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Monday, 6 January 2014

A top French interviewer gets a lesson in journalism from his (fellow journalist) wife

French broadcast journalists don't really have much of reputation for aggressive interviewing.

They often treat their political "guests" with proverbial kid gloves, allowing them to avoid the real question that has just been asked by refraining from posing a follow-up.

All right, let's be kind, It's hard to stop someone who clearly refuses to answer a question and chooses instead to read from the hymn sheet, ignoring the "facts" quoting statistics to bolster their argument and never, ever admitting they could be wrong.

And let's face it, there's nothing most politicians love more than pontificating...well, that and the sound of their own voice.

There are some exceptions of course among those actually "doing" the interviewing on the radio and the TV. And among them is undoubtedly Jean-Jacques Bourdin,

He has a daily radio programme on RMC, around 20 minutes of which includes a face-to-face interview with a guest,
 (usually, but not always a politician) on his or her views on some of the stories making the headlines.

The interview is also broadcast simultaneously on BFM TV, and the least that can be said is that the men and women who agree to sit across the table from Bourdin (and there are plenty of them) know exactly what to expect.

Jean-Jacques Bourdin (screenshot Nouvel Obs report)

Bourdin is direct, blunt, doesn't suffer fools and seldom allows his guests off the hook easily.

His somewhat intimidating style seems to bring out the best in many of his (political) guests and it's also an approach he uses throughout the whole of his four-hour radio programme dedicated to subjects making the headlines and during which he mixes interviews with "professionals" from whatever domain with 'phone calls, emails and text messages from listeners.

Nothing seems to faze the man and he appears to be the one in control.

Well most of the time that is.

Recently though he had his knuckles well and truly rapped, albeit briefly, by the only person really capable of doing so. His wife, Anne Nivat.

Bourdin called upon Nivat in her capacity as a journalist who has covered conflicts in Chechnya, Iraq and Afghanistan for her comments on the Volgograd bombings on December 29 and 30.

Nivat knows her stuff when it comes to Russian politics - if you have any doubts just take a look at her Wikipedia entry - and was clearly none too pleased with her husband's rather shoddy approach to the subject.

Right from the start of the interview it was clear that Bourdin was not exactly at his confident best, admitting that, as Nivat was his wife, he would tutoyer her but, habit getting the best of him, he slipped into the formal vouvoyer.

"After the first bombing the decapited head of a suicide bomber was found," he began, only to be interrupted by Nivat.

"A suicide bomber - that's what you say, because nobody knows anything at the moment,"

"You're simply repeating a newswire from Agence France Presse which is in turn repeating the propoganda of the Russian government," she continued.

"At the moment we don't have enough information. We don't know anything. It could also be a man who was an accomplice."

Jean-Jacques Bourdin se fait houspiller par sa... par Gentside

Bourdin continued his unintentional floundering by opening the door for another lesson on Russian politics by trying to move the interview along briskly with, "Nobody seems to talk much about the Caucasus. It has apparently all been 'settled'but nothing has been 'settled'..."

"No, but we no longer speak of the Caucasus because the media (in other words you and your colleagues) choose to talk about other things," replied Nivat.

"Just because we (the media) no longer talk about the Caucasus, doesn't mean that everything has been 'settled'."

Ah yes. There's nothing like being put in your place by your nearest and dearest.

Little surprise then, that Bourdin appeared to thank his wife a little too hurriedly before moving on to the next item.

There's a lesson in the tale somewhere - and it's not just one of journalism.

And, dear reader, just a reminder of how important independent journalism is and how dangerous it can be to fall into the trap of rehashing what politicians might want us all to believe...courtesy of the latest campaign spot from Reporters sans frontières.

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