There’s an old saying that you get what you deserve, and nowhere has this been more starkly illustrated than in the weird world of television.
Hardly a week goes by these days when New Zealand’s small screen industry isn’t panned over some aspect of its performance, whether it’s the behaviour of parliamentary reporters, the banter on the evening news bulletins, or the increasing amount of advertising to which viewers are exposed.
Media experts Judy Callingham and Brian Edwards have been dogged critics.
Edwards at one point compared today’s news bulletins with old-
time music halls, fumed at the amount of editorialising by presenters, and agreed with colleague Janet Wilson that the “looks” of reporters had become more important than credibility.
Callingham last week took time out in their blog to pan One and 3’s use of the “live cross”, the tactic of employing a reporter in the field to describe a news event, even when there’s no longer any relevant news at the scene.
There were some good examples provided by her readers, too, such as the time a news anchor reporting on last year’s Napier siege made a live cross to his field reporter, who was standing in the same street.
And the occasion during the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks when 3 News crossed live to a reporter standing outside the … Gandhi Community Centre in South Auckland.
There’s been criticism of the choice of current affairs topics and the practice of squeezing four or five stories into a timeslot that used to support just three. There have been complaints about in-house promotional advertising during news bulletins, and One’s overuse of the weather update.
For all that, what we watch on television is dictated by the ratings, which in turn are dictated by what we watch.
That is, the only reason some of these much-maligned shows or news strategies continue is because they’re supported so heavily by viewership numbers.
It would be convenient to heap all the blame on the younger generations of media folk coming through the ranks, but unfortunately the numbers tell a different story.
In an ageing population caused by the baby boomers, it’s the oldies who have all the ratings power.
A possibly unpalatable reality is that it’s not the teenagers and youngsters contributing most to a decline in TV standards, it’s those viewers in the 50-years plus category, many of whom are prepared to watch almost anything rather than changing channels or picking up a book.
How else do you explain the ratings success of drivel such as Dancing With The Stars and Fair Go, let alone the execrable Sensing Murder? When TVNZ dropped the ball completely with their inane Cheers For 50 Years, more than 760,000 viewers still tuned in to watch.
Translation? In a world in which TV ratings equal advertising clout and financial security, the responsibility for content and performance is squarely with the viewer. To criticise the TV channels is to merely shoot the messenger.
We get what we deserve.