MEDIA: Regaining TV’s documentary credibility will be no mean feat

’Can you believe anything you see on television?’ asked the Daily Mail, after Channel 4 joined Carlton Television in admitting that it had shown a faked documentary. It’s a devastating question, involving trust and probity, which has to be answered. Television is far more than an entertainment medium in our lives: many more turn to the screen now than newspapers for information.

’Can you believe anything you see on television?’ asked the Daily

Mail, after Channel 4 joined Carlton Television in admitting that it had

shown a faked documentary. It’s a devastating question, involving trust

and probity, which has to be answered. Television is far more than an

entertainment medium in our lives: many more turn to the screen now than

newspapers for information.



The issue will not be batted lightly away: the Guardian’s initial

actions in opening up the issue infuriated the broadcasters. Nor will

Channel 4’s tactic of ’naming and shaming’ dodgy producers be enough to

save its skin.



There are thought to be more embarrassing fakes rattling around the

system.



Something a bit wild, a bit rotten is going on when lowly researchers

are whistleblowers on programmes waved through compliance procedures by

highly paid TV lawyers. And this despite the existence of established

guidelines and codes calling for reconstructions to be labelled.



The networks now have to convince the public that they’re serious

professionals who can be trusted. But they are going to have a Sisyphean

task to reclaim the high ground which has never been questioned in quite

so basic a manner before.



It goes well beyond rewriting codes. It means a new respect for

audiences, and truth. Everyone who feeds television ideas or simply

watches its output, is part of this process.



Here’s one simple test. Would you willingly allow yourself to be filmed

breaking the law in a serious way, ie trafficking hard drugs? Would you

want millions of people to see you making an assignation with an

underage rent boy? Common sense suggests not.



Yet these are the very transactions we were supposed to believe film

makers can land for prime time viewing - revelations which, handily, win

programme awards. In contrast, any PRO deciding to allow the cameras in

for fly-on-the-wall series negotiates strict rules to ensure the client

is seen in the best light.



Both broadcasters and audiences need to get real. Expect less. Only this

way can the terrible collusion end. The collusion of programme makers

desperate for commissions and promising the earth to commissioners

craving hits to justify their judgment. It’s this division of

broadcasting into segments which has broken the web of

accountability.



I’m not totally gloomy. UK television, however pressured, is

regulated.



I hope we will now go through a corrective period.



There are ways of showing wrongs, such as the exploitation of rent

boys.



The genre of documentary drama can be revived. Films like Shoot to Kill

and Hillsborough have had real value. It’s the obvious way of getting at

truths not readily accessible to cameras. Truly inventive television can

surely clean up its act.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.