The term ‘Based on a true story’ has long been a grey area in the world of cinema with the level of dramatisation broad ranging and often unclear. In a similar vein, the current political climate has seen growing scrutiny of social media posts and news coverage. It seems that the increasingly competitive TV and streaming sphere is also seeing amplified curiosity surrounding the blurring of truth and fiction.
Goop, released on the 24th January, is the latest Netflix series to be accused of deliberately spreading misinformation in the name of entertainment. They’ve been facing fierce criticism from the NHS England chief exec, Simon Stevens, as a result. It’s not the first time Netflix has been accused of this either. Early 2019 saw Root Cause, which suggested that root canal treatment causes cancer despite no empirical evidence, removed from the platform after backlash. Amazon too faced similar criticism for Shoot Em’ Up: The Truth About Vaccines, a topic that’s caused controversy for decades (it was removed from Prime search results last March). Traditional broadcasters have also been unable to steer clear of this conundrum. For example, the BBC was maligned by agricultural groups following the release of Meat: A Threat to Our Planet? which they believed to twist facts to suit their anti-meat cause.
It’s not uncommon for documentaries or dramatisations of real-life events to be released with little or no disclaimer, leading them to be taken as truth and leaving the shows open to reproach. The impact of trust in broadcasters this has is little understood but, with shows such as Game Changers increasingly influencing how people live their lives, it’s something they should contemplate if they want to avoid the increased calls for regulation social media giants are currently embroiled in. That said, some shows are already conscious of their impact. ITV’s White House Farm, for example, features a clear disclaimer at the start of each episode about the background of its dramatisation of the infamous murders.
Whose responsibility is it to inform audiences about the level of truth behind such shows though? Referencing the fallout from Goop, Netflix points out that the show is “designed to entertain, not provide medical advice”, which seems somewhat fair. Perhaps it’s the responsibility of audiences to tread carefully when viewing them? Particularly if they are considering making lifestyle changes as a result. These questions become even harder to answer when the line between truth and fiction is unclear or debated. Whose responsibility it is, we don’t know, and it’ll be interesting to see if and how such cases may be regulated in the future. For now, all we can say is; don’t believe everything you watch folks!