to an individual Newsnight programme, if


the response is running at 70`34 and against, that is broadly right.


Humour has always been a strand of the Newsnight identity and it is


true that I have tried to dial it up a bit, partly to answer the question


of what Newsnight office at the end of this very long cycle, when people


have been exposed to hours of news bulletins, and I think a humorous


and distinctive take on the day is part of that answer. The key


question is really whether it is at the expense of the seriousness of


the show and I say emphatically that it isn't. Adding more fun to the


show was not the same as dumbing down and you only have to look at


our running orders over the last month to see that we are serious as


ever. This challenge about how to make political news compelling is


critical. That boring snoring comment, some people thought it was


revealing that television should be about confrontation and


illumination. How do you answer that? I make no apology for trying


not to produce a boring show, which is something we try to do every


night, or try not to do. There is a really interesting discussion to be


had and I hope I have tried to have it about the balance between heat


and light in interviewing, particularly political interviewing,


and I think it is a really interesting question to ask, whether


we have strayed in that balance too far towards the heat. I think what


the Rachel Reeves affaire really pointed to was, frankly, an arid


state of affairs in political interviewing. A lot of politicians


come into a studio and their primary objective is not to move by a


millimetre from the line that their party has taken. And we collectively


go out to move them by one millimetre from that line. I think


there is a moment now when it would be interesting to have a public


conversation about how we collectively feel about these


encounters, and to ask whether there is a more productive way of doing


them, both for viewers and for journalists and politicians. Viewing


figures are always going to be brought up and they are not great


compared to five years ago, which is a long`term trend. What will you do


about that and how far can you expect to reverse the decline? I


would be very cheerful about the viewing figures at the moment. As


you say, we have seen a 30% or 40% fall in viewing figures over five or


six years. If you look at this year, which is really when my what kicked


in and my new people arrived on the show, the audiences have been very


stable. Two out of three months, we have been up on last year. Jeremy


Paxman has been the most dominant face of Newsnight. How are you


replacing him? You might have to ask me back to talk about that. You


obviously thinking about it now because you know he is going at the


end of June. I am thinking about it, that is right, but I cannot give you


an answer because I don't have one. We are in an incredibly lucky


position by having three strong presenters after Jeremy has gone,


all of whom are brilliant at presenting the show. I think there


are many other wonderful presenters in the BBC. We are in an incredibly


lucky position. Thank you very much. Thank you for your comments this


week. You can call us with more thoughts on:


Join us again next week. Until then, goodbye.


In the last few days we have been advertising some very warm weather


heading our way for the weekend, which has already arrived. Deadline


for the weekend is very warm with fluffy Fairweather clouds. `` the


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