Sunday 4 September 2022

British Archaeologists Caught Out by Cheap Goggle-box Publicity Stunt

A professional man and his female colleagues
Some archaeologists naively thought they'd go on TV and "promote archaeology" through promoting "Responsible Metal Detecting" within the framework of a programme called "Digging for Treasure Tonight". It seems they were not too good at critically reading the fine print of their contracts or the detailed programme synopsis, which has already led to all sorts of ambiguities, issues and problems. It also meant they pretty soon got caught up in the production company's attempts to boost ratings by getting people talking about the show in a most unsophisticated manner.

One of the three co-presenters posted a photo of himself with the two female co-presenters standing in the middle of a field with the text:
Dan Walker @mrdanwalker · 27 sie
Fantastic response to Dogging For Treasure last night and great figures! [...] ­čśé
See you next Friday at 9 @michaelastracha @Raksha_Digs @dfttc5
At the time, Twitter had no edit button, meaning that everybody else who posts up a text with a typo in it simply deleted the whole text and reposted it in the correct form. Dan Walker did not do that, simply drew attention to it by feigned embarrassment. What is notable is that the two females mentioned in that tweet and labelled "doggers" (one of whom is the President of the Council for British Archaeology) played along with the ribald remark and tried to laugh it off. Over the past few years the treatment of women in British archaeology, including sexism and harrassment, has become an issue that is discussed much more than it used to be. I wonder how may women in the discipline feel that their interests are being served by Raksha Dave responding with a smiley instead of a rebuke and demand that this boorish oaf take down that remark? I wonder how many male and female archaeologists (Andrew Agate, Helen Geake et al) appearing in the programme felt that this cheap publicity stunt demeans the women involved, and themseves? This tweet was made a week ago, I assumed that Dan Walker might have reflected about what he had done and what it meant, but absolutely not. Not only has the original tweet not been deleted (Sept 4th 2022), but he is still jocularly drawing attention to it.

And, as may have been predicted, the social media "discussion" on and following episode two makes zero mention of "responsible metal detecting", but mainly consists of unsophisticated remarks on the "dogging" theme. So what that the arkies produced "guidelines"? That's not what interests the people drawn to this programme. How can the archaeologists involved in this kid themselves that this programme, and they, will be taken seriously when that is the main association most viewers now have about it and their work? 

This episode I think highlights the appalling naivety of those who think that one can communicate archaeological values in this way. I think it also shows the weakness of the professionals that allow themselves to be pushed around, and their professional values pushed aside because some commercial company needs somebody to fill the screen and legitimise what they are doing. It seems the professionals involved did not have the gumption to stand up and say immediately they became aware of this publicity stunt: "I don't give a tinkers what you put on the contract, I'm not going to allow you to treat me in this way!". This implies that equally, they would not have what it takes to get the production company checking there was a licence for a piece of work featured in one episode or sorting out the ambiguities of working with a commercial metal detecting event organizer, or all the other issues this show raises. 

Archaeology really needs to rethink how to work with the media, not for personal aggrandisement, but for the benefit of the discipline we represent on screen. Where is our Code of Practice and professional guidelines on this? (CBA?? CIfA?).

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