Editor-At-Large: A few frocks on a red rug don't make a film industry

The Baftas are coming, but a bit of glitz and glamour can't disguise the fact that British cinema has little to celebrate
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The Independent Online

My bullshit detector picks up the unmistakable sound of hype as PR officers declare the upcoming Orange Bafta awards will be the "glittering showbusiness event of the year". The writers' strike in the United States has seen the Golden Globes – dished out by a small group of voters, but seen as an indicator of likely Oscar winners – reduced to a star-free event in a half-empty Los Angeles hotel ballroom. The organisers of the Baftas, awarded on 10 February, are hoping that they will attract top Hollywood names keen to get maximum press coverage in case the Academy Awards on 24 February go the way of the Globes – down the plughole.

Despite wanting to please our Prime Minister and wave the flag for Britain, I've always found the Baftas an uninteresting orgy of self-congratulation.

Fact: a large number of the films nominated this year (There Will Be Blood, for example) have not yet been released in the UK, or not nationwide, and therefore mean little to the television audience at home. Under what weird rules do they qualify?

Second, Bafta consists of 6,500 members, drawn from film, television and the games industry. Its 1,500 members outside the UK means only 5,000 voters split across the three industries are based in Britain. At a rough guess, not more than 3,000 people who actually make their living from the British film industry, as opposed to those who make video games and so on, pay the £300 a year to be members – hardly impressive when you want the whole world to rate the Baftas as seriously as the Oscars, which take place in a city which lives, eats, and breathes movie-making, and where a box-office superstar is the state governor. Here, Gordon Brown doesn't feel the film industry is important enough to benefit from real tax concessions and is disinclined to grant incentives that would get investors flocking to our shores.

The future for the industry here isn't rosy – £723m was spent making films in the UK in 2007, a huge drop from £855m in 2006. Costs are high, the dollar is weak, and there are plenty of cheaper locations in Eastern Europe.

Cinema attendance might have risen last year, helped by bad weather and blockbusters, but the majority of hits were lacklustre fare aimed at teenagers and the intellectually undemanding. Is there anything more depressing than a multimillion-pound epic with a number after it? Last year saw the fifth Harry Potter, the third Spiderman, the third Shrek and the third boatload of pirates from the Caribbean, not to mention the third Bourne thriller and two hits derived from the stage and the television screen, Hairspray and The Simpsons.

Despite the number of cinema-goers aged over 45 doubling during the past decade, there's not a lot on offer for them to enjoy, which is why Atonement (only managing seventh place at the box office) has been so over-garlanded with praise. At least it's based on an acclaimed book by an intelligent, living author.

The Bafta nominations for Eastern Promises (Cronenberg's unpleasant film about gangsters set in London) and This is England (a depressing domestic effort about a young skinhead) are just perverse. Control, another nominee for best film, sees a great cast let down by a feeble script and a director who wouldn't understand pace if it was a traffic cone hitting him in the eye. You only have to watch a DVD of Room at the Top or Friday Night, Saturday Morning to see gritty British brilliance at its best.

Given the paltry fare on offer, it's the British film audience who deserve an award – for loyalty – never mind the overpaid stars who get free dresses to trip down a red carpet and collect a gong.

Keep your wellies on, Selina

Oprah Winfrey achieved a first for women last week by finalising a deal giving her a dedicated television channel from 2009 – OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network. Oprah already publishes her own magazine, and turns books into best-sellers as part of a reading initiative on her daily show. She's used her considerable clout (and time and money) to endorse Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. Oprah isn't only the most successful black woman in the United States: she is a brilliant role model for women from all walks of life. She's used her wealth to set up a charitable foundation and recently built a school for poor young women in South Africa. Oprah believes in setting a positive example, not just with words, but by her actions... And what ground-breaking female role models do we have in this country? The re-launching of 'News At Ten' saw Sir Trevor McDonald firmly in charge, aided by Julie Etchingham in a subsidiary role. Now former presenter Selina Scott has entered the fray, whingeing from her goat farm on the North Yorkshire moors about the lack of older women in mainstream television.

She moans that 'Loose Women' is the only show presented by a group of females on ITV. The sensitive Selina thinks this title demeans our sex. 'Loose Women' is very popular with its target audience: they couldn't give a stuff what it's called, as long as it connects with their lives and the issues they're interested in. We don't have a female Oprah in this country yet, but we do have hugely successful women at the very top in drama production and in factual television. I hate to tell Selina that it's not age keeping her off the box, but talent.

Smile! Your keyboard is watching you...

We are already the most over-monitored society in Europe, and now the workplace is set to be invaded by Big Brother. Microsoft has developed new computer software which could mean that your boss will be able to secretly check on just how much effort you're putting into the job.

Sensors in computer keyboards will be able to monitor heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure and even facial expressions.

Although Microsoft claims that the technology can "offer support" when employees are finding their work stressful, most of us would find this level of intrusive surveillance thoroughly disturbing – making dreary jobs even more unpleasant.

Meanwhile, the senior police officer in charge of CCTV in the UK has admitted to a parliamentary committee that the cameras positioned in almost every town centre up and down the land do little to deter bad behaviour.

They do have a positive effect in car parks, where criminals are thinking rationally before they try to break into our cars. But when people are out of control, fuelled by drink and drugs, cameras do not prevent them committing public order offences – and the pictures generated by CCTV are useless 80 per cent of the time, being of such poor quality that they cannot be used in court.

Gordon Brown might wriggle on ID cards – but we have precious little privacy left anyway.