Sunday, August 05, 2007

Broadcast News

The 1987 James L Brookes movie is a delightful insight into how the media work. On one level it is a romantic comedy with Albert Brookes, the bright but unprepossessing reporter in love with effective and bright, Holly Hunter who falls for handsome but stupid newsreader William Hurt. The exposure of Hurt as a phony is what attracted me. Hurt has just received accolades for a report on some sob story (I forget what, it doesn't really matter). In the report there is a cutaway to Hurt who sheds a tear. Brookes suddenly realises that there had only been one camera at the shoot. The tear could not have been a reaction to the story, but was added artificially in the 'noddies' afterwards. A drop of gelatine melts down the cheek.

The story came back to me with the revelation that a TV documentary to be shown this week concerning the death of a man with dementia, would not, as advertised, show the final moments of the patient, but the edit would make it appear that it had done so. The patient's brother revealed on a blog that he had died several days after the cameras had left.

It has been a bad time for broadcasters. One of the money making schemes adopted by the television companies has been to invite viewers to take part in elementary quizzes, and phone in the answer on premium phone lines. Since the questions were so easy, they were simply partaking in a lottery. However, they continues to accept calls long after the winner had been chosen. In some cases there was no lottery at all, but members of the program staff posed as winners. In other words the programs were frauds.

As the studio bosses institute a root and branch investigation into what has been going on, other instances of deception come to the surface. We are drawn to the conclusion that broadcasters cannot be trusted. Documentary makers are particularly blameworthy. Their programs pose as fact but are nothing of the sort. They start with an agenda and then fake the evidence to support their case.

Give me fiction any time. It doesn't pretend to be fact.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you, but I don't think documentarians (except fat Michael Moore) pretend to be objective.

The documentaries that are balanced can be excellent. Science programs can be.

I've several ones that stand out. One was on the idea that birds are dinosaurs. I was skeptical, but after watching the program, it made me question my beliefs.

Another one was on the Hindenburg zeppelin disaster. Everyone has assumed it was the hydrogen the Germans used (because big, bad USA wouldn't sell them the safer helium). This documentary proposed that it was the varnish on the bag that was so terribly incendiary. Interesting and provocative.

And the Ken Burns documentary 'The Civil War' I suppose had some biases, but darn that was so good, I've seen it five times.

At least they aren't masquerading as impartial news. That's where the real dishonesty sets in.

I've seen Broadcast News and did think it was a fine film. Albert Brooks is quite funny in it, especially when he gets his 'big break' as a news anchor (reader).

Terry Hamblin said...

I well remember the tip about sitting on teh tail of your jacker so your shoulders don't ride up. I've used it whenever I have been on television.

Anonymous said...

Funny you mention that. I remember it too. I've occasionally checked out men on television and wondered why they didn't do that. Scrunched up shoulders look terrible.

The only times I've been on television was when I was standing up.