(Since I took the image from their site, and since they are making available lovely examples of the traditional puppets, I’ll make sure you can link to the punch and judy company I found.)
There is a style of coverage of issues which the media in the UK uses a lot, which is really loved by the viewers and listeners. I think it has to do with the tradition of Punch and Judy, which is deeply ingrained into the psyche of a child growing up in the UK. Basically, there’s a fair amount of conflict between two puppets -Punch and Judy- (sometimes coming down to beatings with a bat or truncheon, and yelling of “oh yes it is!” vs “oh no it isn’t!”) and the kids and adults sit and watch this and have a good laugh. Occasionally there are other traditional characters, like the crocodile, and the policeman, but it’s basically just an entertaining conflict between two traditional puppets with funny voices done by the person behind the screen.
Often, it is a lot of fun, actually.
What the BBC’s Radio 4 (especially) likes to do, is use this formula to sustain the listenership of their morning show called “Today”. Basically, a huge percentage of the population all listens to this show every morning. It is a pretty excellent source of news and current affairs that you listen to as you get ready for the day, and/or on your way to work/school/etc. There’s a bit of chatter in the studio, and a lot of reports from around the country and the world on various things, sent in by journalists.
At certain points in the programme, they have the Punch and Judy format. The primary one is the big interview just after 8:00am. These are most enjoyed when they have someone like the journalist John Humphrys to do the interview with some senior politician of the day. This is basically a blood sport that is appreciated by one and all, which has a useful primary output: You get real information about political positions, the unvarnished story behing matters of policy, etc., as a result of a skilled interviewer breaking past the fascade. Actual political decisions at the highest levels have been changed as a result of what has been brought out in such interviews. As an example of the style, see this post that I did about one example a while back.
When applied in certain other areas, the Punch and Judy style has serious shortcomings as a means of getting across real information. One constraint is that they are very mindful of appearing “unbalanced” and so oftentimes they will inappropriate put together two representatives to bring the argument for each “side” of the debate, producing a pairing which does no favours to either side, and ends up confusing or trivialising the issue in the name of, essentially, entertainment. (I’ve witnessed them use a popular comedian in a supposedly serious debate about an environmental issue, for example. Or pair a “research scientist” (male, of course) with a “worried mum” on a debate about immunization. I know what you’re thinking about this latter example: Seems like a reasonable choice of representatives, right? Not if the debate comes down to dryly digested facts and figures about trials and the history of immunization on the one hand, and “but will my Binky get autism?” on the other. Both valid concerns, but a useless set-piece debate to set up.)
One of those issues poorly served by this is science. It is not that the format fails in and of itself, but rather, the editors of the programme often simply give up on trying to do a good job of getting across good science information in favour of having a good Click to continue reading this post