The Sunday Politics interview with Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey on July 14 provoked widespread reaction in the twittersphere and elsewhere, which was only to be expected given the interview was about the latest developments in global warming and the implications for government policy.
Andrew Neil and Ed Davey debate climate change on the Sunday Politics
The Sunday Politics remit and interview duration means we are able to carry out proper forensic interviews on such matters.
It is becoming a hallmark of our programme, whether it’s challenging the global warming assumptions of the climate change secretary, the NUT’s historic resistance to school reforms by Tory and Labour governments, or the activities of the leader of the English Defence League.
Many of the criticisms of the Davey interview seem to misunderstand the purpose of a Sunday Politics interview.
This was neatly summed up in a Guardian blog by Dana Nuccitelli, who works for a multi-billion dollar US environmental business (Tetra Tech) and writes prodigiously about global warming and related matters from a very distinct perspective.
It is for viewers to decide how well the interviewee’s position holds up under scrutiny and the strength of the contrary evidence or points put to him or her. ”
Andrew NeilPresenter, Daily and Sunday Politics
He finished by saying: “[Andrew] Neil focussed only on the bits of evidence that seemed to support his position”.
This is partly right. We did come at Mr Davey with a particular set of evidence, which was well-sourced from mainstream climate science. But it was nothing to do with advocating a “position”.
First, the Sunday Politics does not have a position on any of the subjects on which it interrogates people.
Second, it is the job of the interviewer to assemble evidence from authoritative sources which best challenge the position of the interviewee.
There is hardly any purpose in presenting evidence which supports the interviewee’s position – that is his or her job.
It is for viewers to decide how well the interviewee’s position holds up under scrutiny and the strength of the contrary evidence or points put to him or her.
It is how the Sunday Politics approaches all the longer forensic interviews on the programme, no matter the subject or the interviewee. It is how it will approach any future interview with a leading light of the global warming sceptic camp. They can expect just as fair, forensic and robust an interview as Mr Davey.
Taking an opposite or challenging position from the person being interviewed is pretty much standard practice in long-form broadcast interviews.
But the contrary position has to be based on reputable evidence. The Guardian blog and other critics on Twitter alleged that the challenges put to Mr Davey were based on errors, false evidence or parroted the perspective of “deniers”. That is untrue.
The main purpose of the interview was to establish if the government thought the recent and continuing pause in global temperatures meant it should re-think its policies in response to global warming.
This is a vital policy issue since the strategy of this government and the previous Labour government to decarbonise the economy involves multi-billion pound spending decisions, paid for by consumers and taxpayers, which might not have been taken (at least to the same degree or with the same haste) if global warming was not quite the imminent threat it has been depicted.
It might also be argued that challenging interviews on matters in which there is an overwhelming consensus in Westminster – but not necessarily among voters who pay for both the licence fee and the government’s energy policies – is a particularly legitimate purpose of public-service broadcasting.