BRIAN WINSTON discusses the conflict.
The story that began with the Guardian newspaper’s exposé of Carlton Television’s faked documentary The Connection, about a Colombian drug smuggler, will not go away. Every week in Britain there seems to be another scandal about documentary “fakery”.
In February ’98, a documentary about rogue builders was exposed as having a number of faked scenes, including one where two men were supposedly filmed stealing building supplies.
In August, a film crew was accused of making children in the care of a local council beg on the street and, in the case of one 15 year-old girl, solicit as a prostitute.
In September, a programme about fathers and daughters was pulled at the last moment when it was revealed that one of the ‘fathers’ was actually the young woman’s boyfriend.
In December ’98, after a lengthy quasi-judicial inquiry, Carlton was eventually fined £2 million by the regulator, the Independent Television Commission (ITC), for breaking its legally binding programme code by having people ‘act’ the roles of drug traffickers, pretending to have smuggled heroin (actually just sweets) into Britain.
By the turn of the year, the papers were no longer interested in only documentaries. A popular BBC daytime confessional talk show was revealed to have used “faked guests” hired through an agency.
In February ’99, men in a scene from a documentary transmitted in 1997, who were shown picking-up rent-boys in Glasgow, were revealed to have been members of the production team. The Commission fined Channel 4 £150,000 for this unlabelled ‘reconstruction’.
In March ’99, two programmes were in trouble for employing criminals on production teams. In one, a freelance reporter accused an antique dealer of selling stolen goods; but the dealer was working undercover for the police who were actually investigating the reporter, a man with a criminal record for theft. The second ‘scandal’ involved a researcher on a programme about illegal guns transmitted no less than three years earlier. He too was revealed as having a criminal record, and many scenes in the film were shown to have been set up.