For more than sixty years, television has invaded our homes and influenced our thoughts, for better or worse.
It provides information and education, and there are documentaries investigating important issues and concerns. It also provides all forms of entertainment as well as company for millions of lonely viewers. The benefits have been enormous. There are, however, many complaints about declining standards. In the early days of television, BBC2 showed relatively “highbrow” programmes whereas ITV went for the more trivial. Nowadays most channels are dominated by less inspired offerings.
Most UK soap operas cover the lives of losers (unlike “Dallas” and “Dynasty”). Some (not all) travel documentaries are poorly researched and their presenters may be immature, self-centred and often patronising. Far too many programmes are repeats and there is a surfeit of house-hunters and chefs. Even more unfortunate is the juvenile behaviour of participants in many reality shows and panel games. How did Sue Barker ever get involved with those on “A Question of Sport”? Mary Whitehouse, a campaigner against the permissive society, used to monitor the BBC’s attempts to boost its viewing by an increasing use of sex, violence and foul language. A number of programmes were banned but many were aired which would not be allowed today.
Current obsession with political correctness means that anything considered offensive to any particular group will not be aired. Comedians are not allowed to be as funny any longer, and this is reflected in the lack of great comedians (Les Dawson and Jasper Carrott), sketches (“Monty Python” and “Pete and Dud”) and situation comedy (“Fawlty Towers”). In the period from Richard Dimbleby to David Frost, there was respect for the interviewee and a questioning technique that allowed dialogue. Channel 4 News covers a range of interesting topics but it tries to cram far too much into the sixty minutes. The programme is ruined by the attitude of its presenters who have no social graces and no respect for their guests or even for their own reporters. They are in a rush to get through. Because they are looking at the clock, the presenters are not listening properly to what their guests have to say.
During interviews, the presenters are more interested in hearing their own voices than having a balanced dialogue. The result is a constant stream of interruptions. And in the middle of an important point, they cut the person dead. “Time’s run out.”
“We have to leave it there” or “Thank you. Over to you, Jon”. But it’s not only Channel 4. More recently, there has been a plethora of hostile egoists on BBC who seem to take pride in being ill-mannered and even hostile, ranging from Jeremy Paxman to Andrew Neil. Finally, we have the pack hounding politicians in the street.
“Are you going to resign, Mr Corbyn?” “Have you lost your seat, Ms Swinson?”
Maybe television reflects the direction of society in general. I hope not.