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Hidden agendas 27 October 2011

Posted by cooperatoby in EU.
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I’ve just been impressed by the subtle way that journalists influence political debate. On the BBC’s Today programme, Evan Davies has just had a perfectly civilised conversation with Guy Verhofstadt, now an MEP but previously Belgium’s prime minister. How different from last week on Newsnight, where Jeremy Paxman permitted himself to be extremely rude to Mr Verhofstadt. Introducing him casually as “He used to run Belgium,” (my grandmother used to say “She is the cat’s mother”) Paxman went on to ask him whether he would welcome Britain contributing to the euro bailout fund. When Mr Verhofstadt unsurprisingly answered that of course he would welcome it, Paxman then jumped in to deride him with the most extraordinary comment: “Spoken like a loyal Belgian”. This portmanteau combines two insults: to the concept of loyalty as well as to the country of Belgium. He implies that being loyal to Belgium is somehow a bad or ridiculous thing. I don’t think a respected journalist can permit himself to be so high and mighty. No one elected Paxman, and he should remember that. I wonder what clubbable spirit promoted him to be far more courteous to his studio guests, one of whom was the previous editor of the Economist.

Perhaps the difference is in the target audience between Radio 4 and BBC 2 television. Perhaps the difference is that Evan Davies has ventured onto Belgian turf, at the Euro Summit, whereas Paxman was sitting back in the comfort of his own armchair, railing at Mr Verhofstadt, who was imprisoned behind a screen. Perhaps it’s that Paxman is subconsciously promoting his recent book on the British Empire. Perhaps it’s that he is genuinely rattled by the peril that the world’s economic stability is in. At any rate, it shows the British political culture in a bad light, with knockabout journalism uncomfortably close to the real fisticuffs that routinely take place in the Italian parliament.

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