Nails in the coffin for TV on trust

Trusting the creator or communicator of information you receive is paramount to belief in a) the source and b) the information itself.

You’re more likely to accept what you see or hear when you trust the source.

So when you hear of behaviours like this by mainstream media, is your trust shaken?

  • Channel 4 admits faking Ramsay scene. A scene in Gordon Ramsay’s TV series The F Word was faked to make it look as if the chef had caught several fish at sea, Channel 4 has admitted. He was filmed during an expedition into coastal waters, returning to the shore with a number of sea bass. But it has emerged that a spearfishing expert set sail beforehand to guarantee Ramsay had something to cook. “We regret that viewers may feel they were let down on this occasion,” a Channel 4 spokeswoman said.
  • BBC’s Queen row deepens. The BBC Trust has asked director general Mark Thompson to give a full explanation after the corporation was forced to apologise to the Queen after implying she stormed out of a photoshoot with photographer Annie Leibovitz. Mr Thompson has been told to give trustees an account at their meeting next week of the events leading up to yesterday’s BBC1 autumn launch for journalists in which two scenes from forthcoming documentary series A Year with the Queen were spliced together.
  • BBC head warns Queen row risks public trust. The director general of the BBC has warned the corporation’s 25,000 staff that it had jeopardised the trust of the public because of the row over misrepresenting the Queen. In a hard-hitting email, a copy of which has been passed to The Daily Telegraph, Mark Thompson said that the BBC had to put its house in order urgently. The humiliating apology to the Queen came only days after the BBC was fined £50,000 for cheating on a phone-in on Blue Peter, the children’s programme.
  • Blue Peter admits phone-in fake. The presenters of Blue Peter were forced to apologise on air yesterday after it emerged that the programme faked the winner of a phone-in competition. Nearly 14,000 children called to answer a question posed on November 27 last year and were charged 10p a time, but a technical failure prevented the BBC from picking a winner during the programme. It is understood that, in panic, a member of the production staff randomly picked a girl who was visiting the studio to call from behind the scenes to give the correct answer. When the girl went on air she declared herself to be “calling from London” – in reality she was in the same studio as the presenters. The child was then given a toy as a prize. She has not been named and is understood to be blameless.

And these are just the stories in the news during the past week.

I would imagine that trust scores for this branch of mainstream media in surveys like the Edelman Trust Barometer will show a fall when the next ones are produced.

Edelman’s 2007 report says this:

Traditional media sources such as newspapers, TV, and radio remain more credible than new media sources such as a company’s own Web site and blogs.

Behaviours such as the ones outlined here will contribute to changes in how people see that credibility, I’m certain.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. David Brain

    Great list Neville. I too will be interested to see how media gets on in the UK next year in the Trust Study in light of all this. Trust is relative as you know, and given that business is on a rebound, NGO’s have the image of doing God’s work and (arguably) politicians under Brown and Cameron are putting Trust at the centre of what they do, media could well take a whipping. However, if you look into the detail of the Trust Study last year, you will see that in the UK, despite a low media trust score in general, when it comes to broadcast channels the UK is very trusting and this I put down to the BBC effect. they need to get their houses in order certainly, but we still bascially trust the BEEB!

    Here was my take on the reality TV scandal:

  2. Eric Eggertson

    Neville: What is amazing is the degree to which people still cling to the belief that most of what’s on TV, radio, newspapers, etc., is the real deal.

    Journalists conduct “interviews” with each other, in which the anchor pretends to not know what the reporter is going to say, the reporter pretends their comments haven’t been pre-written long before the show started, and they manage to wrap up the conversation with a pithy statement.

    “Wow,” you think, “I wish I could be that sharp without any preparation. I only think of a witty thing to say after I hang up the phone.” Well, if you could script your phone conversations as tightly as the news crews script their on-air banter, you’d sound very witty, too.

    The list goes on and on. Each of the platforms distort reality in some way, yet the myth remains that you’re seeing things “as they are”. In a documentary, you see footage of someone doing something, with the claim that they were alone when they did it. So where did the camera come from? And how come it shows the action from four different angles? The person didn’t (gasp) do it over for the camera operator, did they?!?

    It’s all part of participating in a visual medium. Newspapers operate under similarly warped rules of reality, but that’s another story…

  3. neville

    Absolutely, David. Trust is relative. The Beeb in particular must address these issues. Heaven forbid more scandals come to light, whether the BBC, Channel 4 or anyone else.

    Eric, I’m not sure people do think what’s in the mainstream media is the ‘real deal’ any more. Meaning, accept what you see and hear as fact or, at least, believe the people you see on TV, hear on the radio or write in a paper. Which is precisely where trust comes into play.

    The Blue Peter scandal is a great example. I remember watching it as a kid. I believed in the presenters, what I saw and they said and everything the show stood for. So hearing about the faking and then the fine (meaning they’re definitely guilty) shakes my faith entirely in the show. You wonder what else has been going on that hasn’t been found out.

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