You won’t need me to tell you that over the last few years the UK has had its fair share of TV debates, brought upon by all the various elections and referendums we insist on having. A constant thread through all of them has been programmes like Question Time, where a panel of worthies answer questions from the audience on political matters.
I have noticed a bit of a worrisome trend emerging over that period, which involves audience participation. It started with Brexit, as so many things have. This subject seemed to generate more heat and fury from the outset than all debates before it, and as a result the audiences in TV debates started becoming less and less able to listen in respectful silence to what the panellists had to say. It started with the odd young person whooping as soon as someone said something they agreed with. Others then joined in, and also began booing when they disagreed. The ‘other side’, not to be outdone, followed suit. As an example, it became ‘a thing’ during the Brexit debates that every time a panellist uttered the magic words ‘second referendum’ or ‘people’s vote’ it became obligatory for a proportion of the audience to whoop and cheer, as though this was the first time they had heard such a proposition. To my ears it seemed to mainly be coming from the younger generation, but that could just be because I am regrettably no longer able to class myself in that category. But it would explain why most of the noise appeared to emanate from the left-leaning side of the argument both for Brexit and also the general election.
So what purpose does it serve? Well, it presumably helps the panellist’s confidence to know that they have some support, but then they probably knew that anyway. I am struggling, however, to come up with anything else positive. For me, having to listen to other people make childish whooping noises in what is a very serious debate is just annoying. So you, a single audience member, agree with something the panellist has said. So what? What is so special about your view? By whooping as though you have got ten A*s in your exams, do you think that is going to persuade me to agree with you? Why can’t you just wait until they have finished talking and clap at the end like everyone else?
It was noticeable that in the last two Leader’s Debates of the general election, the audience had obviously been told to keep their reactive noises to themselves, and as a result there was a far more civilised debate, with less playing to the gallery and more time to hear the arguments. So much better.
So before we turn into America, can TV companies please read the riot act to these excitable look-at-me audience members and tell them to behave properly if they want to participate in an adult debate. Or stay at home, whoop at the TV, and just annoy your neighbours.