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Monday 27 August 2007

Paxman's involuntary elitism

The Guardian comments today about Jeremy Paxman's MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival:
Listened to live, his speech - Never Mind the Scandals: What's it All For? - had a far greater impact than any reported version could convey. This is because it was really a condensation of three separate lectures rolled into one, a passionate and deeply personal cri de coeur about the current state of television, from a master practitioner.
Yet The Guardian is the one making only two clips of the speech available on it's YouTube channel, the second of which makes Paxman sound like he's having a go at the Net (funny, that choice for this channel).

This was from shortly before the clip:
I feel uncomfortable saying this, because I know that some colleagues may take it as an attack upon them. So let me say that I think the young people entering television now are more technically able, more visually creative than at any time in the short history of the medium. I admire them, not least because I have no idea how they do half the things they do. My point about the vaccuousness of much news reporting is not to lay into them, but to plead for them to be given the time and the space to do a better job and for all of to stand back and ask what we’re using this medium for.

More in context, Paxman did not comes across as a luddite; that's one tiny bit of the speech. He barely referred to the Net. On it's website, The Guardian makes no reference to the video, instead referring you to the text.

The other clip is about faking it:

Their partners at Edinburgh, the BBC, told us, after discussing Paxman's speech, on Friday's Newsnight that:
"You can see the whole of Jeremy's speech on the Newsnight website"

'Read' isn't the same as ' see' in my book. Here's the old fashioned text. When the video is available, this stuff is elitist behavior. I'm not impressed and neither should you be.

The Guardian's 'highlights' selection, the lack of the speech in it's entirety online when the live context is important. The industry was there applauding - at what? - and silent - at what? Maybe I'd like to know how they reacted when Paxman drew attention to Tony Blair calling journalists "feral beasts" that tear people and reputations to shreds?
I found the media’s response – and particularly the response of the television industry - to the Blair challenge pretty depressing. Hardly anyone engaged with the substance of the criticisms – of our triviality, our short-sightedness, our preoccupation with conflict. The immediate and almost universal reaction was not to examine the charge sheet, but to utter a blanket plea of ‘not guilty’, usually followed by well, you misled us about WMD, as if that somehow entitles us to say whatever we like. Well, it won’t do.
The industry were there because the event was important. Who wasn't there? Us.

I would have liked to have seen the clip of Paxman saying this:
Just look at almost any regional news programme, with its tawdry catalogue of misfortune, recited in deadbeat vocabulary. You’d think that every child in the city was being sexually abused, every journey every day disrupted, resulting in ‘pure misery’, every teenager a drug-crazed psychopath. Does it alarm? Sure. Does it help us understand? You must be joking.
Or this:
Take, for example, the outbreak of bird flu in Suffolk this spring. The thing was contained and dealt with effectively. There was no panic, except in so far as it was generated by television news coverage. An expensively coiffed presenter is driven up to Suffolk to stand in a field in the vague vicinity. A helicopter is put up so a reporter can speak of the incident as if it was the scene of a major tank battle.

For me the nadir was an interview with a woman who owned a chicken coop. The reporter knew what was wanted. ‘We have a dead chicken over there,’ the woman wailed. ‘Whether that chicken was knocked down by a car, we don’t know.’

And that was it. There was a dead chicken in Suffolk. Cause of death unknown. What, precisely was this chicken’s owner interviewed for?

There are plenty of definitions of news. But whether you subscribe to the view that it is something out of the ordinary, or – my own favourite – that it is something someone doesn’t want you to know - the fact that a chicken has died in Suffolk, possibly after colliding with a car, doesn’t cut it.

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