July 28, 2008

Turf Talk: They Might Be Dirty Secrets, but We Have Heard Them All Before in the Racing World

By Martin Hannan

IF THERE'S one thing I cannot stand about the broadcasting media, it is the tendency of its gauleiters to keep repeating things. Just look at the number of repeats on the major channels this week - I got to 100 and stopped counting.

Formats that should have been put to bed years ago keep on being used, particularly with so-called 'reality' television, which in fact is usually as real as a plastic garden gnome.

Big Brother, for instance, is dead as a dodo, because even though the faces change, the concept of wannabe showoffs making fools of themselves is still the main theme. And if I see any more "stars" - usually z-list celebrities - singing, dancing, ice-skating or cooking, I'll demand a licence refund. Next up will be Celebrity Origami - don't laugh, some would-be producer is probably working on it right now.

Repetition gets even more annoying when it affects serious documentary programmes like Panorama. On Wednesday, the BBC's once- proud flagship current affairs programme will have another look at the sport of horse racing. The title of the programme is Racing's Dirty Secrets - well, there's an indication of balance and objectivity for you. Kind of gives the game away, don't you think?

Between Panorama and Kenyon Confronts - funnily enough, Peter Kenyon is the reporter for this show - the BBC has given racing a proper and thorough inspection over the past six years, and undoubtedly has done an excellent job in exposing the sort of corruption all punters knew existed but which could never be brought to light.

Now Panorama could well have some blistering new exclusive material on dodgy dealings by owners, jockeys and trainers that will cause jaws to drop in every stable and in the hallowed halls of the British Horseracing Authority. But something tells me that is unlikely, not least because the BHA have cooperated in the filming.

I'll tell you what Panorama does have which is new - they have some surveillance films used as evidence during the long trial of Kieren Fallon and others. You know, the one which ended with Fallon not guilty after the collapse of a prosecution case that was so inept it beggared belief.

Now everyone knows that all television news and current affairs depend on moving pictures. A former head honcho at ITN once defined it perfectly - "airliner crashes in Asia with many killed, probably an item near the end of the news...but film of an airliner crashing in Asia, now that's got to be near the top of the show".

Now Panorama has pictures, no doubt that sort of grainy film of furtive people which would make a saint look suspicious. They will show the tapes on Wednesday, and expect us all to keel over with shock at the fact that racing has some nasty people in it.

Sorry, BBC, but we have heard and seen it all before. Wednesday's programme better be full of stonking "dirty secrets", otherwise I and many people like me will conclude that the BBC and the police have collaborated in re-running the Fallon trial on television because they didn't like the outcome of the case.

There is already some evidence to back up that assertion. The BBC have had full access to the prosecution evidence, ie the surveillance tapes which were used at the trial. That is their perfect right as a media organisation. But when the BHA asked for the same tapes so they could comment more fully, they were refused. That's hardly British justice, is it?

I'll watch Panorama on Wednesday. It had better be good.

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