What a time to be a political correspondent.
In the United Kingdom, we have a Prime Minister who regularly disarms journalists with rhetorical flourishes in a way that allows him to push through repeated messages without challenge.
American President Donald Trump simply dismisses journalists who push him on critical topics such as collusion and harassment as fake news.
In Canada – where I’m from – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is explaining away a mid-election blackface controversy by telling reporters he’s “been more enthusiastic about costumes than is sometimes appropriate”.
In all three countries, an increase in political tribalism has made it increasingly difficult for the journalists who are supposed to hold power to account.
That’s not good news for anyone.
Questions that fall outside of the daily script are tossed aside by those who are supposed to be accountable to the public. And journalists who continue to push for answers are often viciously attacked on social media (particularly if they are women) and have their credibility challenged.
In the last few months, STV News has had the opportunity to question Prime Minister Johnson about his political agenda.
The first was a Tory hustings event moderated by STV political editor Colin Mackay. Johnson was running for leader, but wouldn’t give straight answers on his intentions.
Mackay challenged him and they bickered back and forth – an exchange that was an interesting insight into how both of their minds work.
It was also good television – the tension was palpable and information was teased from the reluctant candidate.
We received some complaints about the way Mackay conducted his interview, most of them insisting it was too aggressive and disrespectful of a candidate for the highest office in the land.
That’s fair enough, everyone is entitled to their view and I’m happy to respond to any email that lands in our newsroom explaining why I disagree (I think it led to better answers than I had seen up to that point in any other coverage).
Over the weekend, Westminster correspondent Kathryn Samson conducted an interview with the now-Prime Minister Johnson. It’s argumentative – no debate there.
She asks questions, he tries to answer different questions, she interrupts and pulls it back to her original question. It’s edgy – just like our politics at the moment.
And again, emails came from viewers (both television and online) who weren’t pleased with the tone of the interview.
Again, fair enough.
Do journalists push too hard?
Sometimes – I’ve winced more than once watching needlessly aggressive interviews. These are often a direct result of politicians unwilling to answer questions who are intent on delivering talking points instead of information the public needs to know.
I don’t think Samson’s interview was rude, though it was brusque. There’s a fine line between getting answers and badgering someone for sport and amusement – I think she stayed on the right side.
But there’s no doubt society needs better political conversations. Society also needs better political reporting that leads to better answers from our politicians. We need better social media that focuses on the issues instead of the personalities.
Newsrooms around the world have a key role to play in this. At a time of dwindling trust in media, it’s more important than ever that we show our work. We may get shouted down by those who don’t want to answer to the public, but that doesn’t mean we need to shout back.
Steven Ladurantaye is STV’s head of news and current affairs. If you’d like to talk to him about anything you’ve seen or read on STV News you can contact him by email at [email protected]