Faking images and reputation

Posted on: August 23, 2008

It’s not been a good week or so for the creation of authentic reputations (yes, that’s tautology) but the examples of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony and the faked skyline of Birmingham, England (it was really Birmingham, Alabama) have done nothing to improve the reputation of either city. The Olympics have been a great success as an event, so why risk reputation with faked singers and minority representatives and CGI-enhanced broadcasts of fireworks displays?


As for Birmingham, it seems that it was a cock-up over imagery used in promotional material rather than a deliberate deception. The UK’s second city was in some ways saved by the generous view of the Alabama city’s mayor Larry P. Langford who graciously said: “Life is too short. I thought it was flattering. And please continue to use the skyline – it doesn’t bother me”. As a result, Birmingham, AL’s reputation has risen as a tolerant city run by kind-hearted people.


So does this matter? As Mayor Langford says, “life is too short”. I think it does because the use of artifice or deception reduces trust. And this has come through in a report by the consultants Deloitte reported in The Guardian yesterday.


Deloitte’s research amongst UK television viewers found that only 2% “strongly agree” that they can trust British TV, whilst over a third actively don’t trust the medium and a further third don’t express a view either way. Even 87% of TV execs believed trust had declined.


This isn’t a response to the artifices used in ‘reality TV’ but to hard evidence of rigged TV and radio competitions and editorial fakery. For those outside the UK, it may be a shock to know that the main terrestrial TV broadcaster ITV was fined £5.68m for persistently harvesting viewers’ phone calls (and revenue) after competitions had closed and that the BBC, so often the benchmark of trust in broadcasting, has misleadingly edited a promotional clip to imply that the Queen had walked out of a photo session with Annie Liebovitz when this had not happened.


It takes a long time to build a reputation but it can be damaged by corporate behaviour that erodes trust. Over time, that corrosive behaviour demeans reputation and that’s what the evidence has found about British TV. It’s a lesson for everyone.


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Tom Watson

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