TV's trial proves inconclusive

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This evening’s POLIS event, ‘Can we still trust TV? TV on trial’, was as interesting for what wasn’t said as what was.

The witnesses – and the speakers were literally cast as witnesses and questioned by lawyer Mark Stephens of Finer Stephens Innocent – used various religious analogies to describe how, like any good Catholic, TV needed to confess its sins and seek redemption. Although, to continue the analogy, there was much head shaking about not donning too many hair shirts or doing too much penance.

The most interesting of the bunch (which included Laurie Flynn – ex-Carlton journalist, Roger Graef – writer and filmmaker, Phil Harding – former controller of editorial policy at the BBC, Stephen Whittle – chair of Broadcast Training and Skills Regulator, and Neil Midgley – Telegraph broadcast journalist) was David Elstein, arch nemesis of the BBC, who was the only one to make substantive structural criticisms of television.

Elstein said he believed the crises could be explained quite easily. They were indicative, he said, of the contempt with which broadcasters (and he emphasised the BBC here) viewed their audiences. “A culture of immunity and impunity” pervaded the Corporation, and in such a culture, “where the BBC doesn’t trust us, why should we trust it?” Elstein asked. “I would never would never let the BBC interview me on a ‘pre-record’” he said, because he could not trust them to edit it fairly. Paranoid perhaps, but not entirely irrational.

Yet even Elstein did not mention the elephant in the room. That these ongoing crises are symptoms of the huge changes happening in the media. Socks the cat, Imagining Yentob and Queengate are all just outward signs of the gradual breakdown of the barriers surrounding ‘old media’. As they break down, the important thing will not be how broadcasters react to individual incidents, but whether they can see how the landscape is shifting and evolve with it.

Written by Martin Moore

September 25th, 2007 at 9:15 pm

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