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Three cheers for Jeremy Paxman

August 29th, 2007

Dr Petra

Last week as part of the Edinburgh TV Festival BBC journalist Jeremy Paxman delivered the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture where he addressed key issues affecting the trust of BBC programme making and broadcast journalism. You can read the whole speech here (it’s well worth it).

This follows a number of recent scandals at the Beeb, and concerns expressed over the content and quality of programming as well as the treatment of BBC staff (particularly those in junior positions). You can read my take on those issues here.

I’m really glad Mr Paxman has had the opportunity to discuss issues within BBC broadcasting, and hope the speech and media coverage of it will generate greater reflection within the BBC about its programming.

As someone who researches sex/relationships I’m called by TV companies on a daily basis asking me to participate in programmes most of which I can’t get involved in because they’re either too daft or too unethical to consider. Unfortunately the BBC still remains one of those broadcasters where their sex/relationships coverage could do better. In recent months I’ve been approached to take part in TV or radio programmes at the BBC covering…

The ‘global epidemics’ of teenage internet porn addiction and sex addiction
How to spot a love cheat by their appearance (and with a lie detector)
Celebrity body language analysis
Vetting couples for suitability for marriage through tests like bungee jumping
Providing case studies of men with very small penises
Using a brain scanner to measure how sexy people are

Needless to say I’ve not participated in any of these programmes.

Now I should say that not all these programmes are being made in house for the BBC (some are being made by independent TV companies), and not all of these programmes are ever going to get made. However it does give an insight into the kind of focus the BBC gives to sex/relationships programming (basically it’s just a bit of fun/lite entertainment with the chance to judge celebs and gawk at sex addicts and men with small willies).

What’s as worrying is BBC news on radio and TV frequently give coverage to dodgy topics – particularly dubious sex surveys as a matter of course. They won’t, however, let you on if you want to reveal such surveys are dodgy and if you try doing it on air you don’t get invited back. Frequently ‘experts’ brought in to explain complex health stories (including those with a sex/relationships angle) are not qualified to discuss topics but presumably are quick to find and happy to say whatever’s required. Sadly the BBC along with every other media outlet currently wants to tell you what to say rather than listen to evidence or alternative views.

Finally my concern with the BBC specifically over their sex/relationships coverage is their misunderstanding of the role of experts working in this area. If you’re not able to diagnose intent from body language, be a flirt coach or provide some form of counselling live on air then they’re not very interested. Unfortunately though they don’t value anyone performing these roles so if you do work in sex research/education/therapy/healthcare you’re automatically taken less seriously. It’s a vicious circle.

So hopefully there will be changes at the Beeb and I will continue to try and get them to cover sex/relationships issues more accurately and encourage better relationships between journalists and experts. I’ll keep you posted on how I get on.

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