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Last night’s TV: Bogus Beggars


Ireland’s Bogus Beggars (TV3) is as bogus a title to a programme as Irish television has ever come up with. A months-long investigation into organised begging in Ireland, it focused on the Roma community, which it seemed determined to prove was at the centre of a massive scam involving international crime rings making a fortune off the back of innocent Irish do-gooders.

In the end, reporter Paul Connolly had to hold his hands up and agree that there was nothing there – no gang, no Mr Big at the head of it and no huge money to be made from begging in Ireland. Instead he found a world of “extreme poverty, desperation and a community struggling to survive”.

Sometimes, even when you’ve put months of work and no little resources into an investigation, there’s still no story. In those circumstances, you don’t do the story. But someone in TV3, much higher up than Paul Connolly, seems to have decided that one way or another they would get an hour of television from his work.

The result was an embarrassing shambles, which shames TV3. It promoted the programme on the basis that it was an expose of organised begging in Ireland even though it knew it wasn’t.

“TV3 Infiltrates The Sinister World Of Organised Begging in ‘Ireland’s Bogus Beggars,’” said a press release accompanying the preview dvd, a claim in direct contradiction of what the programme revealed and one which will surely lead to letters to the broadcasting complaints people.

Connolly did his best, but his original sources about gave him a bum steer. All he found was that some Roma do beg in an aggressive manner (which is against the law), but two minutes on O’Connell St would have shown that. Some Irish people beg in an aggressive manner, too. It’s hardly investigative journalism.

Where the programme really scraped the bottom of the barrel was in its interviews with members of hard-right, anti-immigrant groups – our equivalent of the British National Party - who described the Roma as “leeches” who had nothing to contribute to Irish society and who should be deported, every last one of them.

The initial editorial decision to involve these people in the documentary was bizarre, but to include what they had to say even after the investigation had established that there was no Roma crime ring, no organised begging and no huge profits being made by the beggars, was unforgiveable. To say the programme was disappointing would be an understatement. It was a disgrace.

Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model did bring disappointment, however. After she was approached by Elle McPherson in Brown Thomas earlier in the year and asked to take part in the show, Dubliner Hannah Devane had raised expectations that she might make a name for herself in a business where Irish people traditionally have very little success at all.

Last night, however, she was dumped from the contest after failing to impress during a photoshoot in Carton House in which he had to hold a bird in her hand. This is not as straightforward as it sounds. Birds peck at you, refuse to sat still and crap on your frock. Hannah did very well under the circumstances, it seemed to me. Her main failing, however, was that she looked too nice.

The problem with Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model is that it is too nice as well. Despite the occasional no-holds-barred shouting match between the wannabe models, there in none of the real tension or bad-feeling you get when you put a bunch of strangers in a house and set them off in pursuit of the same prize.

There were no histrionics from Hannah Devane at all, no bitchiness, no desire to undermine any of the other contestants. Having been plucked from obscurity to take part in the contest – and with no previous interest in modelling – she simply didn’t want it enough.

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She was happy to show up for whatever task was required, be nice to everyone, look fantastic and hope for the best. Her calmness was mistaken for indifference and she was sent home.

This is a proper show about modelling, in the way same way that The Committee Room is a proper show about the GAA or Prime Time is a proper show about current affairs. It will be of undoubted fascination to viewers who have a previous interest in the topic, but for the rest of us, there just isn’t enough tension of excitement or good old human drama to keep us watching.

Such tension as there is is understandable. The multi-layered prize – a mixture of magazine photo shoots, a campaign for the Miss Selfridge chain, luxury cars and holidays – is as big as it gets in reality tv. As the finishing line starts to come into sight for the remaining contestants, it’s no wonder they’re getting a little jumpy.

That the jumpiness doesn’t turn into full-scale warfare is down to Elle McPherson, the show’s guiding hand, and principal judge. Early in the series, when the contestants were still being chosen, she ended the requirement for them to wear swimsuits. It was too demeaning, she said.

That protective nature extends to the finalists. She is quite clearly on their side and such words of criticism as she has are encouraging rather than harsh. She seems equally determined to protect her show from tabloid headlines about “catfights” and squabbling models, and to show off modelling’s good side.

She’s certainly achieved that, but in doing so has ended up with a very dull television programme.

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