Unreality TV 1

February 24, 2006

Lord May's complaint that television drama misrepresents science is valid for other subjects ("It's science, Jim - but not as we know it", February 17). A lawyer recently warned that the legal methods of the hero of Judge John Deed would not be followed in a court of law; historical dramas telescope or reorder events; and in music, one sees conductors with no sense of rhythm and violinists whose bowing action would shame a ten-year-old. But this is not factual reporting.

Documentaries select facts in ways that distort the evidence, but this is unavoidable as they have to make their points within limited timescales and they need to keep the viewer's attention. The important point is that such selection should not be intended to deceive.

TV drama has the power to make people interested in subjects that they can then learn about, but fiction and fact need to be distinguished. Perhaps drama should carry a warning: "This programme is fictional: ideas, facts and events presented may not reflect reality."

Richard Rastall School of Music, Leeds University

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