Goodbye Carte Blanche

October 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Twilight Quotes

Goodbye Carte Blanche

Dame Margot Fonteyn and her ballet buddy Rudolph Nureyev danced
beyond the twilight of their careers. She finally created
dreadful embarrassment on stage at Covent Garden by managing
only three beats of what was meant to be a four-beat entrechat.
The once-loyal audience booed them off stage and into
retirement. The same should happen to South African media
network M-Net’s Carte Blanche TV program.

Everything and every one of us reach a sell-by date. Prescient
retailer Woolworths got the plot a long time ahead of their
competitors. I believe M-Net’s Carte Blanche TV program now
needs to do some serious belly-button contemplation on the same
score. It’s out of date, has become unashamedly biased and is
hosted by fading fogies. Reinvent it or euthanase it.

Market forces are a-movin’ and new subscription-TV airwaves in
South Africa are scheduled to break the M-Net Multichoice
stranglehold – and not before time. This will remove the unfair
competitive advantage enjoyed by the monopoly. It will also
hopefully give executive producer George Mazarakis and his team
the required kick in the backside to revisit their rationale for
and the positioning of their ailing progeny.

If you want to pitch a program as journalism, then do so. SABC’s
Special Assignment is a superb example of genuine investigative
TV journalism. But Carte Blanche has degenerated, unsubtly, into
electronic tabloid. It sets out sometimes with a misinformed
objective in mind and sure as hell doesn’t let the facts get in
the way of the subsequently biased program.

Two examples among many, spring to mind. Every now and again,
when they’re clearly scraping the bottom of the barrel for a
story, they dredge up the tired forty year old Ritalin debate.
Quoting self-serving, self-promotional ‘experts’ like Patrick
Holford. Or a wannabe-famous, jaded American psychiatrist who
takes on his peer group in a desperate quest for his Andy Warhol
fifteen minutes of fame. Carte Blanche ‘researchers’, producers,
directors and in my opinion pseudo-journalist anchors need to
remember the adage that one swallow doth not a Summer make. Just
because some over-the-hill shrink takes a contrapuntal stance,
doesn’t mean it’s fact. Hell, imagine if President Mbeki and his
loyal sidekick, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and their
vitamin-punting buddy Mathias Raath got this sort of billing.
We’d all become brain-washed AIDS denialists.

The founding tenet in journalism is that you present the facts
and leave the audience to draw its own conclusions. If it’s an
opinion piece – like this article – then don’t pretend it’s
objective journalism. Carte Blanche crossed the Rubicon of
credibility years ago. Their present programming is a pastiche
of current affairs and fluffy investigation, coupled with
headline-grabbing codswallop that’s clearly designed only to
boost ratings.

A very recent example is their pathetic foray into consumer
journalism with the program on mobile phone charges in South
Africa. Over the years, with a number of their ‘investigative’
programs I’ve had an inside track on what’s happened back-stage.
In this case, mobile phone per-minute call costs are in fact
lower than when the service was introduced in 1994. Pre-paid,
introduced in 1996, ditto. SMS rates, ditto. When compared with
similar markets (being realistic on economies, demographics,
population density and the like) South African mobile phone
charges fall into the ‘average’ category. Even when
inappropriately compared with developed economy markets, the
rates fall into the average zone. ICASA’s report on SA mobile
rates was flawed and presented erroneous data. But Carte Blanche
used it as ‘fact’. Pre-paid mobile phone users don’t subsidise
contract users. It’s in fact the exact opposite. Contract users,
whether they make calls or not, are committed to pay a fixed
amount per month for twenty four months. Pre-paid users have
access to a free telephone service following a tiny initial
investment. They don’t have to make a single call. They receive
calls free. They have no legal, financial or other obligation to
the network provider.

Why did this all not get discussed in the Carte Blanche program?
The answer? It did – but it got edited out. Because it would
have thrown the flawed ingoing Carte Blanche premise out with
the proverbial bathwater.

Perhaps Carte Blanche’s perception genuinely was that the South
African mobile phone user was being ripped off. But the
interview evidence demonstrated the contrary. So how much better
if Carte Blanche management had the balls to report so! It’s a
travesty when you masquerade under the guise of journalism only
to punt a pre-determined viewpoint and manipulate editing to
support your erroneous premise.

May upcoming competitive forces light a fire of integrity and
commitment to genuine journalism under the backside of Carte
Blanche – or for heaven’s sake, get it off stage!

Clive is a marketing & communications strategist. He specialises
in helping people and organizations make sustainable change.

  • Winsor Pilates

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