Radio Times




How surprised were you by Rishi Sunak’s election announceme­nt? Truthfully, it wasn’t until 11am that day that I thought, “Oh my God, he’s going to announce today”. I don’t take holiday while parliament is sitting so I didn’t have to cancel anything, but an election is 24/7. What’s painful is the pressure that it puts on family, because things that were in the diary have to be cancelled and that’s depressing. The first election I covered was 1997, when the Conservati­ves had been in power for 18 years and faced a record defeat. That election feels an interestin­g comparator to this one.

What were your thoughts on Sunak’s rainsoaked Downing Street announceme­nt? Everything about the day was weird. When he came out without an umbrella it was slightly jaw-dropping. I got why he was outside – it looks odd making the announceme­nt inside – but I felt sorry for him having to compete with the blasting music. Theresa May has said her team would have given her an umbrella.

‘You can’t switch off – there’s a responsibi­lity to spot the lies’ ROBERT PESTON

What’s a typical day like for you now? It doesn’t really start or finish. In my job, elections are about distinguis­hing the signal from the noise. It means you have to always be on, looking at what people are saying, whether their words are an accident, out of left field, helpful, unhelpful… What’s the mood, which messages are cutting through and which aren’t at all… You can’t afford to switch off.

So, no downtime at all? Not really. You try to do distractin­g things, but you don’t turn your phone off. I can do quite a lot of work while walking Merlin, our Bedlington-whippet cross – talk to people, read – but taking him out is also relaxing. I read a lot.

Do you have a very understand­ing other half? I haven’t got a pass from chores for the next six weeks because I like multi-tasking and find some chores relaxing – cooking, for example. My partner – journalist Charlotte Edwardes – and children, who live with the

nightmare of my work addiction, are amazingly understand­ing.

How much sleep will you get on election night? I go through from 10pm to 6.30am on the desk with Tom Bradby. Then about three hours’ sleep and up again for the lunchtime news.

Is election time the best part of your job? No. I love trying to understand the world and explain things. Elections are amazing and in some ways incredibly exciting. But I can’t claim they’re the best time of my life because the sacrifice you have to make – of time with the people you love – is pretty significan­t.

Do you think the viewers are engaged with this election? It’s too early to tell. The viewing figures seem to indicate yes, but the candidates admit that quite a lot of voters aren’t even noticing some of the stuff we’re reporting – national service, Diane Abbott, for example.

Is there rivalry with other political editors? There’s a healthy respect and sympathy for the others because it’s a tough job. Obviously, I want to produce the best coverage for ITV and its viewers. To that extent, there’s competitio­n. But I don’t feel a great sense of rivalry or competitio­n with other political editors.

What would you say are the challenges of covering an election in 2024?

There’s been misinforma­tion in elections through my entire working life. Even without social media, phony stories were put out, quite often deliberate­ly, by the parties. There’s always been the responsibi­lity of telling viewers what is made up, fake news, tendentiou­s, not true. It’s harder today because people can disseminat­e lies on all these platforms. We’re hyper-alert to AI manipulate­d video, with politician­s appearing to say things that are not real. Doing this job you always have a responsibi­lity to spot the lies.

 ?? ?? MAIN MAN Above: Peston with Rishi Sunak. Below left: reporting on the resignatio­n of Theresa May in 2019
MAIN MAN Above: Peston with Rishi Sunak. Below left: reporting on the resignatio­n of Theresa May in 2019

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