Coronavirus: A week of socially-distanced political bloopers

Mark Devenport as his microphone blows away on live TV

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The wind can play havoc on live TV in the coronavirus era, as Mark found out on Monday

On Monday, I inadvertently spread a bit of happiness amongst BBC Newsline’s viewers when I had to momentarily dive off-screen to rescue my microphone, which blew over in a gust of wind.

On Tuesday, members of Westminster’s Northern Ireland Affairs Committee enjoyed some unscheduled light relief courtesy of Claire Hanna’s daughter, who interrupted the South Belfast MP in the midst of her interrogation of government minister Robin Walker (the brief interregnum in the proceedings was handled beautifully by committee chair Simon Hoare).

On Thursday, BBC News NI’s programme The View shared with a wider audience what a few of us had already been privileged to witness – our esteemed colleague Gareth Gordon’s head being turned into a potato on a webcast of Inside Politics QA, courtesy of his exuberant daughter Ella.

Apart from being enjoyable in their own right, these bloopers all have something in common – they are all consequences of the strange new ways in which we are adapting to work through a pandemic.

But the wind is the wind and couldn’t a reporter’s microphone blow over at any time? True, it has happened to me in the past.

However, the chances of my Monday mishap were increased by the way our camera crews are having to work right now.

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Claire Hanna’s daughter made a surprise appearance during her interrogation of government minister Robin Walker

Due to social distancing, our camera operators don’t pin personal microphones on reporters and our journalists and contributors aren’t meant to handle gear like microphones, which will then be used by multiple members of staff.

So whilst the wind at Stormont has always been strong, there’s currently more opportunity for it to do its worst (note to editors – more sandbags for our stands, please!).

Whether it’s unscheduled interruptions to politicians attending committees, radio guests disappearing into the online ether or home-working presenters being drowned out by their dogs, there will be glitches from time to time.

A prediction – when our children return to school in the autumn, there will be plenty of things which don’t go smoothly.

However, as Voltaire put it, the perfect should not be the enemy of the good.

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A good spud: Gareth Gordon temporarily morphed into a potato during Inside Politics QA

In amongst the dodgy Zoom calls with muted colleagues and long traipses around one-way systems in previously deserted office corridors, we are all discovering new ways of coping which may yet stand us in good stead.

A senior lawyer confessed to pinching himself at the realisation that he can (and did) appear in front of the Irish Supreme Court all day, and was still able to take his lunch in his kitchen in County Down halfway through the proceedings.

These new ways of working may not always be ideal and point up the deficiencies many of us struggle with when it comes to broadband.

Lord Sugar also had a point when he asked Jeremy Vine how new employees are expected to learn the tricks of their trade without being able to observe more experienced colleagues operating within a shared workspace.

Nevertheless, when the pandemic is over and we are thinking about how to tackle traffic congestion and global warming, or looking to save on the cost of office space or improve the design of our cities, we shall remember what we achieved now and consider which of the remarkable advances we can bank.

Inside Politics calls in on East Antrim

Next week’s Inside Politics QA will, sadly, not be presented by Mr Potato Head.

However we do have an exciting development as my Carrickfergus born-and-bred colleague Jayne McCormack is stepping in to present our East Antrim edition.

Her guests will be DUP Junior Minister Gordon Lyons, Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson and UUP Assembly Deputy Speaker Roy Beggs.

If you have any questions for our panel please email or tweet using our hashtag #bbcip

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