Friday, May 04, 2007

News Organisations claim “Real life not real enough”

At a conference on the future of newsgathering, keynote speakers warned that the public is becoming increasingly sceptical about real world catastrophes as they become exposed to ever more sophisticated effects in film, television and computer games.

“It is a real challenge for the News Organisations around the world,“ explained Kate Billingsworth from BBC News. “It used to be that even the best Hollywood effects wouldn’t look quite right. But now computer graphics have reached a point were Alien spaceships can crash into Big Ben on your home computer and look much more believable than when the real thing happened a few months ago.”

The conference focussed on major events that have simply gone unnoticed by the public who believe them to be fakes.

“We get our news from TV and the Internet but the news imagery has to compete with other footage shown. So, when Ben Nevis erupted and the lava flow slowly engulfed part of Fort William it just did not engage the public’s imagination,“ continued Ms Billingsworth. “Many we have asked believed it was a trailer for an upcoming disaster movie. The fact that the same 30 second piece of footage is used over and over again just fits in with the pattern of a TV commercial. Perhaps if the lava had been a brighter red, or maybe if it had set fire to more of the highlands and certainly more of Fort William itself, people would have believed the video on the news was as real as it was.”

The problem is compounded by the cross-over between the news and the rest of the media. “News readers appear in movies announcing details of disasters or significant events all the time. They also appear on TV in whimsical celebrity dancing shows, “ she said. “We need to make it easier for the public to tell fiction from reality”.

The conference announced it was to petition the government for the introduction of “This is real life“ signs containing the current date and time to be placed at every site of natural, political, cultural or economic significance. This would enable quick and easy identification of the authenticity of the event in the public’s imagination.

Other events that have been dismissed as hoaxes or attributed to a computer game have been the aborted invasion of Anglesey by the Argentine Navy, the repeated damage wrought to Tokyo by Godzilla and a recent English rugby victory over South Africa.

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