On changing the narrative

Recently Tzipi Livni appeared as “fresh meat” as a guest of Rottweiler interviewer Evan Davis, who anchors the prestigious late night news magazine on the BBC Newsnight .

The originator of the genre was the late Robin Day, who, in those far gone more genteel days, was labelled a no nonsense interviewer. His successor Jeremy Paxman who proceeded Davis on Newsnight still prowls the studios of a number of the TV stations. He was the unanimous choice to question the party leaders on their policies during the recent UK election campaign.

Paxman made fools of all the leaders including Premier David Cameron and the opposition leader David Miliband. Their equality in ineptitude meant that neither leader stole a march on the other, which I suppose is as it should be.

But back to Livni and Evan Davis. The Davis method was clear from the start. Questions about apartheid in Israel and whether she considered that her parents were terrorists. To be fair, Livni  handled Davis far better than I first feared and much better then most other visiting Israeli politicians and diplomats.

But her success was one more of survival rather than victory.She made a case out and never wavered. But there is the rub. When you debate someone on their own terms and on a theme of their choice you are never going to get better than a draw. Historically, for most Israelis, a draw could be considered a good result bearing in mind the lamentable couldn’t care less attitude most visiting Israeli dignitaries display during such interviews.

What each and everyone one of these representatives of the only democracy in the Middle East must do is turn the tables on their inquisitors. As soon as the apartheid line of questioning is adopted the interviewee must ask why this line of questioning is being pursued.

They should then follow up by pointing out that two years ago, Britain was riven by race riots after a black man was shot dead by police behind the wheel of his car. Prior to that an inquiry reported  that London’s Metropolitan Police were ” institutionally ” racist.

The sensible line to then adopt would be to point out that Israel has never had any race riots nor any separate development of the races. So why are you trying to shame me with a line of questioning which has no relation to reality.Just by answering such questions is tantamount to agreeing the problem exists.  What Israel is  suffering from is a seemingly never ending war between Arabs, mostly Muslim on one side, and Israelis, who range from Jews, Druse, Bahia’s, Zoroastrians, as well as Christians and Muslims, on the other.

Any bias against Arabs is as a potential third column which the British had long experience of during the war. The Americans too do not have a blameless record on race .Back to the war: all local Japanese, who had mostly never even seen Japan, and were born and died in the States, were locked up in the equivalent of 1940’s Guantanamo Bay .

If the interviewer continues to persist along the original lines the interviewee should make it clear they came for a serious discussion about the Middle East and not to help the anchor grandstand.

At the end of the day big names are the life blood of all news shows. Those taking the attitude advised will not be barred from appearing. For those who are being denigrated on a daily basis, and whose word as democratic politicians are frequently given the same weight as terrorists, there is really nothing to lose. If they are forceful and persuasive enough they might well be able to change the narrative and get down to answering questioning on real problems  not on a fool’s agenda laden with man traps.

About the Author
Adrian Needlestone quit sixth form at 17 to follow his dream to become a journalist. So desperate was he that he accepted a wage of £6 a week for six days work as an office boy at what was then London largest independent news agency, The Fleet Street News Agency. After making tea and buying sandwiches for six months he was given the opportunity to cut his working week down by one day and cover the East London Crown courts in those days known as Quarter sessions Courts. The bread and butter work was the local paper contracts the agency held with the occasional national story being cream on the top. During 18 months covering the courts stories in the nationals became the norm rather than the exception and he was quickly switched back to the main office in Clerkenwell to work with the news team. At the age of 21 came his first big break when Murdoch took over the Sun newspaper and promptly hired the agency’s news editor and most of the senior staff. In a leap of faith the agency head promoted him to news editor but confided many years later that it was the “cheap” option which if he sank that was life and if he swam so much the better. Seven years later after working regular evenings on the Mirror and the Mail he joined the Evening standard on the news picture desk. From there he moved on to the National Enquirer in America, the News of the World, BBC national radio and ran the news section of the Derek Jameson TV magazine programme on Sky. After 25 years in the business he decided to slow down and turn his hand to business but he never enjoyed the success in that world to match his career in Fleet street. Semi retired he has now taken to the internet and is writing a blog as well as simultaneously trying to write three books, one about his time on the News of the World which he hopes to launch through Kindle in about six weeks.