It's time broadcasters put the real back in reality TV'

Samura addresses delegates at News Xchange conference in Budapest

Current affairs broadcasters must reclaim reality television from entertainment by making programmes about the desperate conditions faced by some sections of society, Sorious Samura has urged .

Speaking at the News Xchange conference in Budapest, the documentary maker said he was offended by the appropriation of reality TV by gameshows and other entertainment programmes.

He claimed the likes of Big Brother were injected with contrived hardship at the expense of programmes covering real adversity, such as starvation in the developing world.

Samura has just completed a film about starvation in Ethiopia, Living With Hunger, for Channel 4 with Insight News TV. In it, he puts himself under the same conditions as his subjects to understand what they faced.

“The term ‘reality television’ has been stolen from current affairs and documentaries. So what we have to do is label our programmes ‘real reality TV’,” he said. “In Living With Hunger, because broadcasters don’t seem to have confidence that people can watch real television and that millions of viewers will be gripped by this, we decided to find these people and live under their circumstances.

“We should start trusting the audiences again. We should stop making up the minds for the viewers.

“If it’s done properly and we put back the reality into television, people will want to see stories about the developing world and even about people starving in Africa – if you tell the story properly and allow them to tell their own story.”

Three years ago, Samura made the documentary Exodus, which charted the migration of sub-Saharan Africans crossing the desert to seek a better life in the West, encountering many perils along the way.

“As I finished Exodus, Big Brother stormed across the screens of the socalled developed world. Then there were those Africans who, for me, were these real people trying to survive but there were no cameras there to record their suffering. You tell me which is the reality TV. Somehow I can say we learnt from that. Escape television has stolen reality from the picture.”

However Tim Lambon, a cameraman and Channel 4 News producer and former colleague of Samura, criticised his latest project. “It’s not about a healthy black African male going back to Africa. The people under threat there are the elderly and the young.”

Lambon suggested Samura would have done better to have filmed his own children for a month undergoing the starvation, as it would have given a better insight into the problem.

By Wale Azeez

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