Channel 4’s decision to air images of Princess Diana’s fatal crash is just the latest in a long history of courting controversy by Mark Borkowski
It has been bubbling for weeks like a witches’ brew, intoxicating the media and public alike: “Princess Diana – not another bloody documentary.” The storm finally breaks tonight with the broadcast of Diana: The Witnesses in the Tunnel.
As far as I can see, it has all been a delight for Channel 4, which has enjoyed lurid headlines from broadsheets, tabloids and TV news channels. All the juicy column inches have provoked comment and stoked a storm of indignation. The queue of people lining up to attack the broadcaster has stretched from the Channel 4 headquarters to the Alma tunnel and back again.
However, let’s face it, without the righteous anger, would anyone have watched the documentary? The point of great PR is to ignite debate, and this show has achieved that in spades.
Without the offending photos there would have been as much interest in the show as in a new line of Joan Rivers mascara on QVC. Do we need another documentary on the princess’s death? Surely we have had our fill.
I would argue that it’s in the DNA of Channel 4 to court controversy. Where would we all be if Channel 4 was not once again kicking up sand?
Channel 4’s mission is to excite the nation, but the only problem with that is that it has to keep pushing forward more and more outrageous shows. A long time ago, I had the pleasure of promoting the enfant terrible of “yoof TV”, The Word. Under the brilliant series producer Paul Ross, I was encouraged to spread havoc, getting people to do extraordinary things just to get on TV.
I suspect it was a precursor to Big Brother. How can anybody forget the poor sod who had to French kiss a pensioner, or the man who had to lick the armpit of an overweight person doing exercises? Event TV demands outrage and it was a sad day for all publicity folk when Mary Whitehouse was given her harp.
The latest chapter in this history has been Channel 4’s refusal to listen to the princes’ plea not to show the offending pictures of Princess Diana.
The long and rambling letter from the Channel 4 director of television and content, Kevin Lygo, to Clarence House indicates he can handle the heat: “This is in our view a legitimate media analysis of events which, whilst inevitably personally distressing, concerns matters of immense public interest.”
I am sure that is what officials said about public hangings. The mob needs to be sated, advertising share is paramount and the need for publicity needs to be satisfied.
The issue is, what is Channel 4’s next step? There is long summer ahead and the current Big Brother needs some urgent cultural engineering. I sit and hold my breath.