Media: We need TV we can trust

British television is in disgrace - but other countries are producing confessional shows beyond our wildest nightmares

I BELIEVE that I worked for most of my life in the golden age of television. Factual programmes were truthful, entertainment programmes were cheerful, and seeing was believing. But that was a while ago.

Now, it seems, we live in an age where the only truth is a lie. We have no way of knowing whether what the television companies present us with is true or false. The bond of trust has been broken.

The most conspicuous frauds, unmasked last week by The Mirror, are in the confessional chat shows. These are modelled closely on originals drawn from the great wasteland of American television. We now know that in many cases guests laying bare their personal histories were actors and impersonators, and were paid for their lies.

Am I surprised? Sadly, not at all.

The chat shows' carelessness with the truth is the inevitable outcome of a TV culture in which nothing matters but money and ratings. Producers and researchers are under pressure to deliver audiences. Jobs depend on it. Advertisers demand it. And all too often the truth is twisted to achieve it.

Confessional chat shows are hardly creative television. But they harvest the ratings, and are cheap to make. They are often recorded back to back, two or three at a time, in the same studio and in front of the same audiences. All they need is a constant flow of guests with attention-getting tales to tell, usually from the wilder and weirder shores of human relationships. Small wonder that members of the cast of these rolling freak shows are not always quite what they seem.

This is not a personal attack on Vanessa Feltz. I feel for her now. I believe she has been duped. And so has Trisha, over at Anglia Television.

The present scandal has rocked an industry still reeling from the last one. Carlton's partly faked documentary The Connection was exposed as a style of programme-making that would shade whatever truths were necessary to produce what the market demanded.

Viewers are now rightly asking, what can they trust any more? The answer, of course, is: most of what they see. The news, for a start, is widely and rightly trusted. Michael Buerk and Trevor McDonald may not have the full story to hand but they will tell you no lies.

Even news doesn't have a blameless record. I know of one case of simulated news footage, and another, fabricated story about the victim of an earthquake. I told senior executives. None of them wanted to know.

Some time after that, I left journalism, a profession that stands low in public esteem, for politics, which stands even lower.

So what's to be done? The easy answer is that TV must clean up its act. It would be a start if the "great and good" of TV, the veterans of its golden age who are now among its senior executives, were to concern themselves again with the nuts and bolts of programme-making.

TV, like Parliament, can no longer be assumed to be a league of gentlemen. Searching questions - and even offensive ones - will have to be asked, not when a programme is finished, but even while it is being made. There should also be a blacklist of shady producers.

And the Royal Television Society, which confines itself mainly to seminars and the distribution of prizes, could concern itself with these issues of dishonesty that have brought such shame to the medium.

In Britain we used to have the best and most trustworthy television in the world. We can still retrieve it. But we must learn again the most important lesson of all - that programmes always matter more than profits.

Enough sleaze - in TV as in politics.

Martin Bell

News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate