23rd Nov 2011

Leveson Inquiry as Media Event


In their book Media Events: The Live Broadcasting of History, Daniel Dayan and Elihu Katz define a media event as a break-from-routine ceremonial occasion, preplanned by newsworthy institutions (such as the IOC in the case of the Olympics), but not organised by the media per se:

The conjuction of the live and remote, on the one hand, and the interrupted but preplanned, on the other, takes us a considerable distance towards our definition of the genre. (Dayan and Katz 1992: 7)

Thus defined, a media event is not unexpected, like 9/11 or a natural disaster, nor is it entirely spun and stage-managed in the way Boorstin defines postmodern-like pseudo-events. A media event is more like a Royal Wedding or a Presidential Election, in which a national and sometimes a global public engage via the medium of television.

The media event TV genre is the Leveson Inquiry to a tee. But if ever an inquiry should have remained outside this genre, behind closed doors, away from the cameras and the endless journalistic comment, then one dealing with media ethics and privacy laws should have surely be it.

Sadly, the whole affair is turning into a media/celebrity circus, and does, at times, come awfully close to feeling like a phony pseudo-event rather than the public-interest media event it claims to be.

Hugh Grant’s emotional attack on the press, for instance, made great TV/radio and gave audiences a rare insight into a mega-celeb, but it couldn’t help but smack of great-PR-opportunity-to-have-a-go-at-the-gutter-paparazzi, and was made into even more of a merry-go-round news-farce after the Daily Mail shamefully released a public statement countering Grant’s attack with equal vitriol. A sad case of airing one’s dirty linen in public…

Steve Coogan, on the other hand, is Alan Partridge, and no amount of pretending to be Steve Coogan in the real world of hyperreal court appearances is going to change the public perception of Coogan as Partridge. As Partridge – sorry, Coogan – rightly points out, he is not the sort of celebrity who courts the media in pursuit of fame… except, of course, on this occasion.

If, in the interests of transparency, some sort of live media coverage is deemed to be important, then let it be radio only. We don’t need to see all those performances.

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