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Date: Wed, 8 Feb 2017 09:14:54 +0000
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The Unreality of Reality TV: From "After Dark" towards Twitter, Big 
Data, and "Big Brother"
Organised by the Westminster Institute for Advanced Studies and Open Media
Fri, March 3, 17:00
309 Regent Street
Boardroom (RS117)
W1B 2HW London


High-velocity media, superficial news and sound bite-driven debates are 
increasingly shaping our public discourse. The Brexit referendum and the 
2016 U.S. election are cases in point. In the age of social media and 
digital television, what potentials and limits are there for 
strengthening constructive public debate? What are the roots of the 
present crisis and what can be done to fight back?

Sebastian Cody (Open Media) and Christian Fuchs (University of 
Westminster) will discuss transformations of television and digital 
media and how they impact the possibilities for public debate. Sebastian 
Cody will focus on the technical and historical context as a 
practitioner; Christian Fuchs will discuss the acceleration of the 
public sphere and its impacts on society.

Alternatives to superficial television are possible. The series “After 
Dark” – described in the television trade press as defining “the first 
10 years of Channel 4, just as “Big Brother” did the second" – ran 
between 1987 and 2003. Based on principles developed for “Club 2”, a 
debate programme broadcast by the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation ORF, 
“After Dark” was unique in the history of British television. The 
programme’s ground rules of absolute live broadcasting (no editing or 
delay) and open-ended intimate discussion meant that guests' utterances 
were uncensorable.

Roly Keating, former BBC controller and current Chief Executive of the 
British Library, described it as "one of the great television talk 
formats of all time". The subjects discussed ranged widely across 
national and international news events, while also exploring personal 
and private matters. As the programme faced challenges from 
broadcasters, government, the legal system and various vested interests, 
it was often a source of controversy.

Later iterations of ‘reality TV’ have shaped the current media culture, 
which is dominated by commercial logic. News and debate are served up as 
fast-paced entertainment on social media, and big data exacerbates the 
speed and superficiality of news, undermining possibilities for 
controversy and fruitful communication.

Sebastian Cody has been responsible for the production of “After Dark” 
throughout its history. As CEO of the production company Open Media, he 
has made many dozens of network television programmes, from game shows 
to investigative documentaries. In 2010 his company launched an online 
social history of Britain for the academic community alongside the BFI, 
BBC, The National Archive and others. He acts as a consultant for 
companies and NGO's and has been attached to the University of Oxford 
since 2001.

Christian Fuchs is Professor at the University of Westminster, Director 
of the Westminster Institute for Advanced Studies, and Director of the 
Communication and Media Research Institute. His research focuses on 
critical theory of society and the critical study of the media, 
communication(s), and digital media’s role in society. His most recent 
publications are the monographs “Critical Theory of Communication” 
(University of Westminster Press, 2016) and “Social Media: A Critical 
Introduction” (Sage, 2017; 2nd edition, forthcoming).

Forthcoming conference:

The 6th ICTs and Society Conference: Digital Objects, Digital Subjects: 
An Interdisciplinary Symposium on Activism, Research & Critique in the 
Age of Big Data Capitalism
With Antonio Negri, Antoinette Rouvroy,  Christian Fuchs, David 
Chandler, Etienne Turpin, Jack Linchuan Qiu, Jodi Dean, Kylie Jarrett, 
Orit Halpern, Paolo Gerbaudo

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