There’s no other way to describe the kerfuffle over the BBC’s internal inquiry into quiz fakery. Our punditocracy is outraged that not everything on TV is real. No duh.
I realise Gail Walker is almost certain to cover this next week, and she’ll probably blame the “liberal elite”, but it’s worth covering this separately. We can, for starters, safely ignore the vast outpouring of humbug from sections of the press that routinely make stuff up. Set this in the context of what started off the whole cultural shift in TV – the exposé of the routine fleecing of the public on premium-rate quiz shows – and the Beeb’s half-dozen transgressions – involving small prizes and national-rate phone lines – start to look like small beer. They even look modest in comparison to the Richard & Judy scandal, or the goings on at GMTV, where, if Eamonn Holmes is to be believed, not even war, terrorism or natural disaster could be allowed to interfere with the phone-in.
It’s very clear that broadcasters in general need to set their house in order, especially now that phone-ins are being used as a subsidy by the commercial operations. Mark Thompson’s prompt action is pretty much what needed to be done. There is also an aspect – and I think Michael Grade was excellent on this on Wednesday’s Newsnight – that the outrage over the BBC can be seen as a backhanded compliment, in that people place more trust in the Beeb and therefore feel more betrayal at a relatively small infraction.
But really, some of the synthetic outrage would seem to imply that TV simply holds up a camera to real life, that there is no such thing as editing, dramatic framing, or cutting corners. Probably it has to do with the immediacy of TV, in that we don’t apply the same sort of conscious scepticism – at least not in the same degree – as we do in approaching the print media. But we the viewing public have a right to expect that our media won’t tell us outright lies – now who will follow Thompson’s example?
By the way, the whole quiz scam only broke because of a handful of courageous whistleblowers. Will anyone blow the whistle on Big Brother, I wonder?