I listened to The Moral Maze on Radio 4 whilst driving home tonight. The subject concerned the right of prisoners to vote, currently denied to them, but the European Court of Human Rights insisted five years ago that voting rights should be granted. The rights and wrongs of the argument I am unsure about – I am not convinced either way.
But what I sure of is the bad treatment of the first witness. Some members of the panel continually interrupted and refused to let him finish a sentence. (no pun intended as it was Bobby Cummines, a reformed offender who is Chief Executive of UNLOCK, the National Association of Reformed Offenders) Michael Buerk had to restrain the panel to allow him to get a point over. The other witnesses were, I feel, accorded much more respect while they were speaking.
Now it’s not often that I’ll express indignation in this fashion, but can only wonder if it was Mr Cummines vernacular accent or what he once was (his CV says “Criminal and Prisoner, 1966-1988′) that caused them not to listen to what he was saying. Indeed he is much more articulate, giving superbly reasoned arguments, than many other witnesses (and many panel members) I have heard on this programme. I rather feel that the some of the panel heard how he sounded rather than listened to what he was saying. Whether this treatment was influenced by his accent, what he once was or some other reason I do not know. When he was allowed to speak he was well worth listening to.
If The Moral Maze wants still to be thought of as a proper debating platform as befits its title (and I do listen regularly as I’m usually driving home when it is being broadcast) then the panel members must give all witnesses the same opportunity to speak. As part of our professional development curriculum at our university we do emphasise ‘listening skills’ as part of the essential professional skillset. If I were to mark tonight’s broadcast on what we attempt to teach I would have been sorely stretched to award a pass.