Archive for the ‘The Queen’ tag

Queengate, video footage and a nation of armchair detectives

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It was the Reverend Green, in the drawing room, with the lead piping.

Well, it wasn’t actually, it was the Chief Creative Office, with the raw footage, in an edit suite. But that’s how Will Wyatt’s report (‘Investigation into A Year with the Queen’) reads, like a cross between Cluedo and a lengthy round-up by Hercule Poirot (at least until you get to the recommendations section on page 18).

Wyatt describes the critical moment in the affair – the murder if you will – at the bottom of page 5:

“This tape [the infamous promotional tape] was compiled in the absence of the director / cameraman. The assembly was shown to RDF’s Chief Creative Officer who made several changes, one of which was to alter the order of the four shots from the sequence showing Annie Leibovitz photographing the Queen. The Chief Creative Officer knew that in doing this, the sequence shown in the rushes tape was being changed.”

From that moment on the story runs like a car crash in reverse as, knowing the unfortunate conclusion, you watch as each person / department, fails to pick up on the misrepresentation, until it eventually reaches the Controller himself.

But this affair is not fiction, and has had damaging consequences which cannot but hurt an already fragile and bruised BBC.

If there is one benefit that comes out of this messy and sorry affair, it is to illustrate how easy it is to manipulate and misinterpret film footage, and how credible we all remain regardless.

It’s ironic that at the same time as we’re all shaking our heads cynically at the misrepresentation of one member of the royal family we’re being called upon to interpret 10 year old CCTV footage of another. You can’t move for Diana footage on news websites, in news bulletins, on news interactive – all fuelling endless speculation about conspiracies surrounding her death. And while the Daily Mail lambasts the BBC for mis-editing a documentary it reads deep meaning into a brief smile from Diana caught on a security camera (‘What did her smile signify?’).

Yet we could all do with being slightly more sceptical about the ‘truthfulness’ of film, since the interpretation of video footage seems set to become a constant within our lives. Witness today’s examination of video taken of Lewis Hamilton’s alleged ‘erratic driving’ at the Japanese grand prix posted on Youtube. Now we all have camera phones, digicams, and are filmed by 4.2m CCTV cameras you can guarantee you’ll be caught on film at least once every day. It’s just a question of whether any of that footage becomes newsworthy, and for what purpose someone wishes to use it.

Be prepared for many more Wyatt reports.

Written by Martin Moore

October 5th, 2007 at 3:18 pm

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Queengate: Outrage or storm in a royal teacup?

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The acres of newsprint devoted to discussing the misrepresentative promotional trailer of the BBC’s documentary on the Queen must have come as something of a surprise to BBC1′s Peter Fincham and the production company RDF.
There are a number of ways the reaction could be interpreted:
a) Literally – that alot of people believe that ‘if anyone should be expected to represent the Queen accurately it should be the BBC’
b) Structurally – that the trailer revealed structural factors within the television industry which mean this sort of thing happens all the time (see Janine Gibson in the Guardian)
c) Culturally (1) – that it illustrated that there is a sort of moral vacuum amongst those working in media production – especially the young (the Michael Grade argument)
d) Culturally (2) – that it is indicative of a culture of cynicism within the media to which no-one is exempt (for this look at Simon Heffer in the Telegraph)
Or you can take the ‘oh for goodness sake let’s just get this in proportion’ approach.
Whichever view you take – or if you have a different view entirely – you are welcome to come and comment this week at the Media Standards Trust (www.mediastandardstrust.org)

Written by Martin Moore

July 17th, 2007 at 4:14 pm

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The Queen as entertainment

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Let’s start by agreeing on something. That trailer was not an accident. We can argue about lots of things – whether the scene was ‘illustrative’, that this was just a bit of fun and no-one is much the worse off etc – but let’s agree that the trailer intended to give the impression that the Queen ‘flounced out’ of the Annie Leibovitz photo shoot in a huff.

If we can agree it wasn’t an accident then we ought to ask why it was done, what the motive was. Again, this isn’t rocket science. It’s a great peg, a splash, a story with – in Tony Blair’s ‘feral beast’ words – “impact”. And after its release the ‘flounce’ story was indeed picked up by most of the national press (“I’m Orf”, “I’ve had enough of this, says Queen as she snubbed bossy photographer”) and, from them, the international press (google news, 745 follow-up stories).

And yet, it wasn’t true. Most of the time it’s pretty difficult to say what’s true and what isn’t. Is it true that Al Qaeda are turning Iraq into their international base? Is Gordon Brown really only going to use brownfield sites to build his 3 million homes?

But in this case it’s more straightforward. The footage was deliberately reversed, to give viewers a more entertaining – but false – impression of what happened.

Of course this is not on a par with misleading the public about the alleged link between MMR and autism (as Denis Campbell did in last Sunday’s Observer – see Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog), or with frightening parents into thinking their children’s brains are being fried by wireless radiation (see Panorama, ‘The dangers of Wi-Fi’).

But it does give an insight to the values that inform media production. It says entertainment and promotion are more important than accuracy. Ends justify means. If it’s a little misleading it doesn’t matter as long as people tune in.

Not only does this show disrespect for the subject – in this case the Queen – it sends a message to the public that the media can cut and paste what they like – and don’t particularly care if it’s true or false. A message that was underlined by Michael Grade’s extraordinary comment this morning that young people in the TV industry “don’t understand that you do not lie” (from Media Guardian).

But the problem is not that there is some sort of moral vacuum amongst the younger generation, but rather with the context and culture in which they work – to use Blair’s words again (which are suddenly proving remarkably useful), the problems are associated with the “changing context in which C21st communications operates”. The pressure to succeed, the desperation for content to ‘cut through’, the escalation of competition, all encourage programme makers to present their material so that it grabs people’s attention – even if this means misrepresenting it.

The question is, can we change this culture before the public’s trust in broadcasting disappears?

Written by Martin Moore

July 13th, 2007 at 9:33 am

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