Sunday, October 09, 2005

On artistic merit

Channel 4 have just been showing a rundown of the 50 greatest documentaries. It has been very illuminating and has given me a thought.

When budding documentary-makers decide they should make a current-affairs programme, or in fact any piece, they ought to be driven by the integrity of what makes a unique piece of work. They should be pushing the boundaries, trying to articulate new points of view, educating us by scratching the surface of subjects neglected by the mainstream.

So purely on the basis of artistic merit, why do so many so-called "documentary makers" take the easy route of going to Pallywood to shoot a piece of anti-Israel propaganda? And the BBC uses the taxpayer's money to commission and/or broadcast them in disproportionate numbers. According to an excellent and detailed report, the BBC managed to broadcast 19 documentaries between the start of the 2nd intifada and last summer, of which 15 were hostile, 1 balanced, 2 pro-Israel and 2 unknown due to lack of transcripts.

Actually, I'm not interested in the obvious and unsurprising bias here. I am disappointed that articulate, imaginative, intelligent people should be so lacking in more original ideas, and so willing to cave in to the distorted will of the BBC programmers.

Here's an excerpt from the report:

"...the BBC has devoted a significantly disproportionate amount of space to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, to the almost total exclusion of a number of other issues where major humanitarian and political problems exist. Israel attracts approximately 30% of all programmes on the list of humanitarian and political issues we selected. No other issue gets more than 50% of such cover [ie half as much - ed.], and most get far less. On one (albeit very crude) analysis we calculate that one death in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict attracts 187 times as much documentary attention as a death or ‘disappearance’ in the other comparable humanitarian and political stories.


In addition to our principal complaint, that the BBC is running a campaign to vilify Israel, we consider the BBC’s failure to give proper coverage to other issues of equal or greater humanitarian and political interest to be a clear failure of the BBC’s obligations to “provide a properly balanced service consisting of a wide range of subject matter” and the separate requirement that “no significant strand of thought should go unreflected or under represented on the BBC”. Those around the world whose plight is largely or wholly ignored by the BBC should be protesting loudly against the BBC’s obsession with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict."

Serious commissioning editors of our media outlets should be just as vociferous in trying to persuade documentary makers to choose a more imaginative topic or at least try a change of tack. Perhaps something that really bucks the trend and promotes an unusual and seldom-seen angle - a documentary on ordinary Israelis doing normal things.

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