Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Entertainment vs. Serious Journalism

A video clip of Robert Downey Jr walking out of an interview with Channel 4 broadcaster Krishnan Guru-Murthy has gotten people talking recently, with an overwhelming majority of people sympathising with Robert Downey Jr.

I think it was perfectly reasonable for him to walk out of an interview that unnecessarily pried into his personal life, touching on personal and sensitive topics that should be handled with tact. Guru-Murthy hadn't developed any kind of chemistry with him, and he was trying to turn a run-of-the-mill promotional interview into a televised counselling session.

As much as I respect Krishnan Guru-Murthy as a journalist, especially when you look at his body of work that includes shows like Unreported World, this was cringe worthy: he came across as a smug, smarmy reporter trying to set up and antagonise a celebrity - an interview style reminiscent of Martin Bashir.

If you look at Krishnan Guru-Murthy's past interviews with celebrities, it’s the same sort of thing. I think he has some sort of personal grudge against celebrities and he can’t help but try and belittle them or try to make them look stupid. Unfortunately for him, a lot of these celebrities are smarter than he gives them credit for, and end up making HIM look stupid; a pompous amateur with a flimsy opinion and understanding of controversial topics.

Guru-Murthy has offered an explanation for his interview style, saying that in order to adhere to broadcasting regulations, Channel 4 News are unable to engage in promotional interviews, unless there’s an educational element to it. He also says the news team made it clear to Robert Downey Jr’s PR people that off-topic questions were likely to be asked.
My question is, why bother even arrange to interview an actor who is only interested in promoting a movie, if you know that goes against your show’s policy? Why not arrange an interview with an actor or other public figure that is promoting/campaigning for a cause? They’ll be more inclined to talk about the "serious topics" that Channel 4 so favours.
To look at it from both sides though, you can kinda understand why journalists have such a love/hate relationship with celebrities - celebrities who freely court media attention to promote/plug a movie, record, book etc… yet simultaneously complain about media intrusion.

In an ideal world, media interest would be limited to the work a celeb has produced, they would still have their privacy and there wouldn’t be this soulless paparazzi mentality, with all its moral implications. But let’s face it (and this is coming from someone who absorbs celeb culture), a charismatic personality that generates media interest, beyond their creative endeavours, has more mass appeal which aids their promotional duties. Why else do, for example, certain actors get top billing in movies? To attract the fanbase of that particular media personality, which often has nothing to do with how talented or critically acclaimed the actor is.

And as much as they try to distance themselves from it once they've "made it", actors, musicians or whatever did spend an early part of their career courting press attention and chasing fame – they like a certain aspect of being famous, of being recognised, of being a "star"…which has nothing to do with artistic talent and everything to do with ego.

A lot of celebrities are also quick to cash in on their private lives when it suits them. Many celebrities have divulged personal details in in-depth interviews, which often coincides with the release of a movie/album etc. So you can perhaps see why there are blurred lines for journalists about what subjects are appropriate and which subjects are off-limits, or even why some of them push their luck even if they’ve been told certain topics are off limits. Freedom of press, and all that. 

What’s funny is that soon after this interview made the news, Robert Downey Jr posted this picture on Instagram, with a thinly-veiled dig at Guru-Murthy.

Instagram: robertdowneyjr/

Legitimate journalism? LOL I’m sorry, but Diane Sawyer is worse than Krishnan Guru-Murthy - she’s the queen of ambush interviews, with her probing, judgemental questions and tactless approach.

I think they should just leave personal, heartfelt interviews to Ellen and Oprah – they know how to approach sensitive topics in a gentle manner, which doesn’t piss the celebrity off.

At the end of the day, celebrities are human beings - real people with real feelings; surprising someone with intrusive questions about personal topics and issues, and continuing to probe when they are clearly uncomfortable to try and provoke a reaction, is wrong. 

Whoever set up the interview is really to blame here. A smarmy news reporter + an arrogant Hollywood actor = major clash of egos. It was never going to end well. I don’t think the US-UK culture divide helped either – I recall Downey Jr taking Ricky Gervais to task for his "mean-spirited" presenting at the Golden Globes a few years ago.

Since his interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Robert Downey Jr has also done quite a revealing interview with Howard Stern, which delves into his personal life. Why is it one set of rules for SOME journalists, but not others? Perhaps Downey Jr didn’t realise that Channel 4 News is a big news outlet in the UK so felt they didn’t have the authority to ask personal questions.

But having seen some of the other interviews Krishnan Guru-Murthy has conducted, you have to wonder if this uncomfortable encounter wasn’t encouraged by the producers of the show – it’s like car crash telly. In which case, Channel 4 News would perhaps be better advised to stick to the "serious" news they apparently prefer, instead of using celebrities and pulling cheap stunts to make good telly. Ya know, if they want to still be considered a reputable news outlet.

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