During an election period, as at other times in current affairs, a radio debate can be decidedly open, but this not always the case. The aim is to offer round-table discussions, insights and complementary points of view on a specific topic relating to a particular period of local or national public debate. For example: “What influence do traditional leaders have on voters?”, “Why is there so little discussion about women?”, “How can we combat rumours and fake polls?”, etc.
Debates between political leaders and candidates are highly anticipated during election campaigns. These exchanges should allow listeners to compare the main orientations and the various manifestos, while keeping the discourse as precise and concise as possible. They should also help listeners get to know the various figures better.
WHAT PURPOSE DOES A DEBATE SERVE?
- A platform for fuelling public debate and the associated democratic issues.
- Highlight priorities of general, local, national and global interest.
- Challenge influential figures and decision-makers on issues of interest to the general public.
- Promote pluralism of opinion and expression.
- Contribute to the civic education of the general public (why and how to vote, the electoral code, the role of elected officials, the constitution, etc.).
- Explain candidates’ and parties’ orientations and manifestos, help voters make their choice and get to know candidates better.
- Offers a style of programme which is particularly animated and popular with listeners.
THE GOLDEN RULES FOR HOSTING A DEBATE
- Give everyone present a chance to speak.
- Ensure a balance and/or fairness, especially when it comes to candidates for an election.
- Be strictly neutral.
- Always stay in control.
- Apply and enforce electoral legislative/regulatory requirements.
PREPARING FOR A DEBATE
- Choose topics of general interest which also correspond to the hopes and expectations of the people. When researching your selection, make use of the various interactive tools available (telephone calls, social networks, citizen initiatives, listeners’ forums, etc.) as well as the advice of experts and civil society organisations.
- Gather information on the chosen theme (experts, colleagues, press office, etc.).
- For optimum guest selection, consider their knowledge and experience and ensure a gender balance (a panel of three or four people is about right). For an open debate, you should of course ensure your guests have different points of view.
- Discussion with each guest in advance is essential (by phone or just before the programme) to gather or verify information that will be useful during the debate, as well as to structure the debate properly.
- Make a trailer (promotional programme announcement) and don’t forget sound design (sound effects, jingles, signature tune, etc.).
The secret to a good programme is to keep it simple and to the point. It is therefore not a good idea to mix debate and interaction with listeners. This is especially important when it comes to face to face debates and other “duels” pitting two people against each other on controversial issues (such as “Should we ban opinion polls?” or “Aren’t inmates citizens just like everyone else?”). Very popular with listeners, these should be short (15-20 minutes) and hard-hitting.
ENSURE THE DEBATE RUNS SMOOTHLY …
- By making the rules of the game clear to participants from the outset: the host has editorial control, courteous manner required, respect for privacy, everyone’s legal and social responsibility, etc.
- By getting the psychological, physical and technical environment right: good atmosphere in the studio, mobile phones switched off, microphones tested beforehand, bottle of water on the table, etc.
- Through a good presentation of the topic and guests at the beginning of the programme (the introduction should ideally last from 50 seconds to 1 minute 30).
- By not losing sight of the fact that the listeners always come first.
- By mastering the art of interviewing and directing (knowing when to listen and when to prompt, correct, challenge, clarify, interrupt, etc.)
… BUT LET IT TAKE ITS COURSE
The programme only comes to an end when time is up. There should be no round-up at the end. A simple “Thank you, and goodbye” from the journalist is usually sufficient. This is not the case for election round-table discussions, which are special events that must meet specific requirements. These special programmes, which are part of the official campaign, must adhere to strict rules and ensure equal speaking time.