1 May 2010

Cutaways as the nearest thing to applause in the TV debates

Well, much to my surprise, the audiences at the three TV debates succeeded in conforming to the ban on applause, as specified in rule of engagement No. 40, for four and a half hours.

Signs of agreement
But there were a few isolated sequences that enabled the millions of viewers at home to see someone in the audience showing approval and/or agreement with something said by one of the speakers. And, in the absence of applause, this was the closest we got to seeing any positive reactions to what one or other of the leaders was saying.

At first, I thought that the following clip might lead to the BBC being accused of breaking rule of engagement No. 71: There will be no close-up cutaways of a single individual audience member while the leaders are speaking.

But then I realised that, by restating a general question ("Who would have thought...") into one aimed directly at the woman who had asked the question ("When you lent that money to the banks, did you think...), Nick Clegg had liberated the BBC editors to cut away to the questioner - under rule of enagement No. 72: However if one of the leaders directly addresses an individual audience member, a close-up shot of that individual can be shown e.g. if a leader answers a question by directly addressing the questioner.

This meant they could show the questioner shaking her head and anticipating Mr Clegg's own answer ("No) before he got there. But, whereas such individual displays of agreement with a rhetorical question are more usually the precursor to a collective one (i.e. a burst of applause), as can be clearly seen HERE, this one, thanks to rule 40, did not.

What particularly impressed me was how alert to the rules the BBC live picture editor must have been to see the opportunity provided by rule 72 quickly enough to be able to cut away within a mere four seconds of Clegg starting to speak directly to the questioner. How many of the viewers at home, I wonder, were listening quite as closely as that to the debate?


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