The press in England is having a field day at the moment at the expense of television, and some even within the TV industry may say it’s long overdue.
Following a scandal involving a phone-in competition to a popular kids TV show, where the lines were down so they got a kid in the studio to fake a call, and an incident shortly thereafter involving misleading editing practices in a documentary about the Queen and photographer Annie Liebowitz, newspapers are on a witch hunt for any situation where TV is employing dubious practices or morales.
The latest scandal involves ‘survival guy’ Bear Grylls, who recently appeared spectacularly on Oprah, and who has been shown in a recent Discovery Channel documentary to have been staying in a motel while supposedly abandoned in the wild. A raft that he is supposedly constructed was actually put together by crew members.
Like all ‘flavours of the month’ for the press, this one will not stop until the public gets bored, front page headlines about the issue stop selling newspapers, and most likely, the public has come to the complete conclusion that all TV is inherently bad. Seeing how little faith the public has in the integrity of newspapers (“Nothing you read in the newspapers is true“), it’s a wonder this particular witch hunt has taken as long as it has to show up.
I’ve worked in both TV and print and I have to say there are dubious practices in both. You could even say there are dubious practices in all industries – it’s human nature to cut corners and misrepresent things for a benefit. Uniquely, TV and Print pretty much act with immunity thanks to their inherent power to report and persuade.
What’s interesting about this particular mud slinging is the inevitable reaction that will follow. Newspapers have enjoyed a lack of investigation into their own practices for a long time. Writers write without credits (do you ever know who wrote a salacious tabloid article?) and TV has almost certainly left Newspapers alone for fear of being investigated themselves. A journalist may get berated by their Editor and superiors if a story ends up costing the paper a libel action in the courts or an enforced public retraction or apology, but the public rarely see any of this, (particularly in the case of the latter).
I’ve long been a critic of dubious editing whether it be TV, photo editing or quotes out of context. I’ve often had to make a case to a producer that editing a person’s quote in a particular way would shift it’s meaning or the (false) impression of that person it makes on the viewer. Fortunately in all cases I’ve never had much complaint, although sometimes the entire quote may have had to be taken out. Editing does have a reason for being after all.
My hope is that once the smoke clears on all this, both TV and Print will emerge better and stronger. Transparency is a trend, and greater checks and balances within the media industries will have positive and far reaching benefits for all.