An alternative to BBC Question Time

In the last two weeks, BBC Question Time has treated us to the delights of Boris Johnson, Russell Brand, George Galloway, Melanie Phillips, and the inevitable Nigel Farage (I think he’s on more often than Dimbleby) and I think my addiction may be finally be cured, I may finally be an ex-question timer. There are many reasons I am sick of QT. The fact that most party hacks just try to stay on-message, the “independents” just seem to be on an ego-trip, and the audience just seem to want to get their sound-bites in, but one of the main reasons is the complete lack of panellists with expertise in the likely subjects, and the fact that they are still expected to behave like experts on everything else that might come up.

Martin Robins (@mjrobbins) in this excellent Guardian piece says it all much better than I could.

As I read his piece I started thinking about the kind of TV discussion program I would like.

I think I would like to hear something more like a conversational Q&A between two people who have real expertise in different fields who are interested in learning, or possibly challenging, the expertise of the other. It could be formalised, maybe each participant could have 3 questions to ask the other, but the important thing would be that each would be committed to honestly, and concisely actually answering the questions asked of them, while allowing the other participant to honestly and concisely answer theirs. Some other possible rules:

  1. No audience, or rather, no audience questions.
  2. No panel, just two people.
  3. No interviewer, the two people are both active participants.
  4. Straight questions, straight answers.
  5. The two people can be “opponents” but not necessarily. But they must be . . .
  6. Interested in the answers of the other, not just in making their own point.

Point 5 is particularly important. The program does not have to represent opposing views. It could, an atheist and a theologian or a Labour and a Conservative politician, but it doesn’t have to be. A physicist and a biologist trying to understand each other’s disciplines, a Christian and a Muslim exploring each other’s religion, a footballer and an opera singer, the possibilities are endless.

The important thing is that the two people must be genuinely interested in the other’s answers and be genuinely committed to giving straight answers themselves and, in the case of the politicians, they would have to promise not to just trot out their manifesto.

Some of the questions I would love to hear the answers to:

  • Richard Dawkins – If you are an atheist because of evidence (or the lack of it) what kind of things would you even consider as evidence for the existence of a god?
  • Justin Welby – If I could fully convince you that god did not exists, would you start behaving “immorally”?
  • Sue Blackmore – If free-will is an illusion, what is the point of consciousness, from an evolutionary adaptive point of view?
  • Maradona – if you win a game by cheating, how do you feel the next day?

So, what do you think? leave comments, email me, tweet me. Who would you like to see paired up? What questions would you like to have answered?

Maybe I’ll put all the best ideas together and pitch it to the BBC

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