________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 10 . . . . January 19, 2001

cover Truth Merchants.

Kevin McMahon (Writer/Director). Michael McMahon and Gerry Flahive (Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 1998.
45 min., 42 sec., VHS, $39.95.
Order Number: C9198 107.

Subject Headings:
Public relations.
Press and propaganda.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Katie Cook.

*1/2 /4

The theme of this video about the public relations industry seems to be summed up in a quote contained in the opening interview: "Truth is subjective." Unfortunately, the producers of the video sometimes lose sight of what it is that the video is supposed to do. The flashy opening lets the viewer know that PR is all around us, and that the media, in general, have more power than ever before. The glossy look of the piece is interrupted at regular interviews with what the producer and director seem to believe is really important. Small black and white circles appear on the screen whenever a subject is being interviewed. The colour action continues on the rest of the screen, and the voice of the interviewed subject does not totally mask the voices of the "main" picture. This leads to confusion. Students who do not concentrate, focus, or see well will not be able to follow what is important. Thus, the message of the video is often lost, as viewers are unsure where their focus should be. The background, because it is colour and big, distracts from the information, which is mainly auditory.

      Also, by diving from short clip to short clip, the purpose of the video is further obscured. Viewers will have to have the skills to watch intelligently and the patience to sift through conflicting images. The occasional entrance of a narrator tries to steer the viewer back to the purpose of the video but does not always suffice.

      The movement to and from what appear to be the main examples (to show how PR manipulates the opinions of the viewers) will also lose some viewers. A segment with an executive, being trained by his "handler" for a future TV interview, is shown six times throughout the video. A clip about dead research rats on a NASA space flight is shown on four separate occasions. A PR awards ceremony with the winner of a Starbuck's Coffee spin campaign is shown three times. Because these examples do not appear in their entirety anywhere in the video, and often repeat themselves, viewers may be tempted to shut down.

      One last concern for some schools may be the occasional vulgar language. Teachers looking for a good video to explain the purpose of public relations departments and their relationship with journalists will not find it here. Most students do not possess the viewing skills to collect the information that this video presents.

Not Recommended.

Katie Cook is a social studies teacher and a teacher-librarian at the Steinbach Regional Secondary School in Steinbach, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364