A state-of-the-art overview of global documentary programming ranging from independent films to "reality" TV shows such as Big Brother and Survivor.
Television and globalization have transformed the traditional documentary almost beyond recognition, converting what was once a film genre devoted to public service and education into a popular televisual commodity with productions ranging from serious public affairs programming to TV "reality" shows and "docusoaps." Realer Than Reel offers a state-of-the-art overview of international documentary programming that investigates the possibilities documentary offers for local and public representation in a global age, as well as what actually constitutes documentary in a time of increasing digitalization and manipulation of visual media.
David Hogarth focuses on public affairs, nature, and reality shows from around the world, drawing upon industry data, producer interviews, analyses of selected documentary programs, and firsthand observations of market sites. He looks at how documentary has become a transnational product through exports, co-ventures, and festival contacts; how local and regional "place" is represented in global documentary, especially by producers such as Discovery Networks International and the National Geographic Channel; how documentary addresses the needs of its viewers as citizens through public service broadcasting; and how documentary is challenging accepted conventions of factuality, sense, and taste. The concluding chapter considers the future of both documentary as a genre and television as a global factual medium, asking whether TV will continue to "document" the world in any meaningful sense of the term.
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Documentary in a Global Market
- 3. Global Documentary and Place
- 4. Global Documentary and Public Issues
- 5. Global Documentary and Meaning
- 6. Digital Documentary
- Selected Bibliography
By many accounts, these are either the best or worst of times for documentary and ultimately for its chief medium, global television. For the editors at Television Business International, the world is being swept by a wave of "documania"—by an unprecedented volume and velocity of real-life images that inform viewers about world affairs as never before. For veteran director Albert Maysles, on the other hand, global television is suffering from a glut of "McDocumentaries"—standardized factual products offering few aesthetic surprises and no political punch, serving to fill "500 factual channels with nothing on." This book assesses documentary as a genre and global television as a medium in light of these debates. It is organized as a study of nature and history shows, public affairs investigations, the "first person" real-life experiences featured in British and Australian "docusoaps," and the "staged but real" events showcased by American-style reality programs. In this book I examine variations of these genres around the world, focusing on their ability to represent places and public issues in meaningful and coherent ways.
Realer Than Reel: Global Directions in Documentary is principally designed to raise questions about documentary in a period of global and televisual transition. Documentary's factual authority, for instance, may become uncertain in the wake of digital manipulation techniques on the part of global producers and new modes of "aesthetic reflexivity" on the part of global audiences. In the same way, documentary authorship and point of view may have to be reconceived in the wake of series production and multimarket programming practices. Similarly, documentary aesthetics may become "post-cinematic" as sounds and images are produced on video for high-definition TV screens around the world. Finally, documentary's relationship with other genres may shift and blur as programs are produced, promoted, and distributed in increasingly "nondocumentary" ways. In short, this book begins with the observation that documentary must be rethought as a generic category in a global televisual age.
But documentary itself can also tell us something about global television. If television today is really best understood as a "homogenous, meaningless fantasy factory," a genre traditionally dedicated to the representation of places and public issues in more or less orderly ways would appear to be either a public service hangover or a market anomaly at best. A study of documania thus allows us to question, in a grounded and empirical way, conventional wisdom concerning local representation, free speech, and meaning in a contemporary televisual universe. It lets us investigate, that is, the ability of global television to document places and issues of collective importance for citizen-viewers around the world. This book is thus designed as an up-to-date critical assessment of documentary and the medium that carries it within and across borders. As in these preliminary comments, my intent throughout this study is to ask what has happened to documentary and what this tells us about television today.
Documentary as Film
Perhaps we should first take a look at documentary and the broad structural changes it has undergone in recent years. How, specifically, are factual sounds and images produced in new ways, and how has the genre evolved since its "Golden Age"—since its days as a form of public service cinema for the nation-state?
To begin with, documentary can be said to involve an entirely new medium and project—specifically the production of entertainment-oriented, mostly commercial programming for television. It was not always this way. As is well known, the public service documentary tradition—the tradition with which most documentary studies are still concerned—involved the production of factual films mostly unconcerned with immediate appeal or profit, designed to inform viewers about the world in which they lived. Film itself was an integral part of the plan. As productions, publicly supported factual films were seen to encourage diverse images and ideas, more or less free of the assembly-line compromises of broadcast culture. As texts, documentary films were seen to allow for formal experimentation and rigorous factual argument. And as viewing experiences, documentary films were seen to elicit the sort of dedicated, undivided attention by which mass audiences might be transformed into educated citizenries. Productions of this sort were supported by national film services around the world, particularly in Europe and areas influenced by it, from the 1930s to the present.
Documentary thus had its roots in twentieth-century notions of filmmaking and public life. Canada's National Film Board documentaries were exemplary in this respect. From the 1940s to the 1980s, NFB productions took anywhere from six months to six years to complete, according to former director Sidney Newman. They varied in style and substance depending on the complexity of their subjects and the approach of their filmmakers. And they tackled weighty social issues in an effort to provoke thought and even action on the part of citizen-viewers. Documentary filmmaking was thus largely conceived as a collective and specifically national cultural project.
Of course, these productions never encompassed documentary everywhere at every time. Throughout the twentieth century, many documentarists concerned themselves with formal and avant-garde experimentation rather than staid, civic-minded documentation per se. At the same time, many public service producers were less serious or sober than Golden Age accounts suggest, with nature filmmakers, for instance, often deliberately shocking and entertaining viewers, particularly in the broadcast sector. Finally, and crucially, viewers rarely responded to documentary messages in predictably public ways, at least not on a widespread or regular basis as far as we know. In short, documentary was always something more than civic-minded cinema. But be that as it may, it seems fair to say that filmic public service was the genre's dominant guiding principle, subscribed to in theory if not practice by producers, policy makers, and pundits around the world, from the beginning to the latter part of the twentieth century.
Documentary as Television
This makes recent changes to the genre all the more remarkable. In a word, documentary has been radically televisualized in recent years, giving rise to modes of production and consumption quite at odds with those described above.
The signs of televisualization itself are everywhere. In Europe, 94 percent of documentary funding now comes from broadcasters, domestic or foreign. In the United States, television money is nearly as dominant, often undermining various modes of cinematic and online distribution. And around the world, documentary investors look beyond cinema, with just one of thirty-seven recent RealScreen production workshops concerning itself with film distribution per se.
Televisualization in turn has entirely transformed the practices and pleasures of documentary as we knew it. In the televisual era, for instance, documentary production has largely broken with filmic modes of craftsmanship and public service. It may be unfair to call today's factual programs "McDocumentaries" with all the low-culture connotations that term carries. But for the most part, broadcast productions are quickly and cheaply produced compared with their filmic counterparts, often undermining a single producer's vision along the way. Unlike national cinema institutions, production markets like the specialty channels generally seek efficiently predictable factual products that build a brand image and fill a lineup (see chapter 4). They tend to commission series installments rather than stand-alone features (see chapter 5). And they usually pay rock-bottom license fees that encourage producers to coproduce with numerous partners for different markets (see chapter 3).
At the same time, these productions may compromise authorial integrity in entirely new ways. Certainly few documentary programs involve the imposition of a personal vision on an inviolable text (see chapter 2). Even fewer can be regarded as "authentic" projects of a single, grounded artistic creator. With productions routinely "co-ventured" and "re-versioned" for multiple markets, most of them concerned with broadcasting, notions of authorial control are increasingly subject to question. It is perhaps a sign of the times that the world's largest programmer in this area, Discovery Communications, plans to stop screening producer credits at the end of its shows, arguably making documentaries more anonymous than ever in the global broadcasting business. Indeed, one early observer's "shock" at "how little a director's work was considered" at a 1979 MIP world television market now seems almost quaint for its auteuristic concern.
As documentary production has changed, so have documentary texts. Clearly, factual sounds, images, and graphics have been fundamentally reworked for television markets, even if there is little precise agreement on what these changes have involved. For some critics, television produces flat, standardized texts; French cultural theorist Felix Guattari derides an obsession with meaning and "semiotic order." For more conventional public service advocates, television offers up "depthless" documentaries in which linear (and often lengthy) arguments are compromised by commercial interruptions and frivolous recaps. And for postmodern observers, television encourages genre-blurring and even semiotic disorder on the margins and in the mainstream (insofar as we can still distinguish them). It is true, as I will argue, that the "television effect" on documentary has been both more profound and less predictable than these models imply (see chapter 5). But critics are right to say that television has decisively changed the way factual images are packaged and produced.
Finally, documentary reception has to be reconceived in a televisual age and again in fundamental ways. The very structure of a documentary program—that is, the often incoherent mix of commercial interruptions, internal and external narratives, and direct and indirect modes of address—may lead viewers to engage with programs in a cooler, more detached way than traditional cinematic models of audiences suggest. Theories of textual interpellation, for instance—themselves subject to question in contemporary film theory—hardly explain the power and the pleasure of broadcast documentary. Certainly, a collage of sights, sounds, and styles—the overall documentary intake of a single night's multichannel viewing—hardly qualifies as a coherent diegetic space where a straightforward process of "identity formation" can take place. At the same time, a juxtaposition of documentary styles (insofar as it exists in most television schedules) may encourage a degree of critical distance on the part of viewers, undermining traditional notions of documentary authority along the way. Questions concerning the factual foundation of reality television and docu-animation can be seen as examples of this type of "aesthetic reflexivity," which seems to be both widespread (among critics and laypeople) and worldwide (see chapter 5) in scope. Again, in all these ways television requires us to rethink documentary, and from the ground up.
Documentary as Public Service Broadcasting
Clearly then, television tells us something about documentaries. But what do documentaries tell us about television? For instance, how have documentaries helped define systems and structures of broadcasting? And how specifically has the genre shaped and reshaped the medium that delivers it to viewers around the world?
Documentaries have shaped television in a number of ways. To begin with, factual programs in the documentary tradition have helped constitute public service broadcasting as we know it. It is not just that documentary television has been incidentally associated with the effort to represent events and issues in various parts of the world—there is more to it than that. Indeed, in the last half-century, documentary programs have introduced public service technologies such as videotape, color television, and digital broadcasting, which have recorded various aspects of the national life particularly in Europe and North America. They have helped create and define the discourses by which public broadcasters address national publics. And they have come to embody a dominant social realist aesthetic by which fact and fiction programs have been judged for truth and occasionally beauty.16
Of course many documentaries have fallen well short of these ideals, but the genre's overall contribution to public service programming has been undeniable. In Britain, documentary programs are seen to exemplify the BBC's ability to inform and entertain a national audience. In Singapore, they "nurture an intelligent and discriminating public." And in Canada, they demonstrate the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's ability to produce "high impact programming" that reaches audiences as citizens. Around the world then, documentary is seen as a public service bellwether—and even more importantly as a test of the nation's ability to represent itself to itself in a world without borders (see chapter 4). It is fundamentally in this sense that documentary remains a signature piece of national public service culture in a global age.
Documentary as Market Commodity
But there is another way of looking at documentary, a way that again requires us to rethink if not repudiate many of the public service assumptions which have guided its theory and practice for nearly a century. That is, aside from showing citizen-viewers life as it is or should be, documentaries serve to make money for their handlers, both domestic and foreign, around the world. For better or worse, documentary programs are increasingly produced and exchanged for profit within and across borders, independent of any easily discerned national "cultural" mandate. In part then, documentary must be regarded as a transnational commodity that tells us a good deal about commercial as well as public service culture in a global age.
On the face of it, this way of looking at things seems much less plausible than the first. To begin with, the arguments against global market television, documentary or otherwise, are compelling and varied. Curran, for instance, reminds us that most programs, factual and fictional, are produced "at home" for domestic markets. By most accounts, audiences prefer local shows where they are available—which they are in most genres and in most places. A number of recent market studies support these conclusions, and we can only agree with the author's dismissal of earlier predictions that "most people, most places will be watching 'Dallas' or the Olympics at the same time." Television, documentary or otherwise, shows no signs of going global, at least in a straightforward way.
Just as television has resisted globalization in the grand sense, it may have avoided the all-consuming commercialization process that goes with it. Public service television continues to dominate many broadcast territories, with many services dedicated to local culture first and global profits second. If people do not actually watch public channels, they may watch others with similar commitments, and much of their intake is guided by state regulations requiring, among other things, local information.
In short, documentary programs seem to be a perfect, stubborn case of broadcast domesticity. Indeed, even economists who defend the idea of a global cultural market consider documentary to be outside of it. Programming of this type is generally seen to be burdened with a high "cultural discount"—that is, an inability to cross borders with market value intact. At the most basic level, documentary's public service values—its concern with local places, local issues, and culturally specific ways of seeing—is seen to impede its ability to "travel." And if cultural economists have been wrong before—many assumed comedy would never travel well, for instance, until NBC's The Cosby Show became an international syndication hit—the obstacles to border crossing seem insurmountable in documentary's case. Kilborn's (1996) observation that the genre still does best in isolated public service pockets has been backed up by recent studies which suggest that, strictly defined, documentary has survived in Europe, parts of North America, Australia, and some of Asia and the Pacific Rim while disappearing in most of the rest of the world.
Empirical research thus suggests that documentary is a place-bound, commercially inert genre—a stubborn anomaly in a global market age. Even recent worldwide corporate projects—such as the various offerings of the Discovery network—can be dismissed as specialty services in the most diminishing sense of the term. Transnational documentary channels, for instance, seem to attract much smaller audiences than their domestic competitors, and many seem to operate as "duty" offerings that lend the cable and satellite services that carry them a much-needed public service veneer. For all these reasons, documentaries seem firmly grounded in the supportive terrain of local public service cultures. And as such, they seem to refute the existence of "post-national" television—at least as it has been conceived by its most exuberant market boosters.
But for all that, a closer look at documentary makes the idea of global television more credible, if more complex. First, statistics suggest that the worldwide market for documentaries is larger and healthier than most academic studies claim. Even if we exclude popularized documentary types such as reality television and docusoaps (which I will argue below we should not) the genre appears to account for at least 8 percent of the world television market, a sizable proportion compared with other seemingly more commercial categories such as quiz shows. Industry studies further have predicted that between 1995 and 2005, television documentary production will have grown at an annual global rate of 8.3 percent by volume and 2.4 percent by value, considerably above the industry average and probably an underestimate if one takes into account what other studies call the "seismic shock" of reality television on worldwide markets.
Not only have critics underwritten documentary's market value, they seem to have underestimated its global implications. It is important to remember—as many documentary studies do not—that the global and the local are not easily kept separate in today's factual marketplace. For instance, "global" documentary programs that receive transnational financing for exhibition around the world are usually produced by local companies, regulated by national policy agencies, and consumed primarily by "home" audiences. But just as surely, "local" independent documentaries often receive commissions from global corporations and funding from foreign investors, after which they may be entirely revamped for "local" screenings abroad (see chapter 2).
Even historically grounded public service projects have been "globalized" to this extent. Recent cooperative ventures between national broadcasters like the BBC and global operators like Discovery, for instance, suggest not just a degree of rapprochement but a more transnational market outlook on the part of the former. Though public service channels still serve home territories, more and more look for profits in foreign markets, independently of any easily discerned local "cultural" mandate. Expanded coproduction and syndication ventures are two examples of this trend, but there are others (see chapter 4), and it is important to keep in mind that public service documentary must now be seen as something more than a national or even international project, conceived within or between nation-states. In fact, as we shall see, global markets and local cultures routinely collide in ways that compromise the integrity of each. It is in this ambivalent "glocal" sense that documentary has taken a global direction. That is, while documentary remains grounded in local and national markets around the world, the creation, distribution, and reception of the programs is no longer strictly contained within national borders. In short, documentary encourages us to question the lines and flows of cultural production today. And in this way it may tell us something about global culture and its ability to represent our worlds.
Documentary as Global Culture
But tell us what exactly? There are, in fact, several questions concerning global culture that documentary might help us address in specific terms. Perhaps most important, at least in terms of the critical attention it has received, is the issue of cultural homogenization—the fear, as Arjun Appadurai has put it, that overcoming physical distance will result in overcoming cultural distance within information networks. In this view, places could look the same and eventually be the same, partly for want of proper documentary representation. For instance, globally circulating reality television formats could serve up homogeneous accounts of the "everyday everywhere"—dictated by standardized licensing arrangements and universal style guides (see chapter 3). Similarly, copycat nature shows could display generic flora and fauna, presented in a stultifying and ubiquitous American entertainment style (what one bemused Swedish producer calls the "feed, fuck, and kill formula"). Zygmunt Bauman's nightmare scenario of "everyone, everywhere . . . feed[ing] on McDonald's hamburgers and watch[ing] the latest made-for-TV docudrama" (or a glibly localized version thereof) seems to be in the making.
Also at stake here is the ability of global documentaries to deal effectively with issues of collective concern. The tendency of documentaries, particularly "dumbed down" commercial documentaries, to offer emotional first-person reports that circumvent any form of logical empirical argument has been the subject of much comment lately. So has an insularity of output, with documentary producers and programmers allegedly taking little interest in affairs beyond their own market borders (see chapter 4). Our question here is whether documentary has become a critically empty form incapable of dealing with local and global public issues of the day.
Finally, there remains the question of what global documentaries actually mean. Some observers have concerned themselves with issues of documentary coherence, that is, the ability of multiply authored, dispersed, and disorganized texts to make sense of the world in more or less unified ways; others have focused on facticity, that is, the ability of "post-representational" infotainment forms to support the epistemological foundations on which documentary "truth" was built. In both views, documentaries may be moving toward an amorphous "space" with few geographic and generic borders (see chapter 5).
There are other issues concerning global documentary, but these, it seems to me, are the outstanding ones. In this book I consider whether and in what way factual images will continue to allow for documentation in a hard or even a soft sense. And more specifically, I ask whether and in what ways global television will continue to represent places and public issues. In short, Realer Than Reel is concerned with the ways audiences around the world might understand and shape their lives in years to come.
Global Documentary in Theory
In doing so, I hope this book breaks new ground. To begin with, in Realer Than Reel, I deliberately focus on commercial and popular offerings particularly in the broadcast sector, and in this sense it is somewhat of an anomaly. For Steven, for instance, TV productions are barely worth considering because "new documentary," by its very definition, departs from "media-driven" formulas. For Zimmermann, only public service shows merit attention because "critical [documentary] investigations" have all but disappeared from commercial television. And for Roscoe, multicultural public service programs are interesting, but not domestic market shows that "play it safe." Even Stella Bruzzi, who sets out to examine "contemporary and accessible" British documentaries, devotes only one chapter of six to television per se. Realer Than Reel, by contrast, begins with the assumption that documentary should be scrutinized in the mainstream as well as the margins to better assess new types of local and public representation emerging in a global cultural marketplace (see chapters 3 and 4).
Further, the chapters that follow are specifically concerned with globalization, again at odds with the thrust of most documentary research. The few studies of global documentaries that do exist tend to be cursory and mostly abstract. Zimmermann's analysis of transnational market pressures, for instance, offers virtually no analysis of core institutions such as copyright regimes and coproductions. Similarly, Longfellow's study of Canadian historical reenactment exports ignores global production and promotion patterns entirely. In studies such as these, "real" documentary is still seen to emerge from the film circles of the nation-state. Here I focus on productions largely beyond these confines (see chapter 2).
Finally, in Realer Than Reel I consider the importance of documentary for global culture, again at odds with most research in the field. Documentary is not even mentioned in Verna's survey of global communication, which takes the "Live Aid" broadcast of the 1980s as its paradigm text. Similarly, Chris Barker's introduction to global television only considers news and live broadcasting as factual types. Meanwhile, studies by Winston, Corner, and Kilborn and Izod focus mostly on national public service documentaries and the ways they have been affected by internal and external market forces. In short, transnational research is largely absent from documentary research, while documentary analysis is mostly nonexistent in work on global television. My intention here is to bring documentary research up to date and global media analysis down to earth (or at least down to cases) by focusing on the specific ways documentaries circulate within and beyond borders. This involves a sensitivity not just to multiple national contexts but to the penetration of those contexts by forces that are no longer, strictly speaking, national or even international in scope. It is these "global" televisual forces that are the focus of this book.
Documentary: A Global Approach
But the question remains: What sort of global forces and global documentaries should we be concerned with here? What is a "global" documentary anyway, and how should we study it? And what might a global approach to documentary look like? Here I want to argue for a broad-based, contextual way of proceeding.
First, I believe a global approach to documentary should involve a more open-ended view of the genre itself. That is, we should adopt a flexible definition of documentary to suit the social, cultural, economic, and technological circumstances in which it now operates. After all, if television calls into question cinematic theories and markets partly undermine conventional notions of public service and transnationalization challenges Eurocentric models of all these institutions, then a wide-ranging global understanding of documentary would seem to be not just appropriate but indispensable.
In practical terms, a global approach would begin by investigating so-called documentary "mutants" and transgressions. Rather than dismissing reality shows, for instance, as bastardizations of long-held documentary truths or the dumbing-down of conventional documentary styles or even the "sexing up" of traditional documentary program packages, a global approach would investigate the ways these shows may, under certain circumstances, be as natural, unstaged, and epistemologically secure as their national public service counterparts, as serious and socially engaged as conventional public affairs programming, and as sober and even self-important as the most pompous public service package. It is worth pointing out, for instance, that studies in France and the United States have noted a progressive blurring of documentary and reality TV substance and style, a trend that may become more pronounced as generic (and geographic) boundaries take new shapes. Here I will argue (particularly in chapter 5) that documentary fringe forms can no longer be dismissed as simple counter types outside a "real" documentary corpus.
Second, a global approach to documentary should consider new types of information concerning new types of programming—specifically information about markets, much of it coming from producers themselves. That is, just as we take into account a global range of documentaries, we should keep in mind the complex interrelations between these programs and the cultural, technological, and political-economic spaces in which they now operate. In other words, no matter how inclusive, textual analysis is not enough. A global approach should attend to the material as well as symbolic forces that give rise to documentaries in different contexts.
Again in practical terms, a global approach would view documentaries as something more than symptomatic texts—texts that tell us something about larger texts such as particular cultures or deep-seated social preoccupations, for instance. Instead, we should examine documentaries more broadly as contingent outcomes of particular technologies, budgets, and scheduling needs emerging in conjunction with broader cultural forces. To return to our old example, reality shows should be viewed not just as postmodern paradigms but as organizational artifacts—for instance, as lineup items that helped British public service programmers compete with their fiction-focused private counterparts or marketing devices that allowed U.S. network producers to align new products with new ads. Programs like these—along with other documentary types—arguably reflect specific industrial conditions as much as they do a broader zeitgeist. As such they remind us of the need for contextual as well as textual study in global documentary analysis.
Finally, a global approach should pay more attention to the testimony of cultural producers in various countries and various markets. That is, if we are contextually concerned with the ways economic, political, technological, and cultural-textual forces come together to produce documentaries around the world, then we should also attend to what I will call the metadiscourses of the documentary market. Of course, this involves paying attention to techno-forecasts, investment reports, and policy statements. But more, it requires that we concern ourselves with discourses about documentary discourse that emerge from market as well as academic circles. Simply put, documentary producers and handlers may have a good deal to tell us about the conditions and consequences of their work. After all, many practitioners regularly appear at theoretical sites such as festivals, forums, and conferences where they must explain their work, and most of them work under the scrutiny of cultural guardians, near and far, policing the borders between information and entertainment, good taste and bad, and the "authentic" and the "staged." For all these reasons, documentary may have become a globally reflexive practice—a practice that draws upon local and distant understandings to make documentaries differently (if in the most incremental of ways). This makes the views of global documentary "agents" all the more worth attending to.
With these considerations in mind, this book examines a wide range of documentaries from a number of perspectives. Specifically, Realer Than Reel examines public affairs, nature, and reality shows from around the world, drawing upon industry data, producer interviews, selective textual analyses, and firsthand observations of market sites. These issues are approached from a number of points of view. Chapter 2 considers documentary globalization through a region-by-region breakdown of market activity in Europe, the Americas, Asia, Australia, Pacific islands, and Africa, focusing on growing transnational links in the form of exports, co-ventures, and festival contacts. The chapter concludes with an examination of the global documentary channels serving these markets, providing a wide-ranging snapshot of documentary production today.
Chapter 3 takes a more conceptual tack, considering what documentaries tell us about the representation of place on global television. This discussion challenges the assertion that emerging "international styles" have made the genre largely incapable of dealing with the particularities of regions and locales and takes as its case study the "glocalization" strategies of Discovery Networks International, the National Geographic Channel, and France's Odyssey service. Recent regulatory efforts to impose domestic content quotas are examined in Europe, Australia, and Canada, along with producer initiatives to ensure local self-representation. The chapter concludes with a critique of the way "place" has been conceived in all of these discourses.
Chapter 4 considers whether and in what ways documentary programming will address its viewers as citizens. Issues of free speech and documentary diversity are considered in light of recent patterns of consolidated program distribution (by a small band of documentary super-channels) and "post-fordist" specialized production (by a growing number of independent and semidependent producers). This discussion is followed by an examination of censorship, copyright laws, and various other restrictions on the free flow of documentary images across borders. Best- and worst-case scenarios of documentary public service are considered, based on an analysis of public service broadcasting in Canada, "diasporic" public programming in Europe, and reality television in a number of markets (including the migration of the Survivor series from Sweden to Britain to the United States). In light of this evidence and drawing on recent discussions concerning post-national public spheres, chapter 4 considers whether, as one critic puts it, "the space for documentary to explore difficult issues in faraway places is shrinking every year."
Chapter 5 is concerned more broadly with documentary meaning in a global age. This discussion focuses on the supposed collapse of notions of facticity and taste, coherent viewing practices, and, indeed all temporal and spatial boundaries in factual program service. Chapter 5 examines digitalized production, channel zapping, and computer-assisted distribution in this light and concludes with a case study of hybrid docusoap programming around the world—where distinctions in conventional meaning have arguably collapsed while at the same time allowing for the reassertion of traditional (and often local) notions of facticity, sense, and taste.
Chapter 6 considers the future of documentary as a genre and television as a global factual medium, taking as its case study a new wave of documentary multimedia services being developed at CNN, PBS, and the BBC. This chapter, like the three preceding it, includes selective but in-depth analyses of national, public service, postmodern, and "post-televisual" texts. All of this material is designed to consider whether television will continue to "document" the world in any meaningful sense of the term.