Monday, September 13, 2010


Our television is pathetic. It is pathetic because it has been commercialised to death.

I'm grumpy because the mute button on the TV remote has stopped working. I can't turn off the trash. And most of what is on our screens is trash, not just the advertisements but what surrounds them. That is because in commercially driven television the advertisers influence what we see. Our news, current affairs and political messages are dominated by press releases, celebrity culture, news trivia and heart-string tugging. Good business but bad journalism.

It is bad for business - i.e. too expensive - to provide quality material. What we get is cheap rather than good. What we get is not driven by public demand but by the suppliers of information and merchandise. What we get is not what we ask for but what the advertisers ask for. Hands up those who want more reality television. The old Roman satirist Juvenal wrote that "the people long eagerly for just two things - bread and circuses". In television terms that means programmes with sex, violence and lots of excitable noise, which advertisers believe to be the quickest ways to catch and hold the attention of an audience. Maybe so, and that's fine - within reason. However, if all we get is cheap programming we eventually develop a taste for it, just as we do for too much sugar and salt.

If we got what most of us really want, there would be better quality television and no advertisements. But this is not Utopia and it is not that simple.

Commercial interests do not want a public that thinks, debates, questions and makes up its own mind. They want a public that consumes. Nor do they worry about quality. They are profit driven and are happily dumbing us down. We all whine about what's on the telly, but that doesn't change anything. We should be deeply and loudly resenting the assumption that we are morons.

The market rules, private enterprise wins. Let the market decide, they say. If the people don't like the messages, they won't listen or watch and we won't be able to sell any advertising. I suggest that they walk a very fine line sometimes. People already hate the advertising, and more and more people are turning off the trash that helps to push it.

In a healthy democracy, what the people demand, the people get. My mute button may not work, but the off button does. Thank goodness for DVDs. And books.

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