Ballardian TV: Eyewitness

10May10

A new British TV show, Eyewitness, is a genuinely disturbing piece of “forced reality TV”. I’m not going to talk at all about it, cos I’m still processing how….warped it is. It is something that might have been imagined in JG Ballard or Philip K. Dick’s darker moments.

Featuring modern police officers schooled in cognitive interviewing techniques, at times it felt like an apology for the days of “hands-on” interrogations and lax investigations.

It was also intent on showing that eyewitness testimonies can’t always be trusted, and that the human memory is fallible. In order to prove this point, it asked a group of volunteers to provide eyewitness accounts of a murder. Told that they were participating in a documentary about memory, they were taken to a pub which, unbeknownst to them, had been rigged with hidden cameras and filled with actors. When a convincingly staged fight broke out and a man was stabbed, the volunteers looked understandably shocked.

None of them did anything to stop the fight, as Glenister pointedly observed, but I suspect that was because they were thinking: “This is probably something to do with that memory programme we just happen to be recording, so I better not intervene in case I ruin everything.” At least, that would be my excuse.

Quickly informed by bona fide police officers that the murder had been staged – letting them think it was real for too long would be cruel and probably actionable – the eyewitnesses were then interviewed rigorously, just as they would be in real life. The results were interesting, showing how people can unwittingly embellish and misrepresent things depending on factors such as personal values and Chinese whispers. The latter were provided by an undercover actor posing as a volunteer, and it was notable that many in the group took her fabricated sighting of a murder weapon at face value.

In the end, the police were satisfied that the eyewitness accounts broadly added up, but only after sifting through and discarding the various inaccuracies. The message, this time, was clear: if you can’t trust your memory, you can trust the police, who would definitely never charge someone these days simply for looking “a bit iffy”.

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One Response to “Ballardian TV: Eyewitness”


  1. 1 Reality Murder TV -Eyewitness BBC | Autodespair

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