Digital pebbles

Clarke Mulder Purdie on PR, media and other random topics

On Alan Yentob, noddies and phone-ins

Posted by Graham Hayday on September 10, 2007

Apparently, the great British nation has suffered a breakdown in trust with our broadcast media. The revelation that Alan Yentob’s visage was edited into interviews he didn’t actually conduct has been greeted with outrage in some newspapers (who are whiter than white when it comes to fakery, right? They never make up quotes or anything, do they?)

First dodgy phone-ins, now dodgy noddies. Whatever next?

This whole debate has long struck me as a trifle bizarre. I guess I’m fairly media literate these days (or at least I hope I am), but I suspected years before I started my working life that competitions were rigged. I often wondered why every region seemed so evenly represented on radio phone-ins and the like. Now we know.

But it was no major surprise when it emerged that some – and it really is only some – of these competitions weren’t quite as they seemed. For the most part I don’t care, and I think the same is true of most of the people I know. Admittedly that’s hardly a scientific study of the nation’s mood, but I certainly don’t think all BBC journalism is flawed just because a runner on Blue Peter won a rocket ship made out of a Fairy Liquid bottle (or whatever it was). It’s bad that people were conned out of spending money on texts and phone calls of course, but in the grand scheme of things that’s not a sufficiently heinous crime to trigger some of the headlines we’re seeing in the press at the moment.

There is a bigger problem when broadcasters such as ITV or Channel 4 make money out of people who are participating in unwinnable competitions. That’s disgraceful (and should be illegal). But again, I don’t think the phrase ‘breakdown in trust’ is right in this context. It implies that all of Channel 4’s output is tainted by something that happened on Richard and Judy. For me, it isn’t. I still trust Jon Snow.

And as for Five News banning noddies and other tricks of the editors’ trade – well, that’s just plain daft. There’s a huge difference between something like that – which doesn’t really matter to anyone – and the phone-in scandal, which does (although I’d still say that scandal is too strong a word).

The whole issue has been blown out of proportion and has given the media the opportunity to write about its favourite subject, i.e. itself. Meanwhile the defensive, post-Hutton BBC now has an excuse to beat itself up – again. There isn’t a crisis – or if there is, this isn’t the cause (I’ll write more about this subject later). The breakdown in trust isn’t necessarily terminal.

Let’s save words like ‘scandal’ and ‘crisis’ for occasions that really demand them.

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2 Responses to “On Alan Yentob, noddies and phone-ins”

  1. You’ve hit the nail on the head in terms of the media wanting an excuse to talk about itself. However, I don’t think Joe public mistrusts the media as a result of the quiz phone-ins as the sort of person entering them will continue. Look at the demographics of a typical person who phones-in for a competition – particualrly at 3am.

    As far as noddies go, well you should watch regional news who try this a lot. Unfortunately, the sun goes in or it starts raining when they film the interviewer elements, so you end up with quite a bizarre piece.

  2. Thanks for the comment Media Wales. You’re absolutely right – I really don’t think the phone-in brouhaha will stay in the mind of the average viewer for long (if it has registered at all). In six months’ time, at 3am on a rainy Tuesday night, Joe Public won’t think twice before picking the phone up and entering a phone-in quiz. The BBC and ITV have built up a lot of trust in the past 50-odd years, and it’ll take more than this ‘scandal’ to wipe all of that out. There are more serious issues the media as a whole need to address which are chipping away at those reserves of trust, but more of that in another post.
    I agree that noddies can look daft, but for Five to ban them and claim they’re part of this breakdown in trust between broadcaster and viewer smacks of a PR stunt. Alan Yentob’s failure to do his own interviews is lamentable and does con the viewer, but how damaging is that con? Not very, I’d argue.

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