MEDIA: PERSPECTIVE; Gyngell’s speech can be applied to all media owners

Although I’ve never met the man, I must admit to a sneaking admiration for Bruce Gyngell, the managing director of Yorkshire Tyne Tees Television. Apart from his wholly eccentric belief in the power of pink and orange, history has shown he has a gratifying tendency to say the unsayable. Sometimes this also results in pure bathos, such as his emotional letter to Lady T on losing the TV-am franchise. More often, however - such as his speech last week to the Royal Television Society (Campaign, 21 June) - he bestows upon us moments of breathtaking honesty. My suspicion is that Gyngell slips into the gents before such occasions and secretly injects the truth drug.

Although I’ve never met the man, I must admit to a sneaking admiration

for Bruce Gyngell, the managing director of Yorkshire Tyne Tees

Television. Apart from his wholly eccentric belief in the power of pink

and orange, history has shown he has a gratifying tendency to say the

unsayable. Sometimes this also results in pure bathos, such as his

emotional letter to Lady T on losing the TV-am franchise. More often,

however - such as his speech last week to the Royal Television Society

(Campaign, 21 June) - he bestows upon us moments of breathtaking

honesty. My suspicion is that Gyngell slips into the gents before such

occasions and secretly injects the truth drug.



Who would not privately agree with some of the points he made about, as

he put it, TV’s steady descent into sleaze and the subsequent corrosion

of values? To wit: the over-reliance on tacky and salacious Soho clip

joint type programming, programmes that glorify extremes of behaviour

and a kind of anything-goes-and-let’s-hang-the-consequences liberalism

that the authors hide behind to avoid responsibility. ITV, of course,

defends itself on the grounds that it’s all about ratings.



This brings us to the point at issue. Do media owners have some kind of

responsibility to provide content that is decent, tasteful and morally

sound? Gyngell would clearly believe they do, as I suspect would many of

us who work in this business - including advertisers - although we

could all spend ages arguing about how to define these qualities.



Contrast Gyngell’s attitude with that of the Daily Mirror editor, Piers

Morgan, in his defence on Monday’s Today programme of his paper’s hyper

jingoistic and offensive anti-German football coverage. This, he

claimed, was a jolly jape that the Germans too would find hilarious (and

if they didn’t, it would just prove what we all know about their sense

of humour). Had he taken the truth drug, I suspect his answer might have

gone like this: ‘Look, don’t blame me. It sells lots of papers and, in

any case, we don’t make moral judgments, we just let the reader decide.’

This is certainly one approach - that, since we live in a free-market

society, we should give the consumers what we think they want, no matter

how distasteful it might be. But laying the blame on the consumer and

the ‘market’ is a convenient, if abhorrent, way of dodging

responsibility - the equivalent, if you like, of moral cowardice. And

Mirror reader reaction showed what they thought of it.



It’s therefore curious that, with a few exceptions, little advertising

is conducted on this basis - even though it too could use the same

‘market forces’ defence. Could you imagine the outcry if, say, Ford,

went anti-German in its advertising? Fortunately, advertising is aware

that they do not operate in a moral vacuum. This doesn’t elevate

advertising to a higher plane, but it’s nice to know it’s closer to

public taste than it’s often given credit for.



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