Susan Crook writes about GOING FOR GOLD WITH A FREE SPEECH OLYMPIC SPECIAL
In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s something very big coming this week…. the Olympics are about to hit our screens in a TV extravaganza like no other. I’m sure a load of Media Parents are working flat out on it, and many others planning to hunker down in front of the TV for the next few weeks.
My Olympic fun has already begun… with Free Speech’s Olympic Special last Wednesday night on BBC3. Free Speech is the Mentorn-made current affairs debate show for young people. I like to think of it as a kick-ass Question Time – giving a much-needed voice to the 18-26 year-old demographic, who often feel disenfranchised. They are frequently accused of being disengaged too, but the success of Free Speech shows this is anything but the case. During one recent show in Bristol an audience member became so incensed I thought he was going to deck presenter Jake Humphrey!
We wanted to go to East London for July’s live programme, to see how young people living in the shadow of the Olympic Park feel about the Greatest Show on Earth. With an estimated £12bn spent on the Olympics, how much of that has benefitted young people? We got our first answers in advance of the show with an exclusive poll which showed us that while young people are excited about the Olympics they don’t feel they have benefitted financially from them, which was a great starting point for debate.
We assembled a cracking panel to face interrogation by 120 young people in our studio audience, as well as respond to comments made through our social media channels. On the podium were Skills Minister John Hayes MP; local MP Rushanara Ali; Haringey youth Activist Symeon Brown and Olympic Medallist Tasha Danvers – ready to take on all comers.
Free Speech is a co-commission between BBC Learning and News and Current Affairs; Learning’s programme-making arm, The Lab, provide VTs for the show. The team there found great case histories for us: Eugene – who won an engineering apprenticeship on the Olympic Park and couldn’t be more proud of his new skills and career; and Jaures, who had applied for many different roles on the Park and got none. Ironically, as the G4S scandal broke around us, it transpired he had applied for a job with them as a security guard, but had never heard back. Polite, articulate and multi-lingual, he’s exactly the kind of guy who should be guarding the Park come Friday. He kicked off our questioning and from there on we were into a rollicking hour of combative debate. I didn’t fear for Jake’s safety this time, but both panel and audience were challenged: John Hayes on the economic legacy of the Games; Rushanara Ali on the rooftop missiles installed on homes in her constituency and Tasha Danvers on athletes and body image. We rounded off the show with a searing live performance by young poet Deanna Rodger, who has scripted the show that greets competitors when they arrive at the Olympic village.
One of the things I am proudest of about Free Speech is its innovative use of social media. As a Media Parent of a certain vintage, I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to engage with social media so intensely. My children are natives – it’s taken me a little longer to get it, but now you will find me tweeting away @mustwatchtvnow. Free Speech partners with digital media agency Telegraph Hill, who manage our Facebook, Twitter and online interactions as well as the Power Bar. I heart the Power Bar – there is nothing else like it on TV. Viewers add a hashtag to their tweets, showing approval or disapproval of what the panellists are saying. And clever science, which I cannot begin to understand, processes those hashtags in real time, causing the Power Bar to ‘power up’ – or down. It means that Jake and Social Media Jockey Michelle de Swarte can take the panel to task immediately: “…No one at home likes what you are saying – what’s your response?….”
As a series producer, working with young people in a live environment can be challenging, daunting, uplifting and rewarding all at the same time. And I’ve learned more about Grime and the urban scene music than I ever thought necessary. But I genuinely believe we are doing a good thing with Free Speech: giving an outlet and a platform for young people to discuss the current issues that matter to them.
SUSAN CROOK IS SERIES PRODUCER ON FREE SPEECH. She is a freelance Series/Executive Producer with a broad range of experience in Factual programming. She’s also mum to Honor, 11 and Unity, 9 who both really enjoy Free Speech! Next show live on BBC3 at 7pm Wednesday August 15th.
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