The good, the bad and the not-so-funny of #MbekiOnPower

Much has been spoken, written and whispered about last Thursday’s epic #MbekiOnPower – the Inaugural Chairman’s Conversation with President Thabo Mbeki conducted by PowerFM’s chairman Given Mkhari.

Let me start at the top: this was a huge media and marketing coup by Given and Power FM. It will be hard to find anyone in the media who was not envious of the concept.

Well done to everyone involved.

But as we all know, the feedback has been mixed. And so it should be. We are a diverse people. One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

The two biggest gripes I picked up (if social media is anything to go by) is that Given did not ask Mbeki tough and pertinent questions (and that he did not press him hard where he was perceived to be elusive) and that this was more about Given than about Mbeki.

These criticisms are legitimate.

But let us step back. Given framed this as a conversation, not an interview. Methinks he did this exactly to cover himself against any criticism that he knew would later come, as it did.

In a conversation, we have to presume that unlike an interview, there is no particular agenda or even desired outcome. Just a chat. Fair enough.

And to this end, it was indeed a conversation. You could even swear these two were friends or peers. Such was the relaxed nature of the conversation.

Unfortunately though, this was a media event. And there are things people expect from the media. If you are a radio host, and you have the privilege to interview a person of the stature of Mbeki, people are going to expect some semblance of an interview: hard and robust questions.

I personally had no problem with a harmless non-confrontational conversation. But to mitigate this, I think Given could have done one of two things.

One, he could have invited top anchors on PowerFM (in my view JJ Tabane and Thabiso Tema) to join him. He could have played good cop, and the two anchors bad cop.

Two, he could have taken more questions from the floor. He only took two in two hours. Of course it goes without saying that some of the questions Given asked were from the listeners who had sent them up front.

These two options would have also buried the criticism that the conversation was an ego trip by Given. Yet, we should not be quick to point fingers. Anchors are stars of their shows.

Given is also accused of long-winded questions that were laden with commentary. Again, fair enough.

But if we go back to the “conversation” disclaimer, he could just get a get-out-of-jail-free card. We all do the same when we are just having a leisurely chat.

Yet, as I have already said, this was a media event. People’s expectations of basic rules of interviews are not necessarily misplaced. In fact such expectations are justified.

This was his first as he said. I hope, and dare I say, I know Given will clean up on this act when he does more conversations in the future.

When it comes the views of Mbeki and how he answered some of Given’s (long) questions, I choose to “take the fifth” except to repeat what I posted on social media on the night: You lose nothing by accepting that “in hindsight I was wrong and could/should have done better”.

In fact, I hope Given takes from this comment too. Not to apologise to anyone, but to do better next time.

All said and done, well done Given. Anyone who doubted your business and media savvy should be thinking differently now.

But of course I could be wrong myself. And if that is the case, I will take my own advice and accept in hindsight, when that time comes, that I could/should have done better.

[Follow me on twitter @ramsbythehorns]