Jackson's legal department is putting the finishing touches on a contract with the Arts & Entertainment Network reality cop show, "The First 48." The show, which makes docu-dramas out of murder investigations, shows the inner workings of a city's police department, and has filmed in cities like Miami, Dallas and, most recently, Memphis.
"First 48" doesn't purport to be journalism. But even though many people understand that reality television is first and foremost entertainment and last of all "reality," many believe what they see on these shows to be gospel.
Memphis has decided not to renew its contract with the show after City Council members voiced concern over the show's sensationalizing crime there.
"I heard out-of-town people say Memphis was out of control," said Memphis City Councilwoman Wanda Halbert to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "We were exposing the world to the worst aspects of our city."
Is this really how the citizens of Jackson want our city portrayed? The capital city is already dealing with the media's sensationalism of FBI crime statistics, and the stigma of the worst poverty in the nation coupled with a legacy of virulent racism that sticks to Mississippi like cockleburrs to a longhaired cat.
It's one thing to report about murders in Jackson; it's quite another to make public spectacle out of them.
We find JPD's willingness to put themselves on national television to be curious, given their reticence to providing timely information here at home. Reporters are frequently hindered because of unreturned calls, and our experience is that JPD conveniently shields itself behind interpretations of Mississippi's Freedom of Information laws when they choose to.
Who's looking for their 15 minutes of fame?
As far as actually lowering Jackson's crime rate, "First 48" has little chance of making an impact. To the contrary, the show would only make already poor perceptions about the city considerably worse.
What would be useful is JPD's timely dissemination of crime statistics by ward and compilation of historical trends, letting citizens understand where crime is located in the city in an effort to lower it. What would be useful is providing information to the local media in a timely fashion.
The city's dealings with "First 48" should be as public as the show will be. What, if any, exclusivity rights are being signed away to the show? The city's mainstream media should put aside its own sensationalism to challenge this decision. We do not see any benefit to nationally airing the worst aspects of the city we love in a manner that will not help the city solve its crime problems. The citizens of Jackson should say, "No, thanks" to "First 48."
Good to see that the Ledger's Ronnie Agnew is now agreeing with us that "First 48" is a bad idea. It is ironic coming from the paper that has sensationalized crime for years in Jackson, but it is a progress. Of a fashion.
Of course, it could be that they want the crime sensationalism to themselves. Or, at least a cynic might think such a thing.
Well the positive side I could see is that the police officers on camera would tend to act a bit more fair and politically correct with things, benefitting the public. You always hear about police brutality, profiling, etc. and that type of thing is less likely to occur with being filmed. Transparency tends to enforce good behavior.