Mal Fletcher comments

Mal Fletcher
Mal Fletcher

OK, so The Big Donor Show was an elaborate hoax.

Dutch viewers of the controversial reality TV show, from the makers of Big Brother, were treated to what at first appeared to be a prime-time contest between three prospective recipients of a kidney transplant.

The donor, in fact, turned out to be an actress. All of the contestants - genuine would-be organ recipients-were in on the hoax and took part to raise awareness of the issue of organ donation.

Big Donor was used as a Trojan horse to make what is essentially a valid point: that people awaiting organ transplants have a very tough time of it. The point is certainly worth making. There are large numbers of people who are unable to get the surgery they need to carry on largely because of public unawareness of the need.

I think, though, that there are far better and more respectful ways of making that point - respectful of both the participants and the audience.

Was it necessary to lie to make the point? And if the answer is 'yes', what does that say about our culture?

Does it say that we won't take note of something important unless it's represented in a sensational way? Or, that we don't notice important issues unless they're communicated using shock treatment?

Actually, I think people are open to having their awareness raised and will respect those who try to do so without resorting to trickery. Take, as an example, the recent massive publicity given to the disappearance of young Madeleine McCann in Portugal.

In the UK, the plight of her family and their ongoing efforts to see the return of their daughter have been highlighted day and night on major TV networks and in newspapers over the past month.

Nothing that I've seen, heard or read thus far has suggested that the public feel in any way put off by this massive publicity of what is a shocking story. People don't seem to be offended by the amount of airtime given to the story even though it has raised some disturbing questions about international child-abduction rings and more.

On the contrary, people have taken their cues from the media, printing up posters and using them to raise awareness of Madeleine's situation.

People don't need hoaxes to get them to pay attention - if the publicity is handled respectfully and with compassion. Shock treatment of the kind we've seen with the Big Donor hoax is the cheapest way of attracting attention - and the least influential in the long-term.

The problem with shocks is that to be effective they must become more shocking overtime. One generation's 'extreme' is often the next generation's 'mundane'.

No major media company spends the time and money to produce and promote a prime-time project for purely altruistic reasons. Media is, after all, a business. Endemol, the company behind the hoax, want to make and need to make money.