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Authenticity in TV Documentaries

jeremy | Monday November 12, 2012

Categories: Key Concepts, Audience, Genre, Ideology, Institutions, Media Language, Representation & Stereotyping, Hot Entries, Television, Reality TV, Television Documentary

A recent (Oct 2012) TV documentary has shocked Britain. ITV’s Exposure on Jimmy Savile alleged that a formerly well loved DJ and charity worker was a paedophile. This has led to a police investigation, and the BBC and the government setting up independent inquiries with hundreds of people coming forward as witnesses.

This has been a most unusual reaction to a TV documentary, but it reinforces the power and relevance that well researched and produced television documentaries can have. The TV documentary is certainly alive and kicking.

See the whole programme at: http://www.itv.com/news/update/2012-10-04/watch-the-itv-documentary-on-jimmy-savile/.

Documentary Background

In the early days of television, producers did not consider that audiences would be interested in programmes about ordinary people. They knew about well constructed - and expensive - documentary films because the term documentary was first used in 1926 by the British filmmaker John Grierson. He used it to describe films that involved real people and not actors, and situations taken from real life. He described the approach to his films as the ‘creative treatment of actuality.’

Grierson and the British documentary film movement in the 1920s played an important part in establishing realism as a key element of modern mass media. He argued that mass media had an important role that would enable democracy to flourish within a mass society. He thought that by providing citizens with social and cultural information about society and realistic insights into how ordinary people lived, they would be better informed to make democratic choices, and this would help in ensuring the cohesion and stability of society. See http://www.griersontrust.org/john-grierson.html.

When television began in Europe after the second world war Grierson’s ideas about documentary having a social conscience and concerned with realism seemed relevant to the new breed of Television producers...


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