INTERVIEW: Rick Edwards

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Written by A Ballantyne on in Lothian, Borders and Dumfries and Galloway

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We interviewed Rick Edwards, the presenter of BBC Three’s ‘Free Speech’ – a live debate and discussion show giving young viewers the chance speak up about the biggest issues we’re facing today.

BBC Three recently ran “It’s A Mad World’ – a season of BBC Three films looking at a range of mental health issues affecting young people in Britain today – and we attended a Free Speech workshop in Edinburgh, hosted by Rick, where the topic of the day was ‘Is the modern way life driving us mad?’ – looking at mental health issues affecting young people today.


“My name’s Rick Edwards and I host BBC’s ‘Free Speech’, which is in essence a young voters ‘Question Time’. Question Time would occasionally do a special edition – maybe two or three a year – with a similar layout but with a youth skew, and they would get an audience of young people aged 18 to 30.

I think they were very well received because there aren’t many platforms to engage young people with political debate and issues. BBC Three wisely made the decision to make it its own thing, so to not have the feeling that the kids get to take over once in a blue moon, but that they have their own show with a political agenda that’s set by them. I am kind of like a young, not as good, David Dimbleby.”

Why is a programme like BBC’s ‘Free Speech’ so important for young people?

I think it’s about having an outlet, giving young people a voice and an opportunity to talk to politicians directly about the things they care about. I think TV can be a very powerful medium when it is used correctly and ‘Free Speech’ is an example of that. I think it’s quite vital and it would be a real shame if it didn’t exist.

We can often read the many negative stories of young people in newspapers across the country – as the face of a young person’s programme, how does that make you feel?

I have concerns which I guess probably echo your [Truth About Youth] work, about the demonization of young people. We are exposed to a lot of media – be it press, print, television – that suggest young people are lazy and are trouble makers, and I just don’t believe it. Maybe I’m naive but I just don’t believe it at all and that’s another very important feature of ‘Free Speech’ – showing very engaged, bright and keen young people, people who are often unemployed and you just can’t sit there and listen to them and think they’re work-shy; they want jobs and I think that’s a really valuable element.

I remember an example that has stuck with me, a thing called ‘slut dropping’ that made the papers. It was groups of lads in cars seeing a girl at the end of a night out on her own and offering to give her a lift home, getting her in the car and then driving off in the opposite direction, dropping her off in the middle of nowhere and then driving off laughing – which is despicable. It made national news, the idea that was created by the media was that this was a phenomenon. I was fascinated and slightly sceptical so I did a bit of research; I think there were no reported instances of it ever actually happening, but there was a Facebook page talking about it as a funny idea. The media covered it in a way that suggested it was happening, but it wasn’t – and that kind of stuff makes me feel sick, and it’s really awful and it shouldn’t be happening. If there’s a way of helping ensure that doesn’t happen, I am all for it and I think we can do some of that through ‘Free Speech’.

Last month BBC Three ran a season of films on mental health issues  and how they are affecting young people, could you tell us a little bit about that?

Diagnosed cases of mental illness are on the up overall, but also on the up amongst young people, so that’s why BBC Three thought that it’s an important thing to cover and have made several really good documentaries about suffering from mental health problems that highlighted some of the issues that young people face. One of the issues is that a lot of the funding is being cut. I feel like people don’t understand that if you’re cutting the budget for something that’s on the rise, you’ve got real problems. If this season on BBC Three achieves anything, I think it’s that we need to change that now.


Team TAY & the man himself.

Last week’s episode of ‘Free Speech’ focused on this topic of mental illness, how did the young people in the audience react to the topic?

There were a lot of people in the audience who had mental health issues – that was interesting to hear. The thing that kept coming up time and time again was this idea that we shouldn’t talk about mental health in such a pejorative way, and that it is much more helpful to be hopeful and positive and say that there is help available and that you can get better. That it isn’t something that you need to internalise and deal with on your own, and that was very heartening actually because it’s not something I’d necessarily thought about before – but it’s true and it is something we touched on today [at the BBC Free Speech Workshop]. Even just down to the phraseology; it’s negative and it doesn’t need to be. I mean, obviously, it’s an illness and it’s not a good thing but you can get to a place beyond it and you can get better and that should probably be the focus.

We chat with many different people each and every day, but one question we always ask is ‘can you give us three words that you would use to describe young people today?’ What three words would you choose?

Sometimes I feel like they’re troubled. I think there’s a lot of issues affecting young people and I think it worries them – and rightly so – and that’s what we see every month on ‘Free Speech’; young people are troubled by a whole range of things adversely affecting them.

Engaged, much more engaged. A lot of my interaction with young people is through ‘Free Speech’ and there’s a lot of people who you’d think wouldn’t be interested and involved in politics but they are, they’re engaged.

Bright. Every time people bring stuff up on the show that hadn’t occurred to me, they provide a real insight into real issues.

We’ve found out Rick’s three words to describe young people and what he thinks about the media representation of young people – but what do YOU think?

Comment below, give us a like on Facebook or tweet us @TAYScotland and let us know your thoughts!

For more information on:

BBC ‘Free Speech’ - CLICK HERE

‘It’s A Mad World Season’ - CLICK HERE

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