The main channels are strapped for cash and cutting back on original content. But they can’t fill the gap with CCTV footageby Peter Bazalgette / August 27, 2009 / Leave a comment
The five main terrestrial channels pay for more than 90 per cent of the original content produced for British television. A combination of BBC cost-savings and the collapse in television advertising means this expenditure is declining for the first time. At the current rate, by 2012 the funds committed to indigenous production will have fallen by more than a third since 2004. So how are the main channels responding?
In the first week of August, it became depressingly clear that from now on they are going to acquire as much free programming as possible. The free footage in question comes from police videos, CCTV and the prison service. This was British telly’s “crime and punishment” week. The crime was the lazy preponderance of law and order shows. The punishment was for viewers unlucky enough to watch them. During the week, no less than 11 per cent of primetime viewing (defined as 7pm-11pm) was filled with the video detritus of our justice system.
On Monday 3rd August, Channel 4 pitched Cherie Blair on knife crime against BBC1’s Panorama about drugs in prisons. Blair was reporting on the results of her campaign against street weapons. As ever with matters criminal, you needed a doctorate (sorry, PhD) in acronyms. VRU? Violence Reduction Unit. MIT? Mobile Intervention Team. HEMS? Helicopter Emergency Services, of course. Come on, keep up. The best moment was when justice minister, Maria Eagle, was confronted on the lack of progress. Cherie wanted “national plans” and “London-wide strategies.” But the minister demurred, arguing central government was not the answer. This is the turf on which parts of the next general election will be fought.
Over on BBC1 Panorama was explaining a mystery—how do skipfuls of drugs get into secure prisons? CCTV footage showed how stashes are brought in (usually in visitors’ private parts) and discreetly swallowed by inmates to be regurgitated later. BBC1 also hosted Nick Ross on Tuesday, completing a series about crime in Oxford and people’s attitudes to it. It found that the public are far more worried by vandalism and litter than by the knifings and drugs that the media get so excited about.
At least these three programmes were serious attempts at crime reporting, albeit with oodles of that free footage. The rest of the week, however, deteriorated into a crime pornfest. The same Tuesday evening poor old ITV had Car Crime UK, with a sententious voiceover…