Monday, April 23, 2007


Since I've been following the spate of TV phone-in scandals with at least mild interest, I watched this evening's episode of Panorama (which, at least if you're British, you can watch online here).

The BBC is a strange organisation. It's hard to imagine any other broadcaster which would devote part of its flagship current affairs show to attacking the credibility of the BBC's own explanation for the Blue Peter screw-up. But, as they point out, at least the BBC doesn't run phone-ins for profit. It uses them to cover the cost of the calls and then gives the profits to charity.

They devoted most of the show to broadsiding GMTV, who are rather a soft target. It's the usual story where a broadcaster has been running a phone-in competition but the winners have been chosen hours before the phone lines close. While this is unquestionably dodgy, I've never quite understood what's in it for the phone operators - what do they gain from choosing the callers early? - and Panorama never really bothered trying to explain that. Instead, they gave us a parade of vox pops from outraged callers who may have been entirely right but, with the best will in the world, didn't do much to challenge the perception of quiz TV as a tax on gullibility. (Of course, that's precisely why it needs to be properly regulated.)

It's been quite a while since I watched Panorama. When did they start filming all their interviews in ridiculous, shaky close-ups? Does somebody seriously think that this looks edgy, underground and cool? And if so, why do they think that's an appropriate style for Panorama, of all things? When they start running blurry footage of people in offices doing nothing decipherable, and bill it as a "reconstruction", I just get annoyed.

For all that, though, they still managed to put the boot into the rest of the industry, and it seems they're causing all sorts of problems for GMTV (who, fortunately, have been able to blame the whole thing on their suppliers). Hopefully, all this will provoke at least some degree of re-thinking on the part of the major broadcasters, since the real significance of this whole affair is a widespread abuse of their relationship of trust with the audience.