Are Q&As Getting Boring?

Forms of questioning and topic choices need to be revised

Paula Cesarino Costa
São Paulo

Since the presidential campaign's official start, rare were the days when a newspaper, radio show, TV program or website didn't feature an interview with the candidates. Folha alone promoted a series of interviews, two rounds of roundtables discussions with the candidates in person, and we are also preparing a televised debate in partnership with web portal UOL and TV network SBT.

If it's undeniable that the candidates' overexposure gives readers more information on their thoughts and actions, it's evident that both approach and content are suffering from endless repetition.

The big new thing, and a healthy one at that, from this marathon of debates and interviews, is surely fact-checking the candidates almost in real time. But it's not enough.

Some readers sent messages complaining about how some interviews with candidates for president and governor were conducted, saying they read many big words with little substance, and could not truly understand any of the candidates' policy proposals. One reader, in particular, was quite direct: "These Q&As are very boring. They all sound the same, politicians and journalists both."

He complained of long questions from the reporters. He sent us the rules for TV debates in the United States, which suggest questions no more than 20 seconds long, because the voter is interested in what the candidates have to say, not the journalists. 

It's a sensitive issue. If the interviewer talks more than the interviewee, she hinders the most important part of the content: what are the proposals of this person who wants to be president of Brazil.

The art of interviewing consists of direct and didactic questioning, as well as blocking digressions and procrastination from the interviewees. How those two are balanced is an indication of the interviewer's talent degree.  

In all interviews, we saw more discussions of political alliances and corruption accusations than policy proposals. When more than two or more candidates were present, quarrels and provocations were overvalued in the following coverage.

The erratic management of political debates is, in most part, the press' fault. There is some degree on the influence of rules previously agreed among the candidates, of course, but what worries me is how much the topics and questions chosen by journalists are in sync with the concerns of the audience we serve.

A Datafolha poll shows that, despite healthcare and corruption being the country's biggest problems, the voters think that the next president's priorities should be, in this order, healthcare (41%), education (20%), unemployment (8%), crime (7%), economy (5%) and finally, down in the bottom, corruption (2%).

It may seem a truism to say that health care and education are indeed topics relevant to Brazilians. Taken as a general trend, I agree. But they both impact daily and family life directly; they have huge implications in employee's skills (and consequently in economic performance), and also greatly impact policy and public spending.

There is an enormity of smart, necessary and appealing ways for the press to approach these topics. But neither candidates nor journalists seemed concerned, interested, nor prepared to discuss.

Newspapers, magazines, radio shows, and TV programs report tirelessly on the pitiful state of Brazilian healthcare on their routine coverage, but during the campaign, they forget to find ways to make the candidates show their healthcare proposals.

Folha's series "E agora, Brasil?"("Now what, Brazil?") presents analyses and discusses ideas to contribute to the political debate, as well as evidence-based policy suggestions.

The August installment focused on healthcare and pinpointed ten bottlenecks in the area. That list could be used to base questions from the newspaper to a presidential candidate, to be answered in real time and with no time limit. The newspaper could use the series as a way to better qualify the current political debate.

These are Brazil's eighth presidential elections after democracy's reinstatement. New communication technologies are opening several possibilities, which are being underused. It's time the press takes a more active role in approaching and questioning policy proposals, with creativity, relevancy and in a wide range.

Translated by NATASHA MADOV

Read the article in the original language