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TV review: Starsuckers/Great Ormond Street

Starsuckers, More4 Great Ormond Street, BBC2

YOU may recall that tabloid gossip columns were a-twitter last year with colourful reports of Amy Winehouse's beehive catching fire, Guy Ritchie injuring himself in a bizarre juggling accident, and Girls Aloud's Sarah Harding revealing an unexpected passion for astronomy. You may also recall the revelation that all of these stories were falsehoods perpetrated by polemical film-maker Chris Atkins, who had contacted showbiz desks to show how easy it was for such lies to be printed as fact.

This amusing hoax – redolent of earlier stunts by fellow media provocateur Chris Morris – was part of Atkins's latest documentary, Starsuckers, in which he argued that our culture has been infected by a collusion of celebrity lure, the demands of 24-hour media, unchallenged PR spin and tabloid immorality.

The problem with this argument is that it is hardly original or revelatory. Yes, grooming your child for a career in showbusiness is a bad idea, as is sacrificing your morals in the pursuit of fame. And, what's that, the gutter press often make things up? Well, blow me. Unfortunately, Atkins seemed to think his film – structured into faintly patronising "lessons" – was ripping the scales from the eyes of an audience of gullible, unthinking sheep, whereas I doubt anyone watching wasn't already aware of how the modern media operates (incidentally, I'm aware that I'm part of it , but earning a crust writing snide reviews of Foyle's War isn't quite the same as ruining lives with underhand reporting and vicious lies).

Nevertheless, this admittedly worthwhile, albeit obvious, slice of polemic succeeded in exposing tabloid chicanery at its most cynical. Atkins secretly filmed PR overlord Max Clifford boasting about his disgusting exploits, and tabloid journalists indulging in the illegal practice of securing stories using medical records. Granted, by employing the sneaky tricks he was criticising, Atkins could be accused of hypocrisy, but I'd argue his findings were in the public interest. After all, isn't that the favoured excuse of the Murdoch press?

Atkins saved his only genuinely contentious statement until last, when he alleged that not only was money raised from Live Aid misspent, but that the Ethiopian government exploited the relief effort to assist in ethnic cleansing (albeit without much evidence to support his claims).

He also argued that the Live8 concerts (allegedly nowhere near as successful as its organisers claim) actually undermined the far more important political intentions of the Make Poverty History campaign. Not only did the likes of Elton John and Madonna draw attention away from the huge protests in Edinburgh, but the BBC actively diluted Live8's well-intentioned message by cutting to backstage celebrity interviews whenever a film about Third World debt appeared between acts. That's the problem with starving children, they just aren't as telegenic as Fearne Cotton.

Fortunately, Great Ormond Street, a new observational documentary series about the esteemed children's hospital, was unmarred by celebrity intrusion or cynical attempts to tug the heartstrings. Instead, this candid, moving yet unsentimental programme focused largely on the momentous ethical dilemmas faced by surgeons on a day-to-day basis.

Its dedicated staff mused long and hard over potentially fatal risks in the pursuit of saving young lives or, at worst, learning from their failures. A sensitive study of tragedy and hope.

 
 
 

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