MUST READ: Jeremy Paxman on television

What is television for?

Is television inherently dishonest?

Does television treat people fairly, is it healthy for society?

Jeremy Paxman addressed all those questions, pertinent as they are in India as everywhere else in the world, as he delivered the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture on the challenges before the television industry and the road ahead. It was a pragmatic, no-holds-barred analysis typical of BBC Newsnight’s bulldog interviewer.

“The media are—is—an entity in its own right, a collective being with its own distinct nervous system. It eats, it breathes, it excretes. It has distinct pleasure centres in its brain and it has an awful lot of problems with its eyesight….

There is a problem. Potentially, it is a very big problem. It has the capacity to change utterly what we do, and in the process to betray the people we ought to be serving. Once people start believing we’re playing fast and loose with them routinely, we’ve had it….”The audience have to be able to have confidence in us to show them something which, while being manufactured, is a fair representation of the true state of affairs….

“There comes a point where the frenzy has to be put to one side, the rolling story halted, so that we can make sense of things. Television journalism’s justification should be the justification of journalism through the ages: to inquire, to explain and to hold to account… Right now we could do with less hyperventilating and more deep breathing.

“There is a fight going on for the survival of quality television right across this industry. The recent skirmishes and scandals have not gone our way. As an industry we need to lay out much more clearly what we’re doing and why. Let’s spend less time measuring audiences and more time enlightening them.”

Read the full text: The James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture

Jeremy Paxman roasts Tony Blair

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