Television Lies: The Insiders’ Views


VETERAN television journalist, Martin Bell, is scathing about the lack of integrity in his profession. The newscaster says: “Those of us who have been in TV a long time know that the work of some of its legends includes reports that were outright frauds. They looked and sounded like news but they were from start to finish the most disgraceful and appalling fabrications.

“These included staging certain scenes, passing off reconstructions as the real thing, topping up the soundtrack with extra gunfire, peppering a script with falsehoods and using counterfeit cutaways to suggest that the reporter was at the frontline when in fact he was nowhere near it.”



The television and film industry is notorious for spin: During South Africa’s apartheid period the BBC apologised after its journalists were caught tossing coins into public waste bins. Filming street kids delving into refuse the story went that they were looking for scraps of food discarded by over-indulgent whites.

Martin Bell is far from being the only rebel in the industry; journalists of integrity have always been scathing about spin and censorship. Few would be aware of media distortion if journalist whistleblowers remained silent.

In reviewing William Russell’s Despatches from the Crimea Martin Bell says: “The readers of the Times in 1854 were better informed about the Crimea War than readers of any (mainstream) newspaper today, or viewers of any TV network, about the war in Afghanistan.”


Many years ago the Sunday Times War Correspondent and military historian Captain Reginald Thompson wrote: “I’m certain that readers of The Times in 1854 had a damned sight better view of the Crimean War than readers of The Times in 1939-1945 did of the Second World War.”

Top journalists could be self-deprecating about their profession Robert St. John, the Associated Press Correspondent, constantly found his reports sabotaged. Often a single line would be deleted to give the opposite effect to that intended. He correctly observed that; “The (British forces) evacuation from Greece had not been another Dunkirk; the Greece evacuation had been much worse.”

The censor simply put a line through the second section of the sentence leaving it to read, ‘The evacuation from Greece had not been another Dunkirk.’


Matthew Parris, British Press Awards Columnist of the Year (1996) never pulled his pen: “All television lies. It lies persistently, instinctively and by habit. Everyone involved lies. A culture of mendacity surrounds the medium and those who work there live it, breathe it and prosper by it. I know of no area of public life; not even politics more saturated by a professional cynicism.

“If you want a word that takes you to the core of it, I would offer ‘rigged’. Is it dishonest for the presenter to imply that the pundit in the chair is free to offer any opinion, when the truth is that 50 pundits were telephoned but only the fellow prepared to offer the requisite opinion was invited?”

The provincial Press, restricted only by space considerations, is a breath of fresh air compared to television media. Other than spin Martin Bell deplores the waving of arms and the use of lip gloss by reporters. Now you know why I prefer writing for The Euro Weekly News.

By Mike Walsh


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