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May 15, 2007

A commercial for CCTV

CCTV - quite possibly the greatest invention in history; something as British as cups of tea and Trafalgar Square! Or so you would think after watching two hours worth of a 'documentary on the history of CCTV'.

I missed the first hour screened last Tuesday but if the second hour was anything to go by, the police and security companies must be wincing at this eulogy to the silent (though not for long) cameras that increasingly watch our every move.

In fact, one viewer has confessed as much to a blog on civil liberties issues:

As someone that works within the CCTV industry, I have to admit I found the programme positively embarassing. The subject of video surveillance, good or bad depending on your viewpoint, is worthy of a far more informed and accurate interpretation, and this regrettably was not it. As a less than balanced promotional piece for the wonders and benefits of CCTV, it just about hit the spot. In terms of presenting a truthful representation of the current situation, the few learned talking heads failed to provide the level of informed comment and interpretation, that the british public have a valid right to expect.

Have a look at the writer's website and you'll see that he is not an average punter on CCTV.

So, what exactly set my blood to boiling point?

1. The documentary was c. 60% footage of people committing crime, 35% policemen explaining how wonderful CCTV was. Occasionally, the voice of Jamie Theakston would intone that the cameras hadn't prevented 'that' crime but had helped secure a conviction.

2. The makers would surely argue that they did address social concerns about CCTV. This amounted to little more than half a minute of Shami Chakribati and Prof. Martin Gill of Leicester University midway through, and Information Commissioner Jonathon Bamford for a sentence at the end.

3. Straw men. The old debating favourite this. A copper at the end said (and I'll try to quote as exactly as I can without a transcript): 'When people say to me they have a problem with CCTV per se, I ask them whether they want us to go back and stop using technology to prevent crime' (my emphasis). Few people have a problem with CCTV per se - quite the contrary: most critics are worried about how it is used, who uses it, not its very existence. 'Governance' may be too tedious a word for prime time telly but that is what it boils down to.

4. Shameless pandering to one side of a popular tabloid debate: speeding cameras. Or to quote Jamie: 'what gives CCTV a bad name'. But no fear, a new kind of camera is here that recognises antisocial behaviour at box-junctions. Oh, and another camera that recognises how you walk developed by someone who was so shocked by the murder of Jamie Bulger he had to go on a CCTV crusade [nb you cannot criticise someone inspired by such an appalling crime as it sullies the very victim's name. Don't ask why, but you cannot - cf Princess Di].

Ultimately, I am disappointed that such a significant slot in the BBC1 schedule can be gifted to so one-sided a programme. I don't expect a polemic on the abuses of CCTV either - that could be as equally unsuitable for a publicly funded broadcaster. A little fairness and balance, perhaps? Else we end up with Fox News...

May 15, 2007 in Television | Permalink


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Tracked on May 21, 2007 6:52:39 PM


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