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The UK's premier new media criminologist - on Twitter @criminology4u, facebook and blogging on Criminology in Public and Sports Criminology.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Media Ethics

Who is presenter Jon Donovan, ‘relatively new presenter to channel 4’?  Good question. As I was standing with him in a shopping centre in East London yesterday (23 July 2015) miked up and with 3 cameras on us I should have known. We were on a stage where Jon was quizzing me about profiling, stereotypes, criminology etc in a rather random and forceful way that puzzled me and did not put me at my ease. It was as if central casting had been asked to supply an Aussie Ron Burgundy. He was large, tanned and wearing a suit of a nasty colour and material (stereotypes I know).

Scroll back to last Friday when I received a call from an Assistant producer at an independent television production company asking if I could help with a show. The subsequent email said:
The show will examine attitudes towards contemporary issues such as prejudice, inequality and globalisation. This coming Thursday 23rd July we are filming a short VT in a shopping centre in Barking where our presenter will be exploring issues concerning modern security methods in large public spaces. I wanted to get in touch with yourself to see if you might potentially be interested in accompanying our presenter in the centre for an hour or so to talk about broad and general topics regarding criminality. For example such issues as the psychology of potential shoplifters and criminals, 'what makes people steal?', along with how the centre might go about improving its methods of prevention. 

After some more some calls a further email elaborated:
Our presenter will be discussing modern security methods and prevention in general with the help of the security team at the centre. We thought it might be nice if you could accompany him for an hour or two to provide some additional background on criminality and the psychology behind why people might commit crimes (and any other broad questions regarding crime psychology and crime in general he might ask). This would most likely entail the two of you walking and talking through the centre together. I must stress we will be very flexible on the day and do not need to stick to a strict schedule. The whole team will be on hand to help with any questions or breaks in filming. A new item that we would like to explore is a quick a social experiment in the centre. We would cast 4/5 people to stand in a line up (all from different backgrounds) and ask a member of the public to point out who they think might have a previous criminal record or might be a potential shoplifter. We wondered if you would be able to help commentate with our presenter any potential preconceived prejudices that the general public might harbour and bring up. We think this might make for an interesting area to discuss.
As a sociological, cultural and media criminologist I thought it necessary to point out in my email by reply that:
As a sociologist of crime very happy to talk about stereotyping and labellingas criminologist very happy to talk about the history of criminology in which Cesare Lombroso claimed he could tell a shoplifter from a rapist etc - the shape of ears, eyebrow etc to tattoos!but I am not a psychologist - though could speculate on mental processes along with the bestAlso one specialism of mine is crime and media so can talk about how crime/criminals/victims represented in media.
I also provided a link to information about men/women and shoplifting.

I never got to walk about the Mall discussing, ’modern security methods in large public spaces’ but after an hour and half delay whilst I was entertained in a nearby Cafe I only got to interact with Jon. We were on stage to engage in the ‘social experiment’ of asking a member of the public to chose which of 5 extras looked like a ‘crim’. I hope they got paid more than the £50 I had eventually been offered.

The centre’s footfall must have been doubled by the crew that day but ‘Betty’, an older woman, was found to look at the line up and she duly chose one man, for his ‘scowl’ and ‘hoodie’. The ‘diversity’ quotient of the shoot was immeasurably improved by the line up since as the whole production team were eager young white men, save one woman co-ordinator.

I had been taken back by Jon’s ‘just-time-travelled-from-the-80s’ appearance and style and recalled that my Google search of his name had revealed nothing. I was even more taken aback when he introduced me as someone who could tell a ‘crim’. My feeble attempts to correct or inform were brushed aside. I felt unhappy and in a break in filming signalled my disquiet to the associate producer but carried on.

Things got worse and in discussing Betty’s choice I found myself saying that my smile hid my criminality and that monks often used hoods to disguise their intent.  I broke off again and this time spoke to the Director and Executive Producer at length.

At this point they admitted that Jon was an Iranian actor (so the Saddam black hair was not dyed as I'd thought) hired to play Jon as he was to try and engage a younger audience with the issues of stereotyping. He was no Ali G or even Philomena Cunk. I felt that I had been deceived and for no good purpose. The link to Cunk’s work is particularly relevant as, had my teaching not come first, I was slated to be the ‘expert’ in that show. But it would have been clear at the start I was dealing with a character and could have ‘improv’ed back. One of the reasons that my ripostes to Jon were so feeble was the underlying politeness that even I possess. Had I been told he was acting I’d have been more robust. Had I been up against another contributor I’d have engaged.

Real ethical issues I believe. But also there are production values too.  Despite the size of the crew the whole thing felt as downmarket as the shopping centre and I suggested that their hopes of a Channel 4 slot seemed unlikely and that it felt more 5 or worse. I felt bad. My paranoid egotistical self was telling me I’d been set up, slightly more rationally perhaps Jon was being set up and even more rationally that (and the many delays suggest) that cock-up not conspiracy was at work here.

They had no idea what a criminologist was, they were making up too much of it on the hoof and had not thought the whole thing through. But despite my inner turmoil and because I’d taken 4 hours out of my day (including travel) I wanted to do a good job (adding to the turmoil) I relented and agreed to try and sign off and then review the footage and do voice over or piece to camera. So I return to the stage and now I act as if I have seen a succession of people having chosen a ‘crim’ before warning of the dangers of stereotyping, thanking Jon and expressing sorrow that I’d not been able to persuade him. As I left a young woman was stepping up to take part in the 'social experiment'.

I wait now to see whether I am asked for my bank details so they can pay me and whether they do make good on their offer of some sign-off on what footage they use and how. I also need to think whether to accept the money or ask for more. And, in a spirit of transparency, acknowledge I got my train fare, coffee and bottle of water without demur.

We wait to see how they respond to this post and whether the show (whatever that is) sees the light of day.

Jon has a future playing egotistically deluded presenters for sub prime TV. I may have just auditioned for part of egotistically deluded 'expert'.

Update - TV company have phoned me, super apologetic and recognise their failures towards me and in the concept. They reasure that no use will be made of the footage - at least two of the cameras should have shots of me looking bemused at minimum - without my consent.  We agree fee to go to Reporters Without Borders.

1 comment:

Phil said...

My friend Chris, who was interviewed by Philomena Cunk, said it was a bit like holding a conversation with a very young child. He got some criminal justice in there, if not criminology as such. But Diane Morgan is very good at what she does, & it sounds as if your guy... wasn't.

I was once interviewed by John Stapleton on GMTV. Quick chat beforehand: "So you're a military historian?" I quickly clarified that I was a historian but definitely not a military historian. Two minutes later: "Here with me is Phil Edwards, who's a military historian..."