A PERSONAL VIEW FOR THE CAMPAIGN FOR QUALITY
by Derek Budd
In recent times I am often intrigued by the increasing number of people who boast "not to watch" television, instead they lead a more fulfilling lifestyle indulging in other "more important" interests. For many however, television and radio is still an important social lifeline, offering companionship and communication through its coverage of news, entertainment, drama and documentaries. And it is for these viewers, many of whom can barely afford a television, (as well as those prepared to pay for better choice), that I feel there is the need for a quality threshold. Though in the end I fear that, with the paranoia of viewer ratings, the viewing public will get what they deserve!
During recent years we have all experienced the amazing development of new technologies in communication and broadcasting, often taking so much of it for granted. We marvel at live pictures from the moon, view with horror, images of war from 'intelligent-missiles'. Now, in the comfort of our own homes we are offered a mind-blowing choice of entertainment and information. Unfortunately the very nature of such competition is to bring about the very survival of the strongest. To that end we are already witnessing mergers within broadcast companies who are recognising the need to share both financial, technical and human resources. With such re-structuring the saying that "commercial television, was a licence to print money" rings true yet again. It became all too tempting for greedy and ruthless executives to under-utilise once proud and productive studios, some of which are almost 'mothballed' due to under-investment and the lack of well regulated creative programme management.
The benefits of Digital technology have created so many diverse formats that there is now a bewildering choice. Trade shows and skilled sales representative's promise often-unrealistic capabilities and so many are tempted down the route for material change.
Current sophisticated cameras and sound recording systems are such that anyone with a degree of limited intelligence can go out and record broadcastable material. The worrying thing about de-restriction and so-called smart technologies is that now 'everyone' can make programmes! Especially in the light of the last 1990 Broadcasting act where it would seem that the quality control was regrettably cast aside.
In many cases it is fair to say that much of the high-end broadcast equipment is offering a tremendous improvement in its capability to record and transmit near virtual reality high definition! Widescreen formats offer a more pleasing and natural perspective in the way the image is perceived by our own human vision. Therefore bigger screens with 'surround-sound' make for better viewing quality - so the good looks better, but then the cheaper and smaller 'non-broadcast' formats look and sound much worse!
With the tempting attractions of developing technologies in the consumer television market, the public must be bewildered by numerous changing standards. To this end broadcast companies, due mainly to their uncertain and hesitant commercial change to widescreen television, are cheating the system by transmitting compromised frame ratios.
Regrettably during recent years, audiences have been presented with a much lower standard of broadcast material, poor scheduling, not to mention endless repeat programmes. So is it any wonder that people turn away from television or alternatively face the reality of paying extra for their preferred programmes only to discover another more aggressive commercial strand of "pay as you view"?
When I joined the industry in 1965, there was more of a pioneering spirit and an immense pride in British Broadcasting, backed by a rigid control under the IBA. If any programme resulted in a complaint being lodged, there was an "immediate inquiry" and heads would roll as a result. Yet, during that period we probably saw more local programming made within the region, for indeed many companies had their own Outside Broadcast facilities. Crewing levels were higher, which in itself brought about a greater degree of craftsmanship and training opportunity. Also, restrictive practices were controlled by the worrying strength of the broadcast unions - though at least they upheld the recognition that only "skilled" member technicians could make programmes.
Inevitably changing technology attracted "Multi-skilling" but regrettably this has brought about much lower standards in broadcasting. "Lightweight" now means that camera tripods are not used as often (mostly through laziness) with a lack of appreciation that a zoom lens cannot be used effectively through its full range. Common abuse and overuse of the wide-angle lens, often results in shaky hand-held images of distorted limbs and bodies. With "auto-focus" amateur cameras it has become common in their broadcast use to see shots completely out-of-focus! The exposure meter has been cast aside and with the 'unforgiving' contrast range of video, we have witnessed appalling exposures - either "burnt out" or underexposed through camera-operators not knowing the detail in their viewfinder. Indeed with an influx of second-hand equipment it has become all to easy for the new breed of freelance operator not to have the camera kit regularly lined-up or maintained. Lighting skills have been overlooked with little understanding as to what a 'key modelling light' should be. Contrast ratios are misunderstood and multiple shadows appear, due to the lack of time in setting lights to balance the ambient light more naturally. Indeed some crews are so small in number there is no chance to hold a reflector to balance high contrast scenes.
Microphones used to be concealed from view, and there used to be a pride in setting a personal mic discretely beneath clothing. Nowadays it is all too common to see an unsightly appendage dangling from the neck-line. Hand-mics were only used for lively outside broadcasts, now they are a means of advertising station idents! Another mis-use of sound recording is to use the ambient FX mic mounted on the front of camcorders for dialogue recording.Sound levels vary disturbingly, often with the luxury of sound balancing inthe dubbing studio being a thing of the past.
Colleges and Universities are churning out students at an alarming rate, all enthusiastic to get a much sought after career in broadcasting. Unfortunately in my experience some teachers are themselves 'failed' technicians, so just who is teaching and passing on the necessary disciplinary skills of Film-making? Cost conscious producers now often use younger and less experienced technicians and presenters, themselves often ill-prepared through inadequate training, research and briefing.
The development of 'more and more' News programmes must also have a detrimental effect on the mood of audiences and society. Doom and disaster becomes commonplace, indeed news editors often glory in the creation and emergence of such tragic events, they themselves becoming pornographers in their own insensitive and often voyeuristic world!
The power of the press and communications media is enormous and vitally important in a modern and developing society. Its misuse and abuse of the craft and disciplines of a generation of film technicians is now becoming all too common place. Viewers deserve an adequate and enforceable regulator to maintain and improve higher standards! The ITV network was established to service the regional communication needs of the British Isles. Whatever its future size in the expanding global market of mass communication, quality regional access must be maintained at all cost.
© Derek Budd, 2001
If you care enough to give support please email Jocelyn Hay at "The Voice of the Listener & Viewer"