Discovery Channel Promises To Stop Lying To Us

philstr, via Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It’s fair to say that the Discovery Channel is not what it used to be. What was once an enthralling educational program that left you itching to learn more has disappointedly begun indulging the masses with sensationalist garbage and lies that have understandably tainted its reputation. But thankfully, we can now wave goodbye to “documentaries” that make science lovers want to tear their hair out as there’s a new president on the scene, and it seems he’s got some sense.

The channel’s new chief, Rich Ross, was elected as president in late October, but only officially joined the company this month. Yesterday, at the Winter TV press tour, he promised to stop broadcasting fake stuff, or "mockumentaries".

“It’s not whether I’m a fan of it,” he said, speaking about said mockumentaries, which we shall ignore. “I don’t think it’s right for Discovery Channel, and think it’s something that has run its course. They’ve done very well… but I don’t think it’s something that’s right for us.” And we’re glad to hear it.

While producing fake documentaries might seem harmless and amusing at first glance, such as convincing the credulous that mermaids actually exist, some of these are in fact damaging, and therefore not a laughing matter. For example, during shark week last year, rather than focusing on celebrating and admiring these wonderful animals, the channel decided to help perpetuate the idea that sharks are savage, cold-blooded killers.

They recycled an old (fake) story about a Megalodon (a giant, prehistoric shark that is now extinct) and convinced people that a 35-foot shark with an “insatiable appetite for human blood” had been terrorizing a coast off South Africa. Despite the fact that they included a small disclaimer, and the program also featured actors and doctored footage, many became convinced that this extinct animal still exists, something that has been frustratingly difficult to rectify.

Another stunt that received a bit of a slamming, to say the least, was their recent special Eaten Alive, which promised to show viewers naturist Paul Rosolie being gobbled up by an anaconda. Why, you ask? Well, apparently, Rosolie wanted to draw attention to deforestation that is threatening the snakes he cares so deeply about. Bit of a weird way to get the message across, though. And of course, understandably, Rosolie decided to bail out of this ridiculous stunt, which ticked a few people off.

When Ross was asked for his opinion about the documentary, he said: “It was the right intention with a packaging that was misleading. You don’t have to be so sensational. In his mind he thought [being eaten by the snake] was actually possible. But the fever of that story got out of control.” Much to our relief, he then added: “I don’t believe you’ll be seeing a person being eaten by a snake in my time [at the channel].”

[Via Deadline, Entertainment Weekly and BBC News]

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