Terry Thomas applauds Brass Eye for satirising media coverage of
The Channel 4 programme Brass Eye whipped up quite a storm with
its edition The Pedo Files. “The sickest TV show ever” screamed the
Daily Mail front page. There were more than 2,000 complaints and
MPs and the press launched bitter attacks.
The NSPCC said it was a “crude and crass” trivialisation of
child sexual abuse. Everyone seemed to miss the point.
The programme was less about paedophiles than about the social
reaction to them. In particular, it was a savage debunking of the
media presentation of the “paedophile problem” that we have come to
be familiar with throughout the past few years.
In the studio Morris was co-ordinating Operation Daisybird – a
plan to protect all children by encouraging parents to take their
children to sports stadiums because that was the only place where
they would be safe.
This was a well-targeted attack on crude and crass media
reporting. A reporting that plays on the Sunday tabloids’ age-old
creed of titillating as they supposedly give sanctimonious
enlightenment. No wonder the press are running with the story and
getting so hot under the collar.
Twelve days before the Brass Eye broadcast, Channel 4 put out an
edition of the cartoon South Park, which had also spoofed
paedophilia. It passed without comment. It did not ridicule the
media, it came from the US and was in animated format. It was not
“close to home”.
Just 12 months ago we were in the middle of the News of the
World’s name-and-shame debacle. A re-reading of that newspaper
today gives us almost verbatim lines from Brass Eye, complete with
celebrity and expert contributions.
In Brass Eye, celebrities were tricked into contributing to what
they thought was a serious programme. Comedian Richard Blackwood
explained how paedophiles could send toxic gas through the keyboard
of a child’s computer, and pop star Phil Collins pontificated while
wearing a “Nonce Sense” sweatshirt.
NCH Action for Children has expressed its concern that this
ridiculing of celebrities will make it difficult to persuade them
to take part in future campaigns. What Brass Eye has done is reveal
the vacuity of such contributions from public figures who will read
anything they are told.
Morris has performed a useful service in exposing the media’s
unhelpful contribution to the public debate on child sexual abuse.
Anything for a “good” story with salacious undertones. Never mind
the human consequences. Anything for ratings and circulation
Today’s critics of Brass Eye are those who understand sexual
crimes against children only within the parameters they’ve been
given by the media and their attempts to direct the public
Terry Thomas is a senior lecturer in the school of
health and community care at Leeds Metropolitan University and
author of Sex Crimes: Sex Offending and Society.