Archive for the ‘TV’ tag

ITV's entertaining interpretation of public service TV

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Let me get this straight. Peter Fincham, director of television at ITV, believes entertainment programmes like the X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent should be more clearly defined as ‘public service’, so that they can become better supported by the state – if necessary to the detriment of news, current affairs and children’s programmes.

If I’ve understood the speech he gave to the Edinburgh TV festival on Friday correctly, he is arguing that big-budget high entertainment is the preserve of old broadcasters like ITV. Only these 20th century broadcasting giants can deliver both the programme quality and the bums on seats that provide a shared national experience, he suggests. The market does not – cannot – make these kinds of programmes for broad audiences. As such, ITV should be released from its other onerous public service commitments so that it can focus on these types of programmes. ‘Keep TV popular’ is Fincham’s mantra.

Hogwash. Or in the words of the London mayor, piffle. Fincham’s argument falls down on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start.

The market, bless it, does provide these sorts of programmes and will provide them whether or not ITV exists to commission / make them. Indeed if the market was left to its own devices there is a good chance many TV channels would make these programmes almost exclusively (which is no doubt one of Fincham’s worries).

More astonishing is Fincham’s attack on the state – on the “television that is understood by regulators, consultants, strategists and media commentators”. Not only is it far too easy to cast OFCOM and the DCMS as the villains of the piece, it’s also completely misleading. If anything, OFCOM has been one of ITV’s biggest cheerleaders. Listen to it arguing that ITV should be released from its commitments to regional news and you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a party political broadcast for the third channel. It is not OFCOM’s fault that ITV has lost viewers in droves, nor that ITV made such a terrible hash of its new media strategy (remember Friends Reunited?).

As for Fincham’s apparent vision – for a channel that is subsidised to make commercial entertainment, has its profits protected from the stiff wind of competition, and has almost no other programming obligations. Can you think of any country in the world where this happens? The only parallel I can think of is the Roman amphitheatre (which some of the programmes cited by Fincham bear more than a passing resemblance to).

To whose benefit is this vision? To the publics? It seems as though the public have already made their view clear, by deserting ITV to entertain themselves in other ways. No, the vision seems only to benefit established broadcasters, most notably ITV.

Only an industry like television, that has enjoyed such a prolonged golden age, could be so myopic as to think that, purely due to its legacy, it should be such a major recipient of state support. And, that the support should come without any strings attached.

Written by Martin Moore

August 26th, 2008 at 2:02 pm

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Existential angst in Edinburgh

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A piece I’ve written for the Guardian’s Comment is Free about Jeremy Paxman’s MacTaggart lecture:

Fuelled by pipe tobacco and past experiences of mescalin, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a play – Les Séquestrés d’Altona – in which one of the lead characters appeals to a court of crabs to judge his actions and his guilt. The crabs were meant to signify both his peers and posterity, and the appeal is symbolic of the ethical dilemmas we face and of our need to be judged (I think, although the exact meaning of the play is famously obtuse).

I was reminded of Sartre’s existential angst by Jeremy Paxman’s MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival – Never Mind the Scandals: What’s it All For? In an atypically reflective, but reassuringly spiky critique of the television industry, Paxman appealed to a court of his peers to “rediscover a sense of purpose”, to do “less hyperventilating and more deep breathing”. We need more cogitation and rumination, Paxman said, and less herd-like stampeding for media “impact”.

For the rest of ‘TV: fading to a dot?‘ (not my title by the way), go to http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/martin_moore/2007/08/tv_fading_to_a_dot.html

Written by Martin Moore

August 31st, 2007 at 12:09 pm

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Does TV damage children?

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As television reels from the blows of the Great TV Phone Scandal along comes Dr Aric Sigman to land another uppercut. The Guardian, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Mirror all cover Sigman’s speech to the MediaWatch-UK event in which he railed against the effects of TV on children and called for a ban on all TV viewing for the under-3s (The Times covered the article on which the speech was based back in February).
Protecting children from the harmful effects of TV is clearly in fashion. OFCOM have banned junk food ads during children’s programmes, Compass has written a scary report on the Commercialisation of Childhood in which TV plays a lead role, and the Telegraph is running a Hold On To Childhood campaign.
But it’s odd that so many newspapers should pick up on this story – and report it so uncritically. Only two mention that the speech was at an event organised by the campaigning organisation MediaWatch-UK, and only one refers to Sigman’s previous publication ‘Remotely Controlled: How Television is Damaging Our Lives’. The reports refer to other studies which confirm Sigman’s findings, but none which contradict them, or even those which illustrate the complexity of this issue. The Guardian refers to ‘a growing body of research’ and mentions a 2004 study by Cornell University about TV and autism (but doesn’t link to it). The Telegraph doesn’t refer to any other studies, pro or anti, and the Mail helpfully tells us that Sigman originally made his argument ‘In a report in a science journal’ (it’s in The Biologist and available online). The only report to find someone with an alternative perspective is the BBC’s (not bylined).
Even if you have sympathy for Sigman’s criticisms (which I do) they are less credible if not questioned or put in proper context. Why is it that news organisations so often seem to accept what scientists say so uncritically?

Written by Martin Moore

April 24th, 2007 at 1:30 pm

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