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Nick Rankin

Documentaries, magazine and feature programmes of various kinds often properly concentrate on a narrow area or give an opportunity, for example in an interview, for a single view to be expressed.

Overall, such output seeks to represent reality.

Covering arts robustly in the UK - by Nick Rankin, Chief Arts Producer, World Service Radio and Music Factual

Aesthetic matters do not require quite the same balance as political stories because robust artistic opinions (provided they do not breach the laws of libel) are defensible as freedom of speech.

The problem is not really censorship, but arts and entertainment journalism runs the risks of what Oscar Wilde called "feasting with panthers" in its dealings with the public relations industry. A cynical journalist once described Public Relations as a lubricant between celebrities, the press and the people.

Dealing with PR companies

PR companies facilitate media access to show business clients, also known as the "talent". Normally this is when the artistes in question have something to promote, i.e. a new book, play, film, TV series, concert tour etc.

To ease exposure, the PR people also usually supply a pre-edited "press kit" with clips, extracts, quotes, pictures, interviews etc. Journalists will expect a free ticket to the show, drinks at a "press launch", a free copy of the book or CD, and an interview with the talent in question.

Generally, no fee is paid for the interview; the BBC for example does not pay people involved in self-promotion. Nevertheless, there is an air of collusion: the flame of human talent requires the oxygen of publicity, and vice versa.

PR wants maximum favourable coverage and minimum bad news, so there is sometimes pressure to limit access to only the most sycophantic.

Freedom of expression

The antidote to this of course is free criticism, working without fear or favour.

If PR is the hand that feeds, then independence is best shown in sharp teeth that bite. The Emperor's Clothes, created by marketing money and PR hype to cloak emptiness, can be seen through by an honest or humorous review.

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