Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: BBC finding life on The Estate difficult

It is hardly surprising that the first two episodes of the BBC NI documentary series The Estate have drawn a hostile reaction from residents of the housing development in Coleraine.

The Ballysally estate has been negatively portrayed to date with residents claiming there has been undue emphasis given to negative aspects of life there and that the characters highlighted are unrepresentative of the estate's population.

But then what did the residents expect? Fly-on-the-wall documentaries of this type need to maintain interest among viewers and invariably, and inevitably, will feature what the film-makers decide is the best footage to keep the audience engaged. This will produce a skewed picture no matter what the subject and to expect otherwise is bordering on naivete.

However, it has to be said that the BBC has long been held as the benchmark of responsible broadcasting and much of its output, either on television or on radio, is of a very high standard.

Of course it is not infallible and given the reaction to the early episodes, there may now be some quite frantic re-editing going on to give a more balanced view in forthcoming programmes.

It is one thing to report on poverty and the affect that straitened circumstances can have on families but it is quite another to allow unguarded and untutored individuals to portray themselves unflatteringly on television. Some might regard that as exploitative. Others will argue that these people have chosen to appear of their own free will, but it is important to ask if they had any real grasp of what the finished product would be like

It has been suggested that The Estate is a probing look at modern social ills through the experiences of these Coleraine residents and that the aim of the series is to affect social change and a call to action for political and civic leaders.

That is a suggestion which should be dismissed out of hand. This is a programme designed for entertainment and should be judged on that basis alone. Perhaps that is why the verdict to date is so negative.

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