Graham Linehan on the Today programme

10Jun11

For the last two weeks I’ve been on holiday in Ireland, where I found my niche (if you can call a mainstream national radio station a ‘niche’) in RTÉ 2fm. 2fm is aimed at young people, although it doesn’t sound as youthful as Radio 1 here in the UK, and they play an awful lot of U2.

The thing I found most refreshing about 2fm was its light-touch, nuanced approach to interviews. In one item, a bunny girl was able to talk at length about her experiences of working in a Playboy club, without having to defend her corner against the presenter or another contributor. It was an interesting discussion.

Listening to it made me wonder how the same topic might have been covered on Radio 4. I imagined John Humphrys hamming it up: “Dressing up in bunny ears and serving men drinks?” he might say, sounding aghast at the very thought, “Surely there’s no place for that kind of thing in this day and age?!” Turning to bait the opponent, Humphrys would swap sides: “Playboy bunnies are completely harmless! It’s just a bit of fun and all the women are earning themselves plenty of money. What’s your problem with that?” The two contributors would contradict each other a bit, fail to say anything new, and everyone would go away feeling slightly embarrassed.

While I was having these thoughts far away in rainy Galway, back at home a minor row was brewing following an appearance on the Today programme by the writer Graham Linehan. Having been brought on to talk about his stage adaptation of The Ladykillers, Graham Linehan was pitted against a contributor who preferred new plays. What a juicy item this promised to be! One of them had adapted a script! The other wasn’t much into adaptations! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!

After the discussion, Graham Linehan complained on his blog about the adversarial style of Today, “an arena where there are no positions possible except diametrically opposed ones, where no nuance is permitted, where politicians are forced into defensive positions of utter banality.” Yes, this is precisely the problem with the Today programme – and the most common cause of early morning swearing in our household.

The theme was taken up in this afternoon’s Feedback, where it turned out that many people share a frustration with this artificial, black and white debate. One caller summed up the problem: “Why does so much on Today have to be like this? It’s such an essential programme and yet conflict seems to be a prerequisite often for the sake of entertainment. It’s tedious.”

Can we imagine a flagship news programme that doesn’t set arguments up like this? Perhaps it’s worth looking to other countries – like Ireland – for tips.

You can listen to Feedback on the BBC iPlayer until 8:30pm on Sunday 19 June 2011.

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