I’m not complaining but when working in television, every word of a script is scrutinised.
Only today, I’ve started script-writing for a half-hour programme about a mental health condition. Some interviewees will be talking anonymously as they don’t want everyone to know about their problems.
Many people feel that they want to speak out – but the high profile nature of television is such that they fear ridicule, they fear exposure, they fear prejudice. So sometimes we agree to conceal identity, even if legally we don’t have to (such as with victims of sexual assault). Having done that we still have to jump through legal hoops.
For example, a person criticises his local health authority for what he perceives is a lack of treatment made available to him to deal with a mental health condition This man will not be named – and his local health authority will not be named. The only thing the viewer will know is that this is a man and he comes from an area within the UK. That’s it.
But I still have to put his criticisms to the relevant health authority, give that health authority a right of reply, even though I will probably not name that health authority.
If that health authority gives us a statement I’ll have to consider, with a lawyer, what I should use in the script. If that health authority insisted on a filmed interview, we’d have to seriously consider that demand. It’s possible that we’d have to do it, even though that would throw a spanner in the schedule.
As we hear stories about the seemingly out-of-control practices at a national newspaper some years ago (not now) and suspicions that other publications indulged – to the detriment of individuals – we in television spend hours ensuring a right of reply for organisations which are not going to be even named.
However as I watched new Cowboy Builders tonight, I’m thrilled that we can do programmes like this. We can expose people who wreck the lives of others, quite literally. I love seeing the passion of Dominic Littlewood in hunting down those who are cowboys in construction.
I know that he’s got people helping him with that. But I’ve worked with him in the past and I know that his anger is quite genuine. He really does care. I also know about the kind of scrutiny that will go on behind the scenes and the amount of hoops which had to be jumped through to even get him on the road after those cowboy builders.
Please don’t assume that we journalists are out there, writing what we like, using illegal methods to bring things into the public arena. It’s simply not true.