Poor old auntie’s been having a tough time of it over the faked phone-in OUTRAGE scandal, along with the faked footage of the Queen. Commentators are calling it another Hutton and questioning it’s very existence.
“The BBC showed an invited audience a slightly misleading trailer for a documentary about an old lady being photographed. Another branch of the BBC picked a child from the studio audience to enter a quiz competion after its phone system went down (and also, 30 years ago, pretended a tortoise hadn’t died).
If you think that these utterly trivial accusations prove anything beyond the fact that BBC’s critics will clutch at any straw in their paranoia, you are silly.
If you think this throws into question whether the BBC should exist, you are bonkers.”
I’m probably as biased as the BBC is to its critics, but I’m still a fan of the corporation. Their news is still a benchmark for other to aspire to. For those of us working in the commercial environment, which mostly has considerably less resources than the BBC, if we manage to match or surpass the Beeb’s coverage on a big story then it is a cause for celebration , and if we don’t then we look as to how we can the next time around.
But to even remotely describe this crisis as another Hutton is a tad OTT. It’s not, to me, on the same level. And while its a wonderful chance for the corporation’s critics to throw out the usual complaints of left-wing bias, stifling the free market and the age-old licence fee debate, with the exception of the latter these criticisms don’t really have much to do with the current issue in hand.
One of the positives you can say about the licence-fee is it does require the BBC to be open and honest. As Matt Wardman concludes his post with:
“Have Sky manipulated their phone-ins? If they had, how would we find out”
Quite. This public aspect entitles us to know about their screw-ups as well as bask in their successs. And there’s no doubt this is a screw up of the highest magnitude.
With the issues on Children in Need, Blue Peter and the like, it’s easy, if not excusable, to see how the situation can be reached. You’ve got a programme broadcasting to millions that includes a heavily-promoted competition. Suddenly the technology goes down, you’re left with the option of no winner or putting in a ‘winner’. To a panicked producer, it’s an easy option. It’s not a pre-meditated con designed to scam you out of millions, rather a fuck-up that leads to a larger and potentially more serious fuck-up.
The only revelation of this saga that does worry me is the pre-recorded shows on 6 Music. No excuse for that, they knew completely what they’re doing there and that’s just plain wrong.
However the rest reminds me of my student radio days, where callers were often sparse for competitions (and the prizes sometimes left a bit to be desired) so Claire from Block A in the Halls of Residence became a regular winner, so it didn’t look as if we had no listeners. Again, not a great way to conduct ethical business, but given we were more concerned with getting the show out, the implications didn’t even cross our minds.
And here’s a thought for further debate: say you’re a phone-in show which is struggling for callers on a particular issue, so the producer emails a friend who has strong views on the topic in hand, asking him to call in. Now this friend wouldn’t have called in normally, and may not have been even listening to the show, but nonetheless is more than happy to air his views, and this goes on to provoke a lively debate for the rest of the show that makes for great radio. Where does this stand? On one level, its deception by the producer, on the other level its provides good radio?
A brief point about the Queen controversy as well, which I find it very hard to get at all excited or worked up either way about. Show me a broadcaster, newspaper or magazine who hasn’t manipulated an image at some point in their past and I’ll happily give them a tonne of rocks to throw at everyone else.
It’s also a bit confusing now where documentaries and reality shows stand. Should they show the full footage, which would extend to several days, so the viewer has a full picture. Whose to say one editor’s cut wouldn’t be another’s key scene, and aren’t both manipulating the story anyway? How about news interviews, edited to fit in to time constraints? Aren’t these at risk of changing the context? And if you’re going to kick up a fuss over one bad edit in the Queen trailer, why has nobody thrown up their arms in anger over that king of manipulation reality TV, Big Brother?
Ultimately the Queen fiasco was an incredibly bad cock up. Somebody may or may not lose their job over it and, on balance, it may well be justified. But, Christ, it’s not as if they’re not doing enough hand-wringing and apologising. And it’s certainly nowhere near a big enough cock-up to call into question the very existence of the BBC.
 And this isn’t done with laying the boot in either. Often they’re not in direct competition in terms of audience, but in terms of news, you’re chasing the same story, and looking for the scoops and the angles as well. It’s professional competition and respect, and I have a lot of respect for my counterparts at the BBC, many of whom I see out and about on a reasonably regular basis.