Viewpoint: factual TV in a post truth world

Twenty-sixteen saw some fascinating and somewhat worrying developments in terms of truth and the media – particularly around politics and the upheavals around Brexit and the US election.

Jan-SallingDonald Trump has become a leading exponent of ‘post truth’ in his race to the White House. His support for the ‘birther’ movement and claims that President Obama ‘founded Isis’ are just two outlandish claims that were patently untrue while being completely believable – at least to his supporters.

‘Post-truth’ as a term has moved from being relatively new to becoming widely understood by many in the course of the past twelve months, and has become lodged in the international consciousness: so much so that the Oxford English dictionary has chosen the term as it’s ‘word of the year’.

So what might the implications of the ‘post truth’ be for factual TV producers around the world?

Well I see a trend that counters ‘post-truth’ and suggests that 2017 could actually see a flight to reality – a thirst for programming of greater substance, vision and authenticity.

In Scandinavia, there has always been a high demand for ‘entertainment with a purpose’. A type of programming that seeks to delve deeper into societal issues and reveal more about the society we live in whist gripping viewers. Recently two programmes of this type have particularly stood out for me as important.

This first is the Swedish reality show Dictator. In this show, young contestants are placed artificially under the thumb of a fictitious dictator to experiment the benefits and limits of democracy. The show deprives participants of individual freedom, comfort, sleep and is designed to trigger debate amongst young people watching on prime time on the strengths and weaknesses of their political system.

Dictator was produced by Art89 and UR, and broadcast on SVT2 and has been a ratings success with recent format deals for the show recently signed in Germany and the Netherlands.

In Norway, The Homeless Experience also succeeded in creating a national dialogue as it explored the true stories of homeless people in the country. This Teddy TV production for TV2 sees one man leaving the comforts of home to live for 52 days in the streets with no money and no contact with the world he used to know. Again a ratings success that I believe points to more informed viewing.

The subject of beauty is another area I see a growing societal trend for digging deeper to challenge the ‘accepted norms’ of what beauty really means.

The Dove deodorant ‘Real Women’ campaign went a long way to addressing the beauty industry norms of flawless, airbrushed complexions and zero-sized figures, and building a movement that women could relate to. A trend for make-up free selfies and the new Pirelli calendar – for so long a nude cornerstone of the beauty world – has also broken with tradition and stereotypes to feature Amy Schumer, Serena Williams and others to reinterpret what beauty should look like.

TV is also following this trend. MIPCOM saw Curvy Supermodel launched by Armorza Formats and subsequently remade in Germany, becoming a big hit for RTL2.

The Fashion Hero, a new format that I have just started to represent, is also spearheading what I see as a global movement of challenging the old ways of the defining beauty in the fashion industry. It is not just about size but the belief that men and women who are ‘different’ – thin or chubby, short or tall, freckled or scarred, etcetera – should not only be accepted as ‘beautiful’, but can and should also be perceived as role-models for a new, more-informed generation.

Twenty-seventeen promises to be an even more fascinating year and while news organisations rise and fall, social media continues to play an ever-important role in shaping our thoughts and discovery of news and trends.

I believe factual TV has a more crucial role – and indeed responsibility – than ever to explore the fundamental issues in society in an entertaining and engaging way. It’s time for programming of substance to come to the fore.

Jan Salling is the founder and CEO of formats business Missing Link Media and co-chairman of formats industry group Frapa

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