Establishment TV


I wish more media critics would pay attention to the "Establishment TV" phenomenon – the tendency of BBC and ITV to broadcast (usually in prime time) "documentaries" which seem little more than PR for various types of police, "emergency services" and other authorities. Here are some examples I noted a few months ago:

BBC1 - The Truth About Crime, (28/7/09, 21.00)
ITV1 - Send in the Dogs (police & their dogs), (28/7/09, 20.00)
ITV1 - Car Crime UK, (28/7/09, 21.00)
BBC1 - Seaside Rescue (29/7/09, 20.30)
BBC1 - Double Jeopardy (documentary about man acquitted of vicious attack, and evidence arguing for his retrial), (30/7/09, 22.35)
ITV1 - Real Crime, (30/7/09, 22.35)
BBC1 - Traffic Cops (31/7/09, 20.30)

Here's a list I compiled over a longer period of time - mostly (but not all) BBC:

Sky Cops (helicopter patrols)
Traffic cops
Car Wars
(Tactical Vehicle Crime Unit)
On the Fiddle
(welfare fraud)
(car wheel clampers)
Customs & Excise Cops
The Tube
(London's underground police)
Animal Cops
(airport police)
Forensic Cops
A Life of Grime
Crimewatch UK
Traffic Wardens
Rogue Traders
Drunk and Dangerous
(police tackling drunks)
Transport Cops
Seaside Rescue
Cops, Robbers and Videotape
Shops, Robbers and Videotape
(variation on a theme)
Girl Cops
War at the Door
(housing officers & RSPCA)
Dumping on Britain
(Environment Agency)
Rail Cops
Cops with Dogs
Cars, Cops and Bailiffs
Motorway Cops
The Planners are Coming
(Planning Police)
Saints and Scroungers
(investigating benefits claimants)
Cars, Cops and Criminals (series of hour-long documentaries)
The Lock Up (about officers in custody suite of police station)
Behind Closed Doors (police tackle domestic abuse cases)
The Sheriffs Are Coming ('fly on the wall documentary series following High Court enforcement officers')
Traffic Cops at Christmas (give me strength! Channel 5)

These shows often come across as the state equivalent of TV ads for banks and insurance companies – they portray "the authorities" in a friendly light by showing the human qualities of their employees. They seem, in a way, to function as damage-limitation PR. So, Magna Carta is being dismantled, illegal wars are fought in your name, video surveillance is everywhere, your internet activity is monitored, you're robbed and lied to by government on a daily basis – but you needn't fear, because the authorities are your friends.

When members of the public are shown complaining in these programmes, they're typically presented as unreasonable, hostile or slightly insane - as if you must be mentally disturbed (and probably a danger to society) if you object to the way the authorities are selflessly taking care of you.

If you complained to the BBC about these shows, you'd probably appear paranoid. After all, they seem pretty harmless on the face of it. But I wonder sometimes about the cumulative "cognitive framing" effect - the endless repetition of a particular worldview, and the virtual absence of programmes which show "the authorities" in a less sympathetic (but probably more accurate) light.