As the novelist David Foster Wallace wrote, television currently has us "by the throat".[i] According to a 2003 Independent Television Commission report, on average adults spend three hours and 34 minutes a day watching television, with children watching two hours 23 minutes. That’s over 24 hours of television a week or, put another way, more than 52 days of television a year. "Just like a light bulb, the television is always on. It tends to be put on first thing in the morning when the household wakes up, and it is often on last thing at night", the report said.[ii]
It seems then that most people won’t be observing next week’s TV-Turnoff Week. As the majority of people get their news from television it is unlikely they will even be aware of it – after all turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, do they?[iii] Even when the print media – whose interests are closely intertwined with television programming – cover this rebellion it is normally in an ironic, flippant manner. Take for example the Guardian’s ‘debate’ about last year’s TV-Turnoff Week. As with much mainstream criticism Laura Barton’s plea to "turn it off" was based on the moralistic and slightly condescending idea "there are so many better things to do with your time." Arguing to "keep it on" was Lucy Mangan: "How can anyone not love a machine that devotes itself entirely to your service, that asks no reward, that has no ulterior motives, no purpose but to entertain?"[iv]
Television’s ability to entertain – or should that be divert? – the general public is well known. But what if we take television seriously and consider its ability to inform and teach viewers? What will the person who wants to learn about the world and their position in it find on television? While Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s seminal Manufacturing Consent and the
In his aptly titled book The More You Watch, The Less You Know Danny Schechter refers to a
This confusion is replicated in the Glasgow University Media Group’s (GUMG) 2004 study, Bad New From Israel. The study’s co-author Greg Philo noted "If you don’t understand the
Interestingly, a key finding to come out of the research was that people were more interested when they understood more about the history of the conflict. Conversely incomprehension led to detachment and an increased sense of powerlessness. Like the
Combining forces with Save the Children and the Department of International Development the GUMG have also conducted several studies into television coverage of the developing world. As with Bad News From Israel they found audiences were misinformed due to the low level of explanations and context.[ix] Ditto the general publics‘ frightening lack of knowledge about domestic issues such as crime and punishment and asylum.[x]
For too long we have been watching out for George Orwell’s 1984. In his critique of television culture, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman argues that while Orwell gave "a fairly precise blueprint of the machinery of thought-control as it currently operates in scores of countries" it is not an accurate description of life in the
TV-turnoff week is April 23 – 29 2007. Go to www.tvturnoff.org for more information. Ian Sinclair is a freelance journalist based in
 David Foster Wallace, ‘E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction‘ in A supposedly fun thing I‘ll never do again (
 Matt Wells, ‘Children who ‘can’t live without’ constant TV’, Guardian, 10 June 2003, http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/database/TV.html#constant
 Greg Philo and Mike Berry, Bad news from
 Laura Barton and Lucy Mangan, ‘TV or not TV’, Guardian, 26 April 2006, http://arts.guardian.co.uk/features/story/0,,1761665,00.html
 Danny Schechter, The More You Watch, The Less You Know (New York: Seven Stories Press, 1999), p. 56.
 ‘Media Alert: Bringing hell to
 David Edwards, Media Lens message board, 1 March 2004, http://www.medialens.org
 Greg Philo, ‘Missing in action’, Guardian, 16 April 2002, http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/04273,4394251,00.html. See also Philo and
 ‘Media coverage of the developing world: audience understanding and interest’, Glasgow University Media Group, http://www.gla.ac.uk/centres/mediagroup/debate.htm
 Michael Hough, Attitudes to punishment: findings from the 1996 British Crime Survey (Research and Statistics Directorate, No. 64, 1998), p. 1. ‘Crime falls but public believe otherwise’, Safer Society, Autumn 2003, p. 8. ‘Asylum seekers in the
 Neil Postman, Amusing ourselves to death (London: Methuen, 1985), p 160.
 Grant Wakefield, The fire this time, Hidden Art recording, 2002, inlay booklet.