Baby, it's a wired world

Media programmes are usually smug beasts. No longer. By James Rampton
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The Independent Culture
Peter Curran is determined about one thing in Wired World, the new C4 media series he is presenting: "There will be no designer-suited people sitting around a Philip Starck table discussing the Daily Telegraph's coverage of the Royal Family with a fashionably cynical attitude. There will be no place for media commentators to trade wry opinions with each other. There will not be a large hot-air factor."

It is aiming to be different, then, from the metropolitan "in" tone set by many previous television media shows. "If a media show comes across as self-serving," Curran continues, "with media people swopping bons mots, it makes people very angry. It was perhaps an Eighties thing - shoulder- pads and a quizzically-raised eyebrow."

Janey Walker, the series editor on Wired World, echoes Curran in her keenness to deny that the programme will preach to a small but perfectly- formed audience in the Groucho Club. "You have to look at stories that everybody's talking about. People are not particularly interested in industry stories - changing chairs in Fleet Street, for instance. But people have become much more aware of the media. Ten years ago, no one had heard of political spin doctors; now everyone knows about them. Even people who don't think of themselves as wildly interested in the media are interested in, say, the soaps or the Panorama on Princess Di - how much control she had, whether she asked for things to be re-shot."

Walker is pinning a lot on Curran, a relative TV novice after four years hosting the drive-time show on GLR. "Peter is your interested punter," she enthuses. "He's a Belfast boy relocated to London, and he's got a good feel for what people are interested in. When I was looking for a presenter, I didn't want someone who looked like the in-crowd and would make people feel they couldn't be there too. We want this to be inclusive as opposed to superior."

In her selection of stories, Walker hopes to learn from others' mistakes. "You have to be careful about your reasons," she asserts. "The one story that really annoys me - and I think both The Spin [BBC2] and Mediumwave [R4] have done it - is the one about media excesses. It just gives you an excuse to do the same thing, and it's disingenuous. It's like Sky News replaying that footage of Princess Di crying, over and over again, and saying, 'Look how terrible what they're doing to her is'. I'd rather show the mechanics than the specifics."

To this end, she is planning to do "a story about prisoners and the media. The Deputy Governor of Durham Prison says he now spends 50 per cent of his time on the media because he's got Myra Hindley and Rosemary West within his walls. Various journalists have been going to local papers to find out who's inside Durham for a two-month stretch and then offering their families pounds 50,000 for their stories. I'd rather tell you how it's done than have a debate between editors about the ethics of trying to get inside a prison."

Curran emphasises that they are on the look-out for "stories that are not already chewed to death and flavourless. Our approach is not to give the impression that we're the keepers of great secrets, but just to point to things and say, 'Isn't this amazing?'. That will excite strong opinions without the need for a lecture."

Items in the series will include: a report on the way advertisers are appropriating the vernacular and iconography of drug culture to sell mainstream products; a story about the production by right-wing militia groups in the US of their own videos with titles such as Secrets of the Successful Sniper and Battle Preparations Now, in an attempt to circumvent the "pinko" press; and a preview of Crossroads, a Kazakh soap opera produced by British financiers and writers (surely it can be no worse than the ATV series of the same name?).

With a maximum of six minutes devoted to each subject, Wired World risks leaving viewers feeling they've had a snack, not a satisfying meal. "You could say that," Walker counters, "but I'd say you're still getting a chance to see something you wouldn't otherwise see. Wired World is not a definitive debate. It's a glimpse. We'll be too speedy to be accused of pontificating."

The other danger is that Curran will become a big star, and part of the in-crowd. "If he starts hanging around the Groucho too much," Walker warns, "he'll find himself doing a lot of out-of-town stories."

Wired World, Sun 8pm C4