Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bye bye Big Brother, enter Little Britain

Channel Four should be congratulated for unwittingly doing more to expose Britain’s racist undercurrent than any TV documentary.

I say unwittingly because it’s, sadly, the natural consequence of putting such a cross-section of our so-called integrated society under the microscope.

No amount of subterfuge, lapel cameras, hidden microphones or Donal Mcintyres could have unearthed the uncomfortable attitudes and reactions we are now having to face.

From the moment three girls giggling under a duvet like some teenage sleepover began to isolate Shilpa Shetty to Channel Four’s denial, Ofcom boss Ed Richards’ refusal to “rush to judgment” and Gordon Brown’s repeated use of the world “tolerance,” Big Brother gave way to Little Britain.

What does that collectively say? We simply don’t know we’re doing it. If we do, we’re in denial and if we’re not, we simply don’t like to talk about it.

In fact, so cautious have been some broadcasters that many are still referring to these blatant ethnic attacks as “alleged racism”.

Viewer complaints have been rising by the hour like the death toll after an earthquake. Technology has helped here. Bloggers, dedicated websites, email discussions, SMS appeals by TV and radio have opened up the discussion. But they haven’t inflated the issue as some have suggested.

Many have found it good sport. Sheena Hastings of the Yorkshire Post summed up the scene more vividly than most when she described an Afghan hound surrounded by pit-bulls.

Every time we have to deal with something so uncomfortably close to home, we trivialise it on the basis that we all know it happens but, hey, life goes on. Then we ask, why aren’t the papers reporting the real issues such as global warming, famine or or Iraq?

They are. But this is the issue of the moment and the press is good at tapping into the public mood and writing about what people are talking about. And I make no excuses for repeating myself here - that’s the saving grace in all this.

I’d rather this appalling reflection of ourselves prompted public outrage than the uncomfortably silence that allows it to happen.

PR tip to Gordon Brown: don’t overdo tolerant. We tolerate noisy neighbours and unruly kids, not someone who has carved a fabulously successful career in one of the most thriving film industries in the world.

PR tip to Dirk: When is the A-team going to show its Face and come to the rescue?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Big brother, bigger issue

I’m dismayed but not a bit surprised by the racism that has been pervading the Big Brother house of late. But I’m also encouraged by the sheer numbers who have recognised it and complained to Channel Four and Ofcom.

Sadly, the perpetrators – an Essex girl, a WAG and a fleeting pop star – are probably not even aware of it. And that’s the saddest thing of all. Factory floors, pubs and Jeremy Kyle shows are full of people who think racism is throwing stones at corner shops and making monkey noises on football terraces. Suggest they were guilty and they’d dismiss it by showing you their Beyonce albums.

As if to prove the point, TV-am led on it this morning – along with a flood of letters from viewers dismissing the claims as over-sensitive. I rest my case.

If the show really is to live up to its claim of creating a human laboratory and not just an outlet for the once well-known to revive their careers, this could ironically be its moment.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

It can't be wrong, it's in the paper

How not to set a good example. I've just completed a gruelling two days of marking on a student media project. To pass, the students have to have something published. To do well, the unsubbed version has to be worth paying for. I mark everything with a red pen like the one the Daily Sketch prodnose wore behind his ear in the Printer's Pie.

One lad scored well with a vox-pop for a local paper but included the phrase: the building will be demolished and replaced by retail outlets and residential units. I circled them and wrote in the margin: shops? - flats?

Then I read the cutting he'd added at the back. It was in print. A result. A page lead, complete with byline and pictures. Oh, and and retail outlets and residential units.

Memo to subs: careful you don't end up hiring students who know more than you.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Sites for sore eyes

Spent many hours at the end of last week judging the online category for one of the country’s leading local paper publishers. Not saying which one as I’ve made my choice and will keep shtum until the night.

The prospect of surfing literally scores of sites and navigating my way through endless podcasts, videos and blogs from people I’d never heard of appeared quite a quest.

Happily, the experience was quite different. Having drawn up a pretty strong shortlist I found I bonded with a few of them and began following the progress of stories in places I’d never heard of. I actually felt quite a lift when a posting at 10.40 headlined something like: Man held in pelican crossing death inquiry suddenly switched to Man charged with pelican crossing death half an hour later.

While the rest of you were following developments in Northern Ireland and the fallout in Iraq, I was awaiting a timeline of tragedy on what was surely the worst blackspot in Nether-Bottom-on-Tweed.

Seriously, some of the innovation was heartening. Local papers are no longer enjoying the heydays I knew but they’re making a good fist of new markets. I noted quite a few ideas and circled one or two as “possibles” for a project I’m about to work on myself. And there was one piece of video so off-beat, I made a mental note to try to headhunt the editor over canapes at the awards do.

The best of it though was that many of these sites were staffed by what, old Fleet Streeters would call a man and his dog.

You wouldn’t know it though.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Big Brother - who's in the running?

I’m not surprised celebrity Big Brother drew an audience of more than seven million last night. The entertainment value of what has become the ultimate in fly-on-the-wall viewing is only strengthened by the sight of so-called celebs meeting for the first time and wondering who everyone else is.

Aside from Carole Malone, a tabloid columnist who recognised everyone, as you’d expect, and the pleasingly savvy Leo Sayer, what a joy it was to see the footballer’s wife and a low-rent rock singer oblivious to the presence of one of the leading film directors of his generation.

One of my most enduring memories of the last London marathon was watching from a Docklands pavement as notables past without note, eclipsed by the huge reception given to BB winner Jade Goody.

Until recently, I would join the trail of joggers along the Thames path from Canary Wharf and often found myself overtaking (she was slow, I wasn’t fast) a certain 70s comedy star only I appeared to recognise.

That was Cleo Rocos. Cleo who? to anyone I spoke to after the third or fourth meeting. I guess she’ll jog with a minder after this.

When Max Hastings was editor of the Telegraph, he banned use of the word celebrity, asking us “what does it mean?” I thought at the time we were losing a valuable generic.

Now, I’m more inclined to agree.