PNoy’s YouTube interview: Will it live up to the hype?

“History unfolding, first in the continent, Palace opens digital gate for the people.” Judging from press releases and news articles, President Benigno Aquino III seems bound to be an Internet sensation with his YouTube interview on Nov. 4, Friday. Aquino will take questions from people all around the globe as part of YouTube’s World View, the first Asian leader to do so. The question is: Will the interview actually live up to the hype? 

Rappler takes a look at past World View interviews to find out what the big deal is behind the chat series, and what makes it different from your usual sit-downs. Before clicking the play button on the livestream, check out our World View preview.

1. Who’s done it?

Google and its video-sharing website YouTube bill World View as a series of monthly interviews with the world’s most influential figures. “You ask, the world’s leaders answer” goes their tagline. It allows Internet users to post questions in video or text form. Using the service Google Moderator, World View lets users debate and vote on the top questions that a moderator (human this time) will ask in the interviews.

With YouTube’s emphasis on the role of social media in modern politics, US President Barack Obama was the obvious choice to kickstart the series in January 2011. Taking his cue were:

  • US Speaker of the House John Boehner (February)
  • British Prime Minister David Cameron (February)

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (March)

  • Spanish Primer Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (April)

  • Rwandan President Paul Kagame (May)

  • European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (October)

It isn’t just power players who open up to crowd-sourced questions. In May, YouTube featured astronaut Mark Kelly and his crew on the final mission of Space Shuttle Endeavor. Kelly is the husband of US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt in Tuscon, Arizona last January. For June, World View focused on American musician John Legend and his campaign to use education as a tool against poverty.

It’s not clear though how exactly YouTube selects its interviewees. What’s certain is that many of the interviewees so far have been social media-savvy personalities or leaders who recognize the role of the Internet in reaching out to citizens. Aquino is no exception, leading a country named the social media capital of the world according to comScore.

US President Barack Obama kicked off the Youtube World View interview series in January. Screenshot from www.youtube.com/worldview 

2. What did they say?

World leaders field questions on the challenges on their plate, and the pressing issues of the day. Cameron discussed Britain’s role in Afghanistan while Boehner’s interview took place as the budget debate raged on the US Capitol Hill.

Economic issues also dominated questions for Barroso. The most popular question was what went wrong in Greece and how to boost the Greek economy – a problem that plagues Europe until now (bailout referendum anyone?). On YouTube, Barroso responded, “One country — like one family or like one company — cannot live a long time above its means. And Greece was doing precisely that.”

Obama had his share of tough questions, voicing his thoughts on the protests in Egypt, jobs, debt and health care. Yet on a platform that made Justin Bieber a celebrity and gave the Cebu dancing inmates global fame, lighter questions have to be asked. What was his favorite college class? Political science. Favorite scientist? A mathematician from Harvard. Valentine’s gift for Michelle? A date.

Chances are those love life questions for Aquino will pop up again. The more serious and top-rated ones on the site include improving NAIA, job security and the booming population.

Top-rated questions for Pres. Aquino include fixing NAIA, jobs and the booming population. Screenshot from www.youtube.com/worldview

 

3. What are the Big Three? 

Like every World View guest, Aquino will be asked standard questions called The Big Three. A YouTube plug says these questions press beyond day-to-day problems and get them to discuss big picture issues. The Big Three are:

  1. What is the biggest problem facing the next generation and what should we do to solve it today?
  2. Tell us about one experience that changed the way you view the world.

  3. If you could ask one question of a world leader, what would it be and to whom?

Netizens will gauge how thoughtfully Aquino will answer The Big Three but his fellow heads of state had no qualms about sharing personal insight. On the second question, Netanyahu said the death of his brother in the battlefield steered his life toward its present course.

“Yoni believed that the war against terrorism was not merely military, but also political and moral …. When I have to send our soldiers into harm’s way, I think [an extra time], and I think it makes me a more responsible leader.”

In the early part of the Arab Spring, Cameron easily answered question 3. “My question right now would be to Colonel [Moammar] Gadhafi, which is: ‘What on earth do you think you are doing? Stop it. Give your people a chance [at] freedom, democracy and a better future which is what everyone in the world wants and desires.'”

In his World View interview, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the death of his brother in battle is the one experience that changed his view of the world. Screenshot from www.youtube.com/worldview. 

4. What’s new this time?

Other than being World View’s first Asian leg, Aquino’s interview comes with some innovations, mostly technical so far. For the first time, the World View channel is hosted beyond Youtube as it is embedded on the website of its media partner ABS-CBN News. The interview will be streamed live on Nov. 4, 1pm on www.youtube.com/worldview as well as www.abs-cbnnews.com.

ABS-CBN is hosting a live chat at www.abs-cbnnews.com/askpnoy to allow viewers to react real time. Like past interviews, the media partner will also broadcast the interview on TV via its news channel ANC but at a later date, Nov. 7.

5. Will it really be user-generated?

With user-generated questions, World View is trumpeted as citizen-powered interviews but this isn’t entirely accurate. The Youtube staff has the final say on what questions actually make the cut.

New York-based marketing news website clickz.com points out how filtering happens. In the Obama interview, the website says 198 of the 200 top video questions were about the legalization of marijuana. “But all that user interest was boiled down to a single video question, shown in the later part of the interview. No mentioned was given to the overwhelming number of votes the drug topic garnered.” 

The blog africasacountry.com had a similar observation in Kagame’s World View. “It felt like the questions — submitted online — were prescreened. They were all softballs.”

Other bloggers thought the same of Cameron’s appearance, describing the questions as bland and predictable, and not likely to be asked by hard-nosed journalists. 

It remains to be seen if Aquino will get the same treatment. Instead of a Filipino journalist or blogger, his moderator will be a Google executive, Ross LaJeunesse, Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs for Google Inc. in Asia Pacific. He is also former deputy chief of staff and senior advisor to former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Malacañang says though that the chief executive embraced Youtube as part of his push for open and transparent governance. “And so, knowing it can be difficult for the ordinary Filipino to view his government as accessible and transparent, we are taking the first step in coming to you,” says Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang.