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Centre for Investigative Journalism
Annual Convention: Individual Reports

TV Journalism

Abrey Myers


"The use of dramatization was questioned. It would have been more accurate to tell the viewer scenes were created."

Michel Auger


THE WORKSHOP BEGAN WITH A replay of "The Z Project," originally aired on the CBC's The Fifth Estate Feb. 12. Producer Brian McKenna described it as one of the toughest stories the public affairs show has ever undertaken because, during the research, all their traditional sources dried up.

The segment investigated pay-offs made by distilleries and wineries to political parties.

Since raw footage was unavailable for most of the story, a recreation of some of the activities, such as the transfer of money, was shown. Dramatic devices — ominous low musical tones and tribal drums, for example — underscored the narrative. The most interesting scenes showed Edwin Winner, chairman of the Pennsylvania liquor board, attacking the camera when he refused to answer the reporter's questions and Jordan Valley Wines sales manager Bob Waugh saying that, if he wanted to market in Quebec, all it took was money.

McKenna admitted that such a story would not have been possible without the resources of The Fifth Estate. He said that, in cases where interviewees would not answer or tried to run away, it was important to get footage of the interviewer actually asking questions and not getting any answers.

Wade Rowland, author of Making Connections, questioned the ethical use of dramatic devices such as sinister music, on television to drive home the point. On such CBC stories as the one dealing with CIA involvement in Canada, the "hidden camera" technique was used. Effective — but is it ethical?

However, no one questioned the use of camera techniques when they were able to capture people "lying on camera." But the use of dramatizations were questioned, people in the audience pointing out that it would have been more accurate to tell the viewer that scenes were being recreated.

A selection of the videotapes that were left around for Convention members to screen certainly indicates that good TV investigative work, despite the cost of the medium and the demands of air-time, is out there, but that it isn't being heard about. Some selections: From BCTV in Vancouver, Lettergate, a report on the Socred scandal: From Educational Television Ontario, videocassettes on the referendum in Quebec and an interview with Claude Ryan; from CTV Subliminal Messages the story of little black boxes that transmit subliminal messages and how they are used by retail stores and real estate companies to induce (often unaware) employees to sell more; and, from CBC in Winnipeg, The Insulation Game, an examination of the ripoffs and shoddy work in the insulation industry in Manitoba.


Published in Sources May/June 1980


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