Have you ever had one of those months where its suddenly the end
and you are hard pressed to recall what you did over the last 30
or so days? If so, welcome to the brave new world of disasters,
terrors, wars, gluts, downturns, failures, frauds and fiscal
miscreants. How are we meant to keep up?
According to the producers and programmers employed by our TV
networks, we aren't. They tell us we (that is the unwashed
viewing public) don't want tough, thoughtful, insightful
programs after a hard day at the coal face. We want 'light'
By this they mean programs like “The Worlds Ugliest Dancing
Star” and “Celebrity Renovation Nightmare Video Hits” or maybe
“Big Nanny Losers”. You get the picture. The TV execs are saying
that we need more pap and less good information.
They dress this up saying that audiences are now “sophisticated
consumers of media” and we are “discerning” and pick and choose.
Top among our choices, the execs tell us, are programs that were
once accused of 'dumbing us down'. The TV execs say this claim
is hogwash and rather than dumbing us down, they tell us the
programs they present play an important part in keeping us sane
“Light entertainment” is the order of the day not only for TV
but for radio and many newspapers and magazines. No longer is
the aim of the producers and publishers to enlighten and
educate, it seems the pendulum has swung fully to the side of
'entertainment' … if you call seeing people humiliated and
degraded on programs like “Funniest Home Videos” or “Aussie
Tarts in London” entertainment.
The “Productivity Commission” is an organisation established by
our government to reduce everything from forests and beaches to
the airwaves and mothering to a dollar value. Over the years
they have produced many reports in relation to broadcasting in
which they refer to the “value” of the available broadcast
spectrum and how the economics of dividing it up should be
While in a couple of the reports they do refer to the social
utility of the airwaves, the overwhelming focus is on how much
they are worth. This, to me, is to miss the entire point. Like a
forest has no value to a speculator until it is reduced to wood
chips, timber framing or dining settings, the social value of
the airwaves has been usurped by the amount of value that can be
extracted by the lease holders of the spectrum.
TV has increased the social distance between us by making us
more fearful, anxious and afraid of those we consider “others”.
In a recent TV magazine editorial one commentator raised a very
good distinction between the way a fictional program presented
its villains and the way a so called 'reality' program did.
In the first the personality was played up. In the second it was
the stereotypes. The first pretended to be nothing more that
light entertainment while the second pretended to be 'real
life'. At least the first one was honest. The second is nothing
more than scaremongering and stereotyping.
The blurring of the line between 'reality' and fiction is closed
as far as our TV producers and programmers is concerned. They
tell us we want 'reality' dressed up as entertainment and
'entertainment' denuded of any reality. We are told that the TV
of the future will be more about 'lifestyle' and 'light'
programming because we want to “escape”. Escape to where
The technical boffins who created the technology, like most
boffins, were probably more interested in solving the technical
problems than examining the impact of the devices they invented.
Like technicians everywhere, they saw an interesting challenge
and tried to find the most elegant and effective way of
On the other hand the investors are more interested in the way
the technology can be deployed and how much money it can bring
in. They don't care about how it works so much as how many
people will want one. Their concerns are driven by very limited
definitions of 'value' and words like 'responsibility' have long
been replaced by 'risk management'.
In the modern world of media there is a war going on. A war
between them and us. They want us to believe that there is
nothing we can do to change the future and that the forces
lurking beyond our front door are virtually unassailable. We
need to hunker down and scurry about. We need to be busy
'producing' and looking out for number one. Anyone or anything
that challenges us has to excised and ignored. What a terrible
future they have planned for us. But there is an alternative.
The airwaves are a public resource. The government and its
various departments and commissions admit that. They tell us
they need to administer that resource in an effective and
responsible manner. Yet, rather than chase the real villains we
get fed a media diet of hearing how this or that group are upset
over some minor moral outrage. I mean, how many did actually see
the “Big Brother” turkey-slapping incident? If the moral right
was watching, the real question is, 'who gave them permission to
tell us what we can and can't watch?'
Now, I'm not defending the incident or its perpetrators and no,
I haven't watched it on UTube. If the airwaves and broadcast
spectrum are a precious and limited resource, surely its about
time we asked our politicians what their policy on how that
resource is used is. I mean, if “Neighbours” was ever meant to
'tackle serious issues' then it would make places like Wadeye
look like model communities.
Don't get me wrong I like to get lost in a good TV program as
much as the next person. But more and more often I have to go
beyond the free to airs to find it (and I'm not talking about
pay TV either). The disasters, terrors, wars, gluts, downturns,
failures, frauds and fiscal miscreants are really out there.
They do exist and in various ways could and sometimes do
threaten us. What we are not being told is how we can respond in
ways that not only limit their impact but how we can lessen the
chance of them harming us.
What is missing are the tools that will assist us in identifying
the real threats and dangers. TV could be a key to building a
better future and more open and inclusive societies. It was
recognised a long time ago that the media has power. Power to
not necessarily make us think in particular ways but in
particular what to think about. At present what we are being
told to think about are matters that are, in the bigger scheme
of things, trivial or unimportant.
That said, maybe what we need to do is to avoid as much as we
can lending our support the mainstream and find ways in which we
can engage with the alternative media and become not just
passive receivers but actively engaged as media producers and
discerning consumers of high quality, well considered and good