Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy considers himself to have the best job in the world. ‘I’ve spent 30 years going to the most amazing places, meeting my idols: musicians, actors, directors, activists, politicians,’ he says, his glee obvious. ‘And it wouldn’t have happened without debating. There’s no point pretending that debating is cool, but it leads you to places that are incredibly cool.’
Krishnan’s journey started back at school when he harboured dreams of becoming a politician. ‘Debating society was just the first step,’ he says. Though he admits it was perceived as ‘a little bit square’ he found he enjoyed not only the topics discussed but the sense of competition and the cachet that came with it.
‘Quite often, it’s only the football or rugby teams who get to go out and meet kids from other schools,’ he says. ‘But debating is another form of competition, and it really broadened my horizons. We debated in some very grand settings, against kids from much posher schools than ours, and in front of eminent judges such Lord Hailsham.’
Debating raised our sense of what was possible in our lives. And if you do well in a competition it makes you realise that anything is possible.
By the time Krishnan was 15 he had not only won the ESU Schools’ Mace, he had achieved the ultimate in terms of cachet, among his fellow students at least – he had been on television. ‘I think the kids who’d thought debating wasn’t for them were probably kicking themselves,’ he laughs. ‘Doing the Schools’ Mace competition lead to my whole career.’
That career began with grilling politicians as an audience member for BBC2’s Open to Question, before he took over as presenter, aged 18, working full-time for a year before university. He enjoyed it so much he then changed his degree from medicine to politics, and kept working part-time throughout his first two years, presenting Asian current affairs programmes East and Network East.
Stints on Newsround, Newsnight and BBCNews24 followed, before Krishnan joined Channel 4 News in 1998. ‘Debating is about learning to look at facts, to construct an argument and argue it, and that has been really good practice for what I do,’ he says. ‘When I’m interviewing, I have to attack from a position and then maybe swap positions because I want to keep my interviewee guessing. So, I must always think myself into the other side. Debating was the perfect training ground and I’ve no doubt that if I hadn’t done the Schools’ Mace Competition, I wouldn’t be presenting Channel 4 News now.’
This ability to understand other viewpoints is something Krishnan feels particularly strongly about. ‘I’ve noticed that people are taking entrenched positions and aren’t really open to being persuaded any more,’ he says. ‘The facts don’t seem to matter as much as they used to. To change your mind when you listen to powerful arguments is a good thing, and needs to be encouraged.’
MAKE A CHANGE
‘My advice to any young person who thinks debating is a bit square, or that the debate society is talking about stuff that isn’t relevant to you, is to join in and change the motions. Suggest what is relevant and debate that and get people to do what you want. That is what debating is about – persuasion.’
Do you want to be part of the change?
If, like Krishnan, you believe in the importance of understanding and debating other points of view, please consider supporting our work. Our programmes enhance social mobility, enabling young people to acquire the skills they need to take an active part in society and to achieve their full potential.