of tea, but having unleashed this torrent of support I feel I have a responsibility tospeak again on behalf of the (quite literally) thousands who have contacted me.There are a large number of points which I addressed in my letter, and a largenumber which you addressed in your reply, and for reasons of time, space, andmaintaining your attention (and that of my blog readers) without inducing a coma, Idon't propose to go into all of them in extensive detail here. However, there are a fewissues which trouble me.First of all, I understand, as noted in your email, that the format of HARDtalk isintended to be challenging, robust and provocative. I have always (before now) beenimpressed by the detailed research underpinning the interviews. I also understandfully that HARDtalk is intended not only for domestic audiences, but for thoseoverseas listening via the BBC World Service or viewing on the BBC News Channel.With this in mind, it is all the more important that HARDtalk should uphold the BBC'sreputation for excellence, rigour and impartiality in all that it does.There is a fine line, however, between a legitimate “Devil's Advocate” interviewingstyle, which involves presenting statements of opposing opinions; and outrightaggression, which presents matters of opinion (or simple falsehood) as objectivetruth. We can argue
about perceptions, and these are fine subjects for aninterview, but they should never be presented as authoritative fact. On this occasion,my feeling - and one shared overwhelmingly by my correspondents – is that in thisparticular case the tone of questioning was misjudged and strayed too far intopresenting opinion as fact.As an example, take the introductory piece to camera – approximately 40 seconds byMontague alone, in the absence of Hampson, who thus has no right of reply. Theopening statement is among the most important parts of an interview, as it sets theunderlying assumptions and premise of the follow-up questions. In this case, elitismand expense are presented as matters of simple fact, inviting the viewer to assumefrom the start that negative perceptions of opera are true, as well as implying thatlittle can be done about this. This seems to be rather too subjective - and important -a matter to generalise and trivialise in such a way.This tone is continued throughout the interview. You say in your response that
“the style […] is robust; it should never be either hostile or aggressive […] I cannot accept that either is an accurate description of Sarah Montague's mode of questioning.”
I amafraid that here, it seems we are going to have to agree to disagree. There is a subtlebut important difference between reporting a perception: “Many people think thatopera is elitist and not relevant to them”; and endorsing that point of view: “Opera iselitist, and irrelevant to most people”. These are paraphrases of the type of questionasked here, but I hope you can see the distinction. Here I feel strongly that the toneof questioning was very much – almost exclusively, in fact – in the latter camp.