Monday, August 3, 2009

A Media Feeding Frenzy… On Itself

Although I am reluctant to join the increasing crowd of members of the media who devote their space in the media to discussion of other members of the media, there are signs that something of note is occurring in the way the community interacts with the media. Much is being made of the suspension until further notice of the Kyle and Jackie O show on 2DAY FM following the on air stunt gone wrong last week which saw a 14 year old girl reveal that she had been raped at 12. In retrospect I’m sure it is clear to everybody that this is something which should never have happened. But the fact is that at some stage, the presenters, producers and management of that station thought it was a good idea to hook up a teenage girl to a lie detector and quiz her about her sex life. Now that it has turned into a debacle, questions are being asked, but until then it was just another radio shenanigan which was supposed to be entertaining.

There have been other recent incidents which have become the subject of the media discussing the media, such as the Chaser’s War On Everything skit at the expense of dying children, and today criticism of the 60 Minutes program for allegedly exploiting a man with a serious gambling problem for the sake of ratings. Not so long ago acres of news print were dedicated to the remarks of Gordon Ramsay, a television chef, about Tracey Grimshaw, a television presenter. There is incessant media coverage of the antics of media celebrities, and frequent examples of one media outlet attempting to discredit another. It seems that the media, having nothing else worth reporting, has begun to feed on itself. The news has become the news.

At the same time, there is genuine public outrage about the conduct of many of the media personalities and outlets involved in these events. Vile Kyle is not the only one by any stretch, but he is a good example of a phenomenon where radio stations exploit the very people they are supposed to serve, that is members of their audience, by subjecting them to stunts which belittle, demean and denigrate them, all in the name of so called entertainment. Presenters are paid, and in some case paid incredibly well, to be provocative, shocking and just plain nasty. It makes no difference if they are polite and pleasant in private life, because in their public personas they are richly rewarded for various forms of bad behavior.

But there are signs that the audience has had enough. The public backlash against Gordon Ramsay was genuine, even though it was played for all it was worth by Channel 9. Ratings for so called reality TV shows which subject their participants to humiliation are falling, while programs with a more palatable approach are successful. And of course, that is the important point. In the end, media outlets will only succeed by responding to the needs of the audience. It is up to all of us as consumers of media to reward those outlets who give us the decent programs we expect, and turn away from the others. If people stop watching or listening, it is only a matter of time until the proprietors of those outlets drop the programs and presenters who are no longer attracting the audience.

All that will remain then will be to put an end to this increasing propensity for the media to report on the media, and return to its proper function of informing and entertaining an audience by reporting the news and telling stories that reflect what life is about in the outside world.

(And yes, I am aware of the irony of writing this piece!)

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