Perspectives | Media

Why I don’t watch political debate shows anymore

Political debates do not inform, they distort public opinion.

By - 29.05.2020

If you are comfortable in your living room after eight hours of tiring work and want to watch Kosovar television with your family in the evening, then you will need to endure a program full of debates and political interviews. You will not find any of the relaxation that is necessary after the exhaustion you feel from a tiring day at work. What you will find on almost every TV channel are people in suits who accuse each other of being guilty that you, as a citizen and spectator, live in a poor country amid political chaos.

RTK, Klan Kosova, T7, Dukagjini, KTV, RTV 21 — all these TV stations very frequently offer TV debates that are more or less of the same format: An interviewer, one or several guests, and potentially even an analyst. It is not that I do not like debates and politics, on the contrary, I have participated for many years in national and international debate competitions, and I have also studied political science. I can honestly say that these shows do not contain any debate nor genuine political discussion.

In this article, I will list the reasons why I do not watch them, but also why I think political debates like these that are served to us several times a week are actually harmful. For this I have considered the main political debate shows in Kosovo: Pressing, Rubikon, Debat Plus, Info Magazine, Frontal, Click and Desku.

Frequency and runtime

These debates are broadcast on average three to four times a week, mostly during the weekdays and on prime time, around 8 p.m., and last about 90 minutes. These two facts per se reveal the key problems of these shows: They occur very often and run for very long.

None of the television stations have the capacity to create something of quality so often. Which journalist is so well-prepared that they can discuss completely different topics almost every day? To do this, they need a team of researchers who prepare everything behind the scenes, who have knowledge of different social, economic, legal and political fields. But that doesn’t happen here — moderators seem to have enough self-confidence to talk about each and every topic.

The high numbers of these shows usually come at the detriment of quality; they produce a lot of hours of conversation, but sometimes you can watch a debate for two hours and in the end you have not learned anything new and informative.You just end up irritated and politicized.

Guests and themes

Guests are rarely experts in the field being discussed, and there is almost no variety. Most are political officials, whose opinions are “recycled” from show to show. In many cases, people well-known to the public as controversial figures are favored, only to stir outcry and conflict. For example, guests like Dardan Molliqaj or Milaim Zeka are often invited, both without any significant involvement in policy making, being leaders of political parties that have one and zero deputies in the assembly respectively.

Meanwhile, the topics are usually drawn from the current situation in the country, that is, they are day-to-day topics. Daily politics — although important — becomes old news tomorrow, and even older news the day after tomorrow. Therefore, even if you boycott all debates for a week or a month, you notice that much that has already been discussed is past and irrelevant.

Confrontation instead of argumentation

As mentioned earlier, the same guests are recycled on these shows, analysts and political officials are called in so often that no one really has time to prepare. Each comes with his hands in his pockets to talk for two hours on prime time television.

So, in most cases, the guests are not only not experts, but are also unprepared, so they end up becoming the subject of scandalous online media headlines about the way they behave and the things they say during the shows.

These debates often contain more accusations than arguments.

In April alone, there was a guest who proposed amnesty for Serbian war crimes, an adviser who was fired over his statements about the KLA, people without any expertise who talk about mental health and even politicized a suicide to gain political points.The current political crisis in Kosovo itself was ignited when former Interior Minister Agim Veliu was fired for a statement he made on a political show in the middle of the night.

These kinds of provocative statements are profitable for the media because they increase viewership; soft-spoken journalists and panelists who respect each other do not create front-page headlines for online media tomorrow. It is the people who shout and accuse each other who feed the show.

These debates often contain more accusations than arguments. For a considerable amount of time, the speakers even try to take the floor and raise their voices over each other “let me finish” is an expression that you hear from them all the time.

Moreover, analysts aren’t really invited based on the topic; they are almost always the same group of people who take turns — the so called “all-rounders,” who within a week speak in the capacity of epidemiologists, psychiatrists and economists. No matter how knowledgeable and capable they are, there is no way they can be so prepared to talk for two hours on television about each topic. What usually happens is that each of the topics is treated superficially and not in any depth, so even if the debate is good, it remains shallow in terms of content.

Where are the women?

Often, out of the up to five people that are invited to these shows, none are women. Women make up half of the population, a third of the deputies, a third of ministers in government, but in these shows they have much less representation. If we take only the week of May 18-22, 2020 as a sample, it turns out that the participation of women is virtually negligible.

Three out of the five shows did not have any female guests whatsoever, while on the two shows that had female participants, they made up only a quarter of the guests. Although these shows seek to promote progressivism, internalized sexism can still be observed based on the small number of female guests and the fact that women rarely moderate these shows. So politics — for these shows — remains a domain of men.

How the Albanian language is spoken

Another thing that is prevalent not only in these shows, but in many other Albanian media outlets, is the unnecessary mixing of the Albanian language with foreign words. Words like “solucion,” “involvim,” “i satisfaksionuar,” and many others are used left and right, although the audience clearly understand their counterparts in native Albanian. They probably use foreign words based on the misconception that they sound more sophisticated.

The names of these shows — Pressing, Info Magazine, Frontal, Click and Desku — are in English, despite the fact that they are shown in Kosovo and have Albanian-speaking viewers. It is unfortunate and above all worrying how local television newsrooms, instead of being defenders of the Albanian language, do not even name their shows in Albanian.

Lack of fact-checking

Unfortunately, in many of these shows, many untruths are uttered and they are not challenged by other participants. There are sometimes no fact-checkers in the background who can verify the date accurately and in real time, and there are cases when there is intentionally no intervention by the moderator to clarify a statement because they risk cutting the debate short, and the debate must continue in order to justify the set runtime. As a result, viewers are not informed, but rather misinformed.

People don’t deserve to be heavily politicized, especially not after a tiring day of work.

Therefore the viewer spends half of the time during these debates trying to figure out which of the guests is lying and who is telling the truth. So instead of informing, these shows distort public opinion because they are not based on facts, but on gossip, accusations, counter-accusations and quarrels. If viewers know the basic logical fallacies, they may notice that these shows are replete with them.

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Of course, political debates should exist and policymakers should be challenged about their decisions and statements. Such frequent broadcasting leaves no room for quality, but leaves plenty of room for mediocrity. The number of installments should be reduced, especially at 8 p.m. when the viewership is higher.  A higher bar should be set, and guests as well as journalists should be more prepared.

There are good examples to follow within Kosovo in order to reach a better standard — “Interactive” and “DPT with Fidan Jupolli” are not broadcast at 8 p.m., but much later, both are only partly dedicated to interviews with guests. Also, “Jeta në Kosovë” is broadcast only once a week, which allows for proper preparation.

TV channels should also try to promote culture and encourage other shows like, documentaries, movies, local TV shows and art, rather than overwhelming viewers at prime time with politics. People need to kick back in front of the TV, to laugh, to learn, to watch something interesting; they don’t deserve to be heavily politicized, especially not after a tiring day of work.

Television programming schedules in Kosovo do not change, if one wants to watch TV at 8 p.m., most of the time there are only two choices: Televised debates or Turkish soap operas. So, the choice remains between the melodrama of politics and that of the Turkish series, but the second is at least fictitious and preserves your mental health.

Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.

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