An interview has recently become available on YouTube in collaboration with Aljazeera with the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron where people around the world are encouraged to send in questions through video or text that are then put to the PM.
Some of you die-harders will remember that I once took part in a similar project when good, old Gordon was the top man. Back then I probably partook in the feature without really thinking about it, it was a chance to partake in the ultimate democracy, for the head of the country to be held accountable directly to the people. Part of my own personal vanity was also knocking around at the back of my brain, "the PM is going to know who you are!" Admittedly, I did kind of like it when he said my name in his sultry, Scottish tones. I can't be the only one with a slight man-crush on big G, right?
However, in retrospect and after being reminded of the whole thing by this recent Aljazeera-YT collaboration, I now feel the whole concept of a YouTube based interview falls flat on it's face.
I remember my frustration when Gordon Brown answered my question but did what politicians often do; sidestep the issue and talked about something that suited him better.
With no-one to follow up the question, to hold the interviewee accountable for his answer, the politician is just going to be able to be, well, a politician. And all the while saying they have held up the beacon of democracy while taking part in a what is nothing compared to a good grilling on BBC Question Time.
The Aljazeera-YT interview took one step further and provided a ghost interviewer who would occasionally rephrase questions if David got confused. Unfortunately, the reporter would rarely follow up the answers of the PM apart from reminding him of parts of the question he forgets to answer or when talking about Isreal. The PM was often allowed to freely dismiss and 'reject' questions.
Another problem is that of the people asking the questions. They clearly have concerns about the government's policy that they are trying to get heard, questions about public service cuts and the selling of arms in the Middle-East, but they are so easily dismissed by the PM as rubbish because of the way the question was phrased, because they weren't allowed to clarify or because they didn't back their point up with statistics.
This format of using YouTube as a platform of interviews and connecting those in power to those who put them there is symbolically important and has great potential. However, that potential is not being harnessed at the moment. The interviewees need to be grilled and held accountable, better journalism is needed here. I also think live video links would be a better way for those asking the questions to get a satisfactory answer out of their representatives.
My criticisms should not take away from the fantastic potential of these kinds of projects. Symbolically it is a wonderful advocate for democracy. I still feel, however, that the art of the YouTube interview still has some room for improvement.