17/05/2014 Newswatch


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Hello and welcome to Newswatch with me, Samir Ahmed. Coming up: After a


tumultuous couple of years for the BBC flagship programme, where next


for Newsnight? The editor is here to talk about its mixture of political


and international coverage and its future without long serving


presenter Jeremy Paxman. Ian Katz took over as 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 heritage.


The theme tune is familiar, but 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... ``unpatriotic. 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 tweet following this interview with Labour frontbencher Rachel


Reeves, who he described as boring snoring. He later apologised. 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. ``film`maker in residence. It also has a team that


implies that serious journalism following the Jimmy Savile scandal


is back on the agenda. 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 are the 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 thump somebody during


the interview. That was one of those moments. 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 you 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


e`mails about were the 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. ``Seven for and three against.


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 offers 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 affair 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 watch 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 thought. Join us again next week.


Until then, goodbye. Friday was the warmest day of the


year so far as we got within 24 Celsius. We could beat that in the


days ahead. Some very warm weather in the forecast. Our weather is


never that straightforward. For some of us, there will be rain over the


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