The only medium which allows less scope for thoughtful analysis than radio is television. I was on ‘Hearts and Minds’ last night on BBC2, part of a two-man panel with Brian Feeney, and while the topic of (what else?) clerical child abuse was given seven minutes approx, it didn’t even begin to tickle the surface of the subject.

One example. I was trying to point out that the cover-up crime of the bishops might have been something more than callous abandoning of the innocent to the whims of a predatory monster in order to protect the Church’s good name. So I gave some figures about the likelihood of child abusers offending again (1-8% for treated low-risk offenders, 15-50% for high risk offenders).

Silly, silly, silly. If you don’t have a graphic that reinforces your spoken word, that’s going to be very difficult for the viewer to assimilate. On viewing the tape, it’s obvious that I should simply have said ‘Research shows that re-offending isn’t inevitable – most treated offenders don’t re-offend’. And repeated it a couple of times to drive the message home. So to be effective, you have to talk in short, punchy statements and repeat them. Television simply rejects complexity.

The other problem is length. Six to seven minutes is considered a reasonable period of time (outside of maybe Channel 4 News, you’d never get this on a news report – in fact three minutes would be considered very long. But for a topic as complex as the child abuse cases in Dublin diocese, that’s not nearly enough. Besides, it’s concerns like ‘God, he looks thin!’ that occupy viewer thoughts for the first thirty seconds or so, and in fact can keep distracting them from what’s being said throughout the discussion.

How about a health warning similar to that they give on cigarette packets? ‘Believing that this discussion is either thoughtful or analytical could damage your mental health.’
PS ‘Hearts and Minds’ will have a new set in the New Year, so that’ll be something else to distract us.

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