First Do No Harm

John Humphrys

in Television Policy

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print May 2005 | ISBN: 9780748617173
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748671113 | DOI:
First Do No Harm

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In this lecture, the author, a distinguished television journalist who presented BBC Radio 4's Today programme from 1987, examines two connected themes. First, bad television has become damaging, meretricious, seedy, cynical and harmful to society. Second, if journalists engage in self-censorship post-Hutton this will harm democracy. After watching ten tapes illustrating the ‘case for television’, the author concludes that reality TV is the culprit behind the worst television, which has become preoccupied with sex, confrontation, aggression and violent language, ‘even in the soaps’. One defence is the ‘no brow’ argument, which suggests that television programming should no longer be classified into high or low brow, but simply as ‘no brow’. The author also considers how news has fared while other television output has changed so radically. He also comments on the politics of journalism and concludes by arguing for more, not less, in-depth interviews with politicians, more investigative journalism and more ‘straightforward political analysis’.

Keywords: bad television; self-censorship; reality TV; no brow argument; television programming; news; journalism; politics

Chapter.  4266 words. 

Subjects: Television

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