More PowerPoint election 'news' from the BBC

If BBC television news has given up on showing us much from speeches (see previous post and links to others), their obsession with inflicting information overload on us via PowerPoint style presentations shows no sign of abating (for more on which, see below).

Last night, 10 o'clock newsreader Huw Edwards was out on location in front of Cardiff castle, from where he sent us "live from our health correspondent" (back in the studio) for a "reality check on health policy" - i.e. a slide-dependent lecture punctuated by a few words of wisdom from an 'expert'.

After watching it through once, wait five minutes and then see how many of her handy facts you can remember.

Or, if that's too painful, give it marks out of ten according to how well you think this 'news report' did in fulfilling each of the aims of the BBC as specified in its Royal Charter, namely 't0 inform, educate and entertain'.

Brown speaks and the BBC doesn't tell you what he says

A post at the start of the election - Blair speaks and the BBC tells you what he says - illustrated the continuing reluctance of British television news programmes to show us anything more than the briefest excerpts from speeches by politicians.

Another example from Newsnight was posted as Silent speeches by party leaders: the wallpaper of television news coverage.

On last night's BBC 10 o'clock News, there was another similar gem with political editor Nick Robinson standing on a balcony whispering about Gordon Brown's election strategy, while the PM himself was speaking, presumably about something else, to an audience down on the floor below (bottom left of the screen).

Local election news: is the horse manure coming home to roost?

Election gossip from from our village shop today is about an interesting question put to the local Tory candidate, David Heathcote-Amory while he was canvassing a farmer:

"What do you want? A bag of horse muck?"

True or not, the fact that the story tells of a farmer raising the question about one of Mr Heathcote-Amory's more famous expenses claims must worry a candidate defending a 3,000 majority in a Con/LibDem marginal seat (Wells) - where most farmers tend to vote Conservative.

But it does rather confirm my earlier suggestions that it would have made more sense for him to have sourced the horse manure locally (HERE) rather than from Highgrove in Gloucestershire.

The day Mandelson assumed that the TV debates (& election) would be two-sided

As the Labour and Conservative parties continue singing the same tune about the horrors of a 'hung parliament', I remain as baffled as ever by their shared willingness to spend decades in opposition in exchange for an occasional few stints in power (HERE).

And, having suggested (HERE) that one of the reasons for Nick Clegg's success in the first TV debate was that the other two parties misjudged just how different a three-cornered debate would be from a straight duel between two parties, I was fascinated over the weekend to stumble across this YouTube clip from nine months ago in which Labour's master of spin confirms exactly what I suspected.

On 29th July last year, Lord Mandelson told ITN that Gordon Brown would be up a televised debate - between two parties (full video HERE).

As I said in a post after the first debate, 'I should think that the Labour and Conservative negotiators are kicking themselves for (the rules) they agreed as much as the Liberal Democrats are patting themselves on their backs'.

And I don't expect the Mandelson of nine months ago expected that he'd be putting out memos like this one half way through the campaign.

Other posts on the election:
And from the BBC website magazine:

Is the TV debate ban on applause holding firm because we're obsessed with following rules?

Two debates on and, to my amazement, none of the leaders has managed to break through the ban on applause. Gordon Brown came closest when he got a laugh by accusing the other two of squabbling like his two boys at bath time - as audience laughter often leads into a burst of applause.

So I'd love to know what dire threats about Rule 40 are being issued to the audiences during the pre-debate briefings.

Or is it just that we Brits are so obsessed with following rules that no one would dream of getting their hands apart having just been told not to do so?

After all, one of the reasons we get so irritated by some of the sillier rules coming out of Brussels is that we, unlike the citizens of certain other EC countries (e.g. France), feel obliged to follow them all to the letter.

Will the first leader to break down the 'ban' on applause be declared the night's winner?

OK, I give in: to those of you who seem to think you might have missed something on Newsnight last night - which is quite likely, as there was only 24 seconds of it - here my rather predictable comment to Michael Crick.

By way of background, I was astonished by the fact that the audience in the first debate conformed to rule 40 of the 76 rules of engagement: 'In order to maximise the time available for viewers to hear the leaders discussion election issues with each other, the studio audience will be asked not to applaud during the debate.'

Note that it's a request rather than a straight ban on applause. And similar bans have failed to hold in US presidential debates - for more on which, see HERE.

As for how to maximise the chances of triggering applause in political speeches, of course, all is revealed in the books at the top of this page.

Silent speeches by party leaders: the wallpaper of television news coverage

Last night's Newsnight on BBC2 featured a couple of spectacular illustrations of one of my repeated complaints about the way media coverage of politics in the UK has been going for at least a decade.

After one of the US presidential elections, I wrote on Mediated speeches: whom do we really want to hear?

I began the new year with a post asking the question Will the 2010 UK general election be the first one to leave us speechless?

At the start of the election, I posted a video clip under the heading Blair speaks and the BBC tells you what he said.

All three made the point that British television news programmes have increasingly given up on allowing viewers see and hear politicians making speeches - unless, of course they're staged events in their own studios, like the three leaders' debates - and prefer to have their reporters telling us what the speakers are saying.

Oratorical wallpaper

This reached a high (or low?) point on Newsnight last night, when Nick Clegg and David Cameron were shown making speeches in total and complete silence.

Not only that, but the commentary from political editor Michael Crick didn't even give us any hints about what either of the party leaders had actually been saying in their speeches, concentrating in stead on a preview of tonight's leaders' debate.

So far, it's the most extreme example of speeches being treated as wallpaper that I've seen - and I'd be interested to hear from anyone who spots any similar examples between now and polling day.

I'd be even more interested to hear if anyone has actually seen or heard any news programmes featuring any excerpts from any proper speeches since the campaign began.

The UK general election of 2010: a play in three acts

A few days ago, Iain Dale, one of our most high profile and prolific bloggers, complained that he was finding the election so boring that he'd got writer's block. I'm having a similar problem - even though I've been following elections more closely than average since I first started to collect recordings from them back in 1979.

As regular readers will know, I've been concerned for some time by the way that British media coverage of politics, aided and abetted by the politicians themselves, has more or less given up on filming proper speeches at proper rallies in favour of interviews, pointless photo opportunities and exegesis of the gospels according to the opinion pollsters.

It's a trend that's now culminated with three 90 minute television programmes.

Tragedy, comedy or farce?
As a result, election coverage - and you could say the whole election - is rapidly boiling down to a narrow and obsessive focus on a three 'act' play, with each 'act' preceded and followed by endless literary criticism in the form of commentary and analysis by reporters, pundits and pollsters about who did how well, which one should do what in order to do better in the next one and what effect they might be having on the opinion polls.

Meanwhile, the politicians seem to be just as preoccupied with the play, both on screen and behind the scenes as they rehearse for the next performance.

Last night, I tried, yet again, to find some semblance of excitement and/or enthusiasm on the television news programmes, but had to endure yet more footage of politicians walking around high streets, with a word or two to a reporter here and there - plus lots of authoritative sounding stuff from journalists about what (according to them) is actually going on out there - illustrated, of course, by ever more flashy PowerPoint style slides showing each party's progress in the polls.

Thankfully, I haven't time to go on about it - because you really do have to get your priorities right. And my most pressing one at the moment is to do a bit of preparation to pose as a drama critic for a media piece on Act II tomorrow night...

How did Sky News become the LibDems of the TV debate broadcasters?

If it was a major victory for the Liberal Democrats to be granted equal rights in the rules of engagement in the TV leaders' debates (see previous post), the same can surely be said of Sky News being granted equal debate broadcasting rights with the BBC and ITV.

BARB statistics suggest that Sky News has an audience of about two million - but whether that includes all the people watching it in hotel rooms abroad isn't clear.

Unless something happens in the second debate on Sky News this Thursday to turn the third one on BBC into an exciting final knockout round, two advantages make it look as though ITV will be the winner in the ratings battle. They had the luck to draw the straw to make history by broadcasting the first ever televised debate in a UK general election. And, by scheduling it immediately after Coronation Street, they had a captive mass audience of soap opera fans ready and waiting as history was about to be made.

But the Sky News debate on Thursday will come on after - er - Sky News.

So as big a question as how the LibDems managed to get equal rights for their leader in the debates is how the Murdoch media group managed to elbow other worthy candidates like Channel 4 News into touch to put Sky News on an equal footing with the BBC and ITV?

Since posting this and putting a link to it on Twitter, I'd like to thank Tom Rayner (@Tom_Rayner), Home Affairs Producer for Sky News, for tweeting the following helpful answer to my question "Sky News led the campaign for the leaders' debates - and were key players in the negotiations"

The problem for two opponents in three-sided TV debates

One of the things that struck me about the first TV debate between party leaders was how very different it was from election debates between US presidential candidates - and, indeed, almost any other 'debate' I've ever come across.

A three-sided debate in which there are two front-runners
The most obvious - and consequential - difference from the American TV debates is that the British version has three, rather than two, contestants. Add to that the fact that only two of the three are deemed to have any realistic chance of becoming prime minister, and you have very unusual set of dynamics indeed.

Compared with most conventional approaches to 'debating' - including other adversarial exchanges like those in courts of law - the presence of a third party makes these 'debates' about as different from a straight duel between two opponents as you can get.

In effect, there are two debates going on at the same time: one between the leaders of the two biggest parties trying to score points against each other, and another in which the leader of the third party tries to score points against the other two.

The challenge for Brown and Cameron
Brown and Cameron both acknowledged that Clegg did rather well in the first debate, and have announced that they'll counteract by turning their attacks on Liberal Democrat policies.

This might seem a rational and obvious enough response, but I suspect they'd do better by spending rather more time on analysing the dynamics of the unusual situation in which they find themselves and devising a workable strategy for dealing with it - because I suspect that one of the main reasons for Nick Clegg's unexpected success in the first debate came from the fact that neither of the main parties had realised beforehand how a three-sided 'debate' would actually work in practice.

So Brown and Cameron concentrated too exclusively on attacking each other, without much regard for the presence of a third party who, for once, had the same speaking and turn-taking rights as themselves.

To make matters worse, Clegg was able to exploit their two-sided assault on each other and, when he did, scored high points in the Ipsos MORI 'worm' analysis of audience reactions, which was summed up by Ben Page as follows:

Clegg's position as the 'third party' allowed him to align himself with the voting public and express their frustration at the other two parties "the more the two of them attack each other, the more they sound the same."

Equality in turn-taking, speaking time and furnishings
As for why Brown and Cameron misunderstood and/or underestimated what would be involved in a three-cornered debate on equal terms, it probably came from their weekly jousting at Prime Minster's Question Time in the House of Commons - where they have three built-in advantages that formally position the Liberal Democrat leader as a side-show to the main event:
  1. The LibDem leader only ever gets to speak third, after the other two leaders have already had a go.
  2. House of Commons procedures allow the Conservative leader to ask the prime minister three times as many questions as the LibDem leader.
  3. The Labour and Conservative leaders both have dispatch boxes to lean on, rest their papers on, bang their fists on and generally look like VIPs - compared with the Liberal Democrat leader, who has no dispatch box to lean on and nowhere to put his papers other than in his hands in front of him.
But in the TV debates, there is equality on all three fronts: how the turn-taking is organised, how long each leader may speak and where each one gets to stand (i.e. at identical lecterns).

During the protracted negotiations that eventually led to agreement on the 76 rules of engagement, I suspected that they might be creating a beast that wouldn't work in the quite the way they all expected (e.g. HERE) - and recommended that televising the debates between the politicians and broadcasters about the rules would have made for some very interesting viewing (HERE).

After the first debate, I should think that the Labour and Conservative negotiators are kicking themselves for what they agreed as much as the Liberal Democrats are patting themselves on their backs.

For the next debates?
If I were advising the parties on how to deal with the next debate, I'd be telling the Brown and Cameron camps to give at least as much thought to the dynamics of dealing with a three-cornered debate as to working out attacks on LibDem policies.

Meanwhile, I'd be advising the Clegg camp to carry on with more of the same and urging him to make the most of the rare equality afforded to the LibDems by the rules.

As I said in my post on Vince Cable's victory in the 'Chancellors' Debate', attacking the other parties along the lines of 'a plague on both your houses' has been an recurring Liberal line of attack for more than thirty years. In the aftermath of the MPs' expenses scandals and widespread disaffection for politics and politicians, it's a line that seems to be playing better then ever - and whose moment may finally have come.

What's wrong with a 'hung parliament' if that's what the electorate votes for?

After his party has lost three consecutive general elections and spent thirteen years in opposition, Conservative leader David Cameron has started to issue dire warnings about the horrors that await us if we're stupid enough to vote for a 'hung parliament'.

I'm as flabbergasted by this as I was by Labour friends who continued to denounce proportional representation during their eighteen years in opposition between 1979 and 1997.

So my three questions to both the bigger parties are the same:
  1. How does your party (not to mention the poor old country) benefit from your preference for letting the other lot do whatever they like for 13 or 18 years when you could, with a more rational voting system, be in a position to moderate and/or restrain the excesses that inevitably flow from absolute power?
  2. Is your party quite happy to be powerless for a decade or two in exchange for being in power for another decade or two?
  3. Could one or other of you please explain how anyone in the country actually benefits from this bizarre form of turn-taking?

Did the TV debaters tell too many stories?

As I suspected, I found the first TV debate as stilted, boring and uninspiring as I'd feared it would be.

Nor, however historic it may have been, did the continuous wall-to-wall media hype before and afterwards persuade me that the transfer of political coverage from traditional election rallies into television studios will ever generate much excitement or enthusiasm for politics among the wider public.

But, from an observer's point of view, there was rather more meat there than I'd anticipated.

So this is what I hope will be (time permitting) the first in a series of posts about the debate(s) - unless, of course, any of them distract me by taking to the stump and making proper speeches at proper rallies.

The power of stories?
I've never come across any presentation skills researcher, writer or trainer who doesn't recommend stories as an effective way for speakers to get their points across.

So, perhaps not surprisingly, all three leaders came armed with collections of anecdotes that could be trotted out at suitable points in the proceedings.

But the question is whether I'm alone in thinking that they overdid it.

After the first one or two, I found myself groaning and thinking "Oh no - not another attempt to show how in touch you are with ordinary people around the country."

In case you didn't notice them, here's a selection by way of a reminder. I'd be curious to know whether anyone else thought there were too many. Or was the bronze medal awarded to Brown by the instant pollsters partly a result of the fact that he had fewer stories up his sleeve than the other two?


"I was in a hospital, a paediatric hospital in Cardiff a few months ago, treating very sick premature young babies. I was being shown around and there were a large number of babies needing to be treated. There was a ward standing completely empty, though it had the latest equipment. I said to the ward sister "What's going on? Why are there no babies being treated?" She said "New rules mean we can't employ any doctors from outside the European Union with the skills needed". That's an example of where the rules are stopping good immigration which actually helps our public services to work properly."

"I met a young man in London the other day. His flat had been burgled five times, and one of them, would you believe it, Jacqueline, was when he was away at his father's funeral. He said to me "Why can't this stop?"

"I was in a factory in my own city where I'm an MP in Sheffield just a few weeks ago. There was a great British company there, a manufacturing company, that produces great metal braces with these huge rollers, which apparently are sold to the American army. They attach them onto their vehicles, and when the rollers move over mines, the mines blow up, but of course, they destroy the rollers and not the soldiers. The American army says that those rollers, diesigned, manufactured by a great British business in Sheffield, have saved 140 lives. Why is it they're not being used by the British army?"


"I went to Crosby the other day and I was talking to a woman there who had been burgled by someone who had just left prison. He stole everything in her house. As he left, he set fire to the sofa and her son died from the fumes. That burglar, that murderer, could be out of prison in just four-and-a-half years. The system doesn't work, but that sort of sentence is, I think, just completely unacceptable in terms of what the public expect for proper punishment."

"I went to a Hull police station the other day. They had five different police cars, and they were just about to buy a £73,000 Lexus. There's money that could be saved to get the police on the frontline."

"I have a man in my constituency called Clive Stone who had kidney cancer who came to see me with seven others. Tragically, two of them have died because they couldn't get the drug Sutent that they wanted, that was on the market, that people knew was a good drug. That's a scandal in our country today."

"My mother was a magistrate in Newbury for 30 years. She sat on the bench, and she did use those short prison sentences that you're talking about. I've got to tell you, when someone smashes up the bus stop, when someone repeatedly breaks the law, when someone's found fighting on a Friday or Saturday night, as a magistrate, you've got to have that power for a short prison sentence when you've tried the other."


"When I was young, my father ran a youth club with my brother for young people, and the more people who do voluntary service and give their time in the community to getting young people off the streets doing purposeful activity, the better, whether it's sports, dancing or music or other activities that get people off the streets."

"I had a lady write to me who said that she would not be alive today if we hadn't introduced screening and we hadn't given the chance to see a specialist in two weeks."

The 76 Rules of engagement for the TV debates: and a competition to keep you awake

Having just discovered (see P.S. to the previous post) that media reportage of one of the rules of engagement for the televised TV debates that interests me most was less than accurate, I thought it would be useful to check them out and make them available for readers to inspect before the fun begins.

To help hold your attention while watching the debates, I'm also announcing a competition. The challenge is to spot the following:
  1. How many of the rules get broken during each debate?
  2. Who breaks which rules most often?
  3. Which of the three chairman was most effective in curbing rule-breaches by the leaders?
The judge's decision will be final and the winner will be awarded a signed copy of Lend Me Your Ears. The runner-up will receive a signed copy of Speech-making and Presentation Made Easy.

Prime Ministerial Debates - Programme Format - agreed by all parties 1st March 2010

Audience selection

1. The objective is to select an audience which is broadly a demographic cross section of the country.

2. the audience to be made up of roughly 200 people, subject to venue capacity.

3. ICM has been appointed as an external recruitment agency and the methods of recruitment are based on their expert advice. In broad terms, we will aim to:

4. recruit within a 30 mile radius of the host city, mindful of administrative borders on either side of that radius based on the revised ICM list of constituencies.

5. recruit according to gender, age, ethnicity and social class to best reflect the broader voting-age population. The recruitment procedure will be transparent, and its methodology will be available to the parties for comment.

6. ensure around 80% of the audience is made up of voters who express a voting intention at the time of recruitment.

7. These will be subdivided into ratios which reflect a ratio of 7 Labour, 7 Conservative, 5 LibDem. The political ratios will take precedence over the demographic in the final selection of the audience by ICM.

8. within the 80% (see point 6) the broadcasters retain the right to recruit some audience members who express an intention to vote for smaller parties.

9. ensure that around 20% of the audience will be undecided but will be politically engaged. ICM’s definition of undecided voters to be the basis of this selection.

10. reserve a small number of seats for participants from outside the ICM selected audience, whose questions have been pre-submitted and selected by the broadcaster’s editorial panel. The broadcasters may use a variety of methods to encourage the submission of such questions from across the UK in the build up to the debates.

11. the number of questions from outside the ICM selected audience will be a maximum of four per debate.

12. over-recruit by a small margin to accommodate “drop outs” or “no shows”

13. issue audience members with a protocol of rules, including security procedures for entry and conduct during the debates. The protocol will be agreed by the parties.

Audience role

14. The objective is to ensure maximum debate between the party leaders - the distinctive

characteristic of these programmes - whilst allowing the audience’s voices to be heard directly posing questions.

15. Each broadcaster will nominate a panel to choose the questions for its debate. The panel's membership will be public, but they will meet in private.

16. Each selection panel will include a member to oversee compliance. List of names of panel members attached

17. The objective of each panel shall be to ensure fair question selection in order to frame a

balanced debate within the rules of our agreements.

18. The panel will meet confidentially in the weeks running up to their debate.

19. All questions submitted by the ICM selected audience will be seen by a member of the panel. Email questions will be sifted and a selection given to the panel.

20. Initially, each panel will sift through a selection of questions drawn from those submitted by members of the public.

21. They will narrow down their selections in a series of meetings up to and including the day of the debate.

22. Each panel will have five to seven members, including a designated chair who would have a casting vote if necessary.

23. The panel cannot be quorate with fewer than three of its members present.

24. In selecting its questions, the panel will take full account of the following:

25. each question will be relevant to all three party leaders.

26. no question shall focus on one party or one leader.

27. all questions will be based on election issues

28. audience members will be made aware of these rules before submitting their final questions.

29. half the programme will be based on the agreed theme. Within that portion of the programme, a maximum of three questions will be selected on a single sub-theme (as listed in point 65 of this document).

30. half the programme will be unthemed. In this portion of the programme, a maximum of two questions will be selected on a single subject.

31. the range of questions chosen will reflect the broadcasters' legal and compliance responsibilities for due impartiality and fairness.

32. the panel will use its editorial judgement to select questions and will take into account factors such as the prominence of certain issues in the campaign, the distinctiveness of the different parties’ policies on election issues, voters’ interest and issues relevant to the role of the Prime Minister.

33. Within these rules, the editorial independence of the panel shall be paramount, because each broadcaster is answerable to its regulator for its programme content.

34. Questions may be selected by the editorial selection panel up to the start of the debate.

35. The selected questions will not be shown to anyone outside the editorial team in advance of the programmes.

36. Members of the audience will ask their questions. The moderator will ask the leaders to respond. The moderator may read email questions.

37. All questions will be addressed to and answered by all three leaders.

38. The audience members will be restricted to asking the selected questions.

39. There will be an option of viewer involvement via emails read by the moderator.

40. In order to maximise the time available for viewers to hear the leaders discussing election issues with each other, the studio audience will be asked not to applaud during the debate. There will be opportunities to do so both at the beginning and at the end of each programme.

Structure of programme

41. the programme will start with all three leaders on set and standing at their podiums.

42. The moderator will have a podium/desk and will move within a small area to allow eyeline with

the audience and the leaders.

43. The moderator will introduce the leaders,

44. The first half of the programme will be on the agreed theme but with the agreement of all the parties, in case of a major national or international event not included in the theme of the debate, the moderator will ask the leaders for their reaction to the development at the start of the programme before moving on to the theme.

45. The time taken for the reaction to such an event will be added to the time available for the themed part of the debate, unless the event is clearly part of the theme of the debate, in which case the reaction will be counted as part of the time allotted to the theme.

46. Each leader will make an opening statement on the theme of the debate lasting for 1 minute. After the three opening statements the moderator will take the first question on the agreed theme. There will be closing statements of 1 minute 30 seconds from all three leaders at the end of the 90 minutes.

47. Each leader will have 1 minute to answer the question.

48. Each leader will then have 1 minute to respond to the answers.

49. The moderator may then open the discussion to free debate between the leaders for up to 4 minutes on merit.

50. The length of the debate on each question will be decided by the programme editor.

51. The programme editor will use their best endeavours to keep to the 4 minute time allowance but it may need to be extended in the interest of equality of treatment.

52. Questions will be taken on the theme until around half way through the programme, depending on timing and ensuring fair treatment of all three leaders.

53. At the end of the themed period, the moderator will open the debate to general questions

selected by the broadcaster’s panel from the audience or via email.

54. The same timing format will apply to the general questions i.e. each leader will have 1 minute to answer the question. Each leader will then have 1 minute to respond. The moderator will then open the discussion to free debate between the leaders for up to 4 minutes on merit

55. There will be a clock indicating the time remaining for statements, answers to questions and responses. This will be visible to the candidates and moderator but not to the audience in the debate or on screen.

56. The order of speakers, based on an agreed grid, has been determined by the parties drawing lots.

57. At the end of the programme the three leaders will shake hands.

Role of the moderator

58. To moderate the programme

59. To keep the leaders to the agreed time limits

60. To ensure free-flowing debate being fair to all candidates over the course of the programme.

61. To ensure fairness on the direction of the programme editor

62. To seek factual clarification where necessary

63. It is not the moderator’s role to criticise or comment on the leaders’ answers.

64. The candidates accept the authority of the moderator to referee the rules on stage and ensure a free flowing, fair debate conducted within the agreed rules


65. Order of themed debates. The order of the themes for the first half of each programme was determined by the broadcasters drawing lots. The order is as follows:

1. Domestic affairs including but not exclusively: NHS; Education; Immigration; Law and

Order; Family; Constitution; Trust in politics; Political reform; 2. International affairs including but not exclusively; International relations; Afghanistan; Iraq; Iran; Middle East; UK defence; International terrorism; Europe; Climate change; China; International Development 3. Economic affairs including but not exclusively: financing of public services; Taxation; Debt; Deficit; Public finances; Recession; Recovery; Banking and finance; Business; Pensions; Jobs;


66. The leaders will stand at podiums throughout the debate. The positions of the three leaders during the debates are to be determined by agreement with all parties.

67. The moderator will have a podium/desk and will move within a small area to allow eyeline with the audience and the leaders.

68. Each broadcaster responsible for their own titles, music, branding etc.

Audience cutaways

69. The purpose of the programmes are for the viewers to see and hear the party leaders engaging in debate with each other and answering questions from the audience. The audience is a key element of the programmes and has to be seen by the viewers but there will not be undue concentration of the reactions of individual audience members.

70. There will be a close up of the questioner while he/she is asking a question.

71. There will be no close-up cutaways of a single individual audience member while the leaders are speaking.

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.

73. There may be group shots and wide shots of the audience during the programme.

74. The programme will be confined to events inside the debate studio.

75. Breaking News straps will not be put over live coverage of the debate. On news channels (Sky News, BBC News channel), the scrolling news tickers will offer other news but will not cover breaking news lines from the debates while the debates are taking place.

76. Each party will have the right to recall the negotiating panel made up of representatives from the broadcasters and the parties, during the campaign to discuss issues arising from the debates.

Details of selection panels

ITV Selection panel:

Michael Jermey, Director of News, Current Affairs and Sport (Chair)

Sameena Ali-Khan, ITV Central regional news presenter

Alexander Gardiner, Debate Programme Editor

Lucy Meacock, ITV Granada regional news presenter

Jonathan Munro, Deputy Editor, ITV News

Alastair Stewart, Debate Moderator

Chris Wissun, Director of Programme Compliance

Sky Selection panel

Chris Birkett, Executive Editor, Sky News (chair)

Adam Boulton, Political Editor and Debate Moderator

Jonathan Levy, Executive Producer, Politics

John McAndrew, Executive Producer, Debate Programme

Penny Chrimes, Executive Producer, The Boulton Factor

Hannah Thomas-Peter, Politics Producer & RTS Young Journalist of the Year 2009

Daniel Austin, BSkyB Legal Department

BBC Selection panel

Sue Inglish Head of Political Programmes BBC News (chair)

Ric Bailey Chief Adviser, Politics, Editorial Policy

David Dimbleby, Moderator

Daniel Pearl, Programme Editor

Jeremy Hillman, Editor Business and Economics

Before we watch the debates, has anyone seen or heard any proper speeches yet?

As I've been away since the start of the election campaign, I haven't been able to monitor news coverage to check on whether or not one of my predictions is coming true.

A few months ago, I suggested that the 2010 general election could go down in history as the first one that leaves us completely speechless (HERE).

So I'd be very interested to hear whether anyone has seen or heard any of our leading politicians making a proper speech at a proper rally yet - and by 'proper', I don't mean formal statements to assembled groups of journalists and/or television crews.

Tonight's TV 'debate'
As for the the much heralded televised debates, I don't share the eager excitement being drummed up by the media, not least because they have such an obvious vested interest in being able to film such stuff in their own studios without the expense and inconvenience of having to send camera crews out to to cover rallies miles away from London.

And, as I've mentioned before in relation to a recent speech by Tony Blair, and one of US election debates between Obama and McCain, British television is more and more obsessed with mediating what we hear rather than covering live speeches out there in the real world.

I shall be watching the 'debates', of course. But my main interest will be to see whether and how they manage to enforce the various nonsensical rules of procedure, most notably the ban on applause - for more on which, see TV Debate Claptrap: a warning to those cooking up rules for the leaders' election debates.

My other reason for watching is that the BBC website has asked me for some instant comment afterwards, which means that I'll have to record tonight's episode of Coronation Street.

Related posts:
Since posting this, I've just learnt from John Rentoul's blog, for which thanks, that rule 27 doesn't actually ban applause, but actually says:

'In order to maximise the time available for viewers to hear the leaders discussing election issues with each other, the studio will be asked not to applaud during the debate. There will be opportunities to do so both at the beginning and at the end of each programme.'

However, by the time this had been 'mediated' to those of us who hadn't read the rules in detail, the media had translated it into a 'ban' on applause - providing yet further grounds for concern about relying on journalists for our 'facts'.

Half a century of skiing

If you've been wondering why I haven't been blogging since the election got under way, it's because I've had much more important things to do - on a family skiing holiday in the French Alps.

When my son kindly (or pointedly?) bought me a private ski lesson for my birthday present, the instructor asked me how long I'd been skiing. The answer, somewhat embarrassingly, was that it was more than fifty years ago - when things were very different compared with today.

1. Kit
In 1957, the boots were made of leather and the skis were made of wood.
To select 'correctly' sized skis, you had to reach into the air as high as you could before being allocated a pair that were a full arm's length longer than your height (RIGHT: Me with leather boots and long wooden skis, December, 1957).

Since then, the design of boots and skis have changed dramatically - and for the better. The boots are now much more comfortable and the shorter spoon-shaped skis make the whole business far easier than it used to be - and raise the question of whether the absurdly long skis of the past were a cunning ploy by the ski schools to make sure that you paid for classes for much longer than necessary.

2. Lifts
Apart from the kit, the best thing that's happened (except in smaller resorts) is the replacement of button and T-bar lifts that pull you uphill, wearing you out long before you ever got anywhere near to the top, with comfortable high speed chair lifts (and various high tech gondolas and cable cars).

I'd forgotten just how tiring and stressful it is being pulled up-hill on your skis before skiing down-hill until a recent visit to a small French resort - where, on a single day, I had to endure the torment of thirteen button-lifts.

A few days ago, I went up at least as many chair-lifts but was able to relax and enjoy the views on the way up to each of the summits - from where you felt suitably rested and ready for the descent.

However, although I'm all in favour of the modern chair lift, my favourite lift of all is the historic cog railway from Wengen to Grindlewald via Kleine Sheidegg, which originally inspired the foundation of the Downhill Only Club and the concept of lift-assisted skiing - without which it would never have become the mass pastime that it is today.

3. From winter sports to dedicated skiing
Fifty years ago, you went on 'winter sports' holidays and skiing was just one of the things you did among others, like skating, tobogganing and curling. Today, people just take to the slopes on skis or snowboards and doing anything else tends to be viewed as 'wasted time' - which seems a pity, as I enjoyed last week's expedition on a sledge pulled by Huskies as much as a toboggan ride we did a few years ago from Kleine Scheidegg to Wengen.

4. Resorts
Fifty years ago, most of the ski resorts were farming villages or health resorts, mainly in Switzerland and Austria, that had just begun to develop skiing as welcome boost to their local economies.

Today, if skiing is your main aim, the post 1960s French purpose-built resorts, with their hundreds of kilometres of pistes, interlinked by high tech lift systems have transformed things beyond belief. Each one of the Thee Valleys (Courcheval, Meribel and Val Thorens/Les Menuires), so the anoraks tell me, is a bigger ski area than the biggest area at any resort in North America.

But, if you're after Alpine character and old world charm, forget about the architectural monstrosities and indoor camping in tower blocks bequeathed by the French revolution of the 1960s-70s, and head for a traditional Austrian or Swiss village (providing you can put up with more limited ski areas and the daily torment of drag lifts).

5. Snowboards
Fifty years ago, these were still a thing of the future. And, if their reduced representation on the slopes last week is anything to go by, I suspect that, fifty years from now, they'll be a thing of the past.

Is James Naughtie the most long-winded interviewer in broadcasting history?

At one point during one of this morning's interviews on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, I began wondering whether James Naughtie would ever get to the end of the question he was asking.

It reminded me of how often the garrulous Mr Naughtie has had this effect on me, and got me wondering whether I'm alone in wondering why the BBC lets one of their top interviewers ask questions that are often longer (and less coherent) than the answers he elicits from his interviewees.

So I found it quite reassuring to discover from a quick Google search that you don't have to look far to find comments about his long-winded style of questioning. Nor did it take long to come across some fine exhibits (HERE), and the following specimens are reproduced in ascending order of length.

I haven't timed how quickly Mr Naughtie speaks. But if we assume that it's somewhere around the average conversational speed of 170-180 words per minute, it would have taken him more than a minute to get to the end of the longest of these (184 words).

Is this another example, I wonder, of the BBC's apparent preference for allocating more time to its own staff than to the people we'd rather be listening to - that I blogged about a few days ago (HERE)?

Q: What's very interesting here is that we're very quickly back into the arguments, which are quite familiar about the reasons for war. And let me suggest to you, Secretary of State, that the reason these arguments are still quite fresh in people's minds a few years on is because they realize this has been a campaign attended by mistakes. Of course, there were people thought it was a bad idea completely. But even those who said, well, maybe this is the way to deal with Saddam. Look at John Sawer's, who's political director now of the Foreign Commonwealth Office, his assessment in May 2003 just after the invasion about what the American forces were doing there: no leadership, no strategy, no coordination, no structure and inaccessible to ordinary Iraqis. Now that was the Pentagon in Iraq. That was a mistake (140 words).

Q: But you see, the problem that we've got is that we know about Guantanamo and we know that Mr. Gonzales who is now the Attorney General has said in one famous remark in a previous incarnation with the White House that he thought the Geneva Conventions were "quaint" and they didn't really deal with the situation we've got. And we know, talking about the American Administration, we know that 500 people have been for varying lengths of time in Guantanamo Bay without the trials and the protections that would normally be given under your jurisdiction and ours. And people say, well hold on, if this is a model war, if these are for high ideals, if this is for the spread of the liberal democracy of which you speak here, how can that be? You're breaking your own code of conduct? (141 words)

Q: To the Foreign Secretary in one second, but on the question of why we went to war, yes, it was said Saddam was a bad man who was a force for instability. No question about that. But the American people were told pretty straightforwardly we're in the business -- the American Administration -- of regime change. The British people were told something quite different and very distinctly different; that if it wasn't for the WMD than the whole game would be different. Now we know that those weapons didn't exist in the way that we were told they existed. And Mr. Blair tonight persistently -- that the argument in Britain was about regime change, and yet we now know don't we because of the arguments that went on and the leaks we've had from the discussions in Washington that Mr. Blair's party was regime change all along (147 words).

Q: But the question is not whether liberal democracy -- you talked about this in your lecture on the eve of this program -- is a good thing or a bad thing, as most people in this country, as in yours, think it is a desirable state. The question is how you go about bringing it. Now let me remind you and I'm sure you know these words from President Bush himself in the presidential debate just before he was elected October 2000. He said, if we're an arrogant nation, they will resent us -- speaking about the United States. Now the problem is that many people who try to look at this fair-mindedly, look for example at the question of extraordinary rendition, people taken to third countries where there may be practices that amount under international convention as to torture and they know that they go through our airspace. And the government said, well, really request every time -- a permission is requested every time this happens. Is a rendition flight only allowed through our airspace if the British Government has been informed? (184 words).

... and I bet no one's bothered to read all the way down to here!

Perfect book for April Fools Day: 300 pages of Gordon Brown's speeches

No, it's true.

It really isn't an April Fools day joke.

It's the day we've all been waiting for.

My publishers (Random House) have decided that 1st April is the perfect date for releasing a book of speeches made by Gordon Brown in the two years since he managed to get rid of Tony Blair.

How on earth did he find a publisher?
As I'm quite an expert on the difficulties of getting books published (for more on which see HERE) and on how awful most of his speeches are, I can't help wondering how he managed to find a publisher at all.

All I can think of is that the CEO of Random House is Gail Rebuck, who also happens to be the wife of Philip Gould (aka Baron Gould of Brookwood) - close advisor to Tony Blair and New Labour on polling, spin and anything else to do with communication that you can think of.

So was it the New Labour network that landed a publisher for Brown, or does the April 1st publication date mean that it's a not very subtle form of Blairite revenge?

If you don't feel like buying the book, you can always browse through this selection of posts about Brown's speech-making - which, rather worryingly, is beginning to make me think that I might have another 300 page book on his speeches ready for 1st April 2011: