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I TALK Free Speech

I have always enjoyed the type of programmes that BBC Three make and in particular the voice they give to people through their reality series and documentaries.

On the 7th March a new programme came to the channel called Free Speech giving voice to the young. Marketed as the younger sibling of Question Time, Free Speech is a brand new monthly live debate show made by Mentorn Media and targeted towards the under 30s with a studio audience aged 18-24. The programme speaks directly to its viewers in more ways than one, with a strong emphasis on interactivity.

The series is fronted by Jake Humphrey (Fame Academy, The Saturday Show, Formula One). Each episode tackles the five most talked about and relevant topics, dubbed 'The Hot Five'. The first episode dealt with; workfare & benefit cuts, cycling safety, cheap booze, pin-ups and Afghanistan. A varying list of topics.

As expected with a show aimed towards young people, the topic that got given the most air time and sparked the biggest debate was workfare and benefit cuts. A common concern was that there are no longer many opportunities out there for young people.

The panel for the first show was made up of Adam Deacon (Kidulthood, Anuvahood), Gemma Cairney (BBC Radio 1Xtra), Dominic McVey, owner of lads mag FRONT Magazine and Conservative MP Esther McVey. Adam Deacon has become somewhat of a regular face on these type of debate shows.

In Summer 2011, Deacon was on the panel for BBC Three's Young Voter's Question Time whilst discussing the London Riots. I would like to see him return to the show as a 'regular panellist' as he appeals directly to the youth of the UK. Deacon is a positive role model for many and people respect his opinion. Many feel that he is speaking on their behalf and enjoy seeing him on such panels, hence engaging with the issues and feeling they can have their voice heard.

The series uses social media and in particular Twitter in a different way to how I have ever seen it used on TV before. Free Speech with the help of recently formed social media company Telegraph Hill have really engaged with social media and have spotted the power twitter has over TV programmes and how more and more of us are tweeting whilst watching TV.

Telegraph Hill and the Free Speech team have come up with the Power Bar. The Power Bar lets viewers have their say as to who they agree with on the panel by tweeting #YES or #NO followed by the panellists name, depending on whether you agree with what they say or disagree.

As a big twitter fan I played along at home, finding myself tweeting #YESAdam quite a lot as I agreed with many of the things Adam Deacon said during the show. The power bar would often be shown during the debates and the least popular panellist with those at home was Esther McVey.

The Power Bar is a great use of Twitter and one which I am yet to see on any TV programme, yet one I feel will benefit many. What sets the Power Bar aside from just tweeting in opinions is that your opinion really counts and allows viewers to see what panellist the people at home are siding with and whose opinions they agree with.

Free Speech also use Twitter in a more conventional way with the help of comedienne Michelle De Swarte (see image right) dubbed the 'Social Media Jockey'. De Swarte reads out viewers tweets, using the must have gadget for any live TV show, the iPad, as well as Facebook posts and blog comments during the programme. This offers the viewers at home who could not make it into the studio to have their voice heard and even pose a question or comment to the panel.

Whilst being a monthly programme, Free Speech doesn't end after the hour long programme. What the show does really well is engage with its viewers even when the programme isn't on. Part of the reason they do this is to help research the topics that are relevant to their viewers and studio audience.They also encourage and invite people to film short videos to be used in the show and are open to suggestions for topics for 'The Hot Five'.

If you follow them on Twitter (@BBCFreeSpeech) for example, then they will often comment on daily topics, trends and spark debate and opinions from their followers. Not only does this help viewers not to not forget the programme is on, but  it also helps young people who may not necessarily watch the news learn of all the latest goings on. It also offers young people a space on Twitter where they feel comfortable to share their opinion and feel it will be heard.

This week 'Broadcast' wrote a piece called 'BBC3's Free Speech is Twitter Hit' revealing statistics via Telegraph Hill that show that viewers of the programme tweeted twice per second! And that over 15,000 of the 268,000 that tuned in were part of the Twitter buzz around the programme.

Free Speech continues Wednesday 16th May at 10pm on BBC Three


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