Born Risky? More Like Born Timid...
By Nick Ryle, Documentary Producer
The launch of a new, ITB sponsored report into how TV deals with climate change was an interesting, lively but ultimately depressing event.
Logic would dictate that our 2 public service broadcasters, The BBC and Channel 4 would take on some responsibility for communicating basic messages around climate change and the threat that the overwhelming majority of scientists agree is coming our way. But they don’t.
Climate change on TV is still seen through the same filter as any other genre. In this case, it’s a bit tricky to explain, there isn’t anything sexy to shoot, it’s scary, and it’s a turn off for viewers. Therefore, they don’t want to touch it. Yes, lip service is paid by “smuggling” the message in via other formats. Yes, Countryfile will include serious environment stories, but it is a staggering fact that no hour long documentary dealing with climate change ran on any main channel in the 12 months surveyed by the ITB report.
This is just not good enough. This is not just another genre. It is the subject that should be at the top of everyone’s agenda, from politicians through business to the man on the street. Surely, the challenge is clear. The real actions needed to combat climate change and to give us a chance won’t happen until they are perceived as vote winners. Those actions won’t be vote winners until people, particularly young people are convinced that something has to be done and that something will involve sacrifice and change. They’ll be convinced when they know the story and developing narrative.
The position of Channel 4 is particularly feeble. This is a channel with a clear public service remit. A channel whose current slogan is “Born Risky”. Cue sound of multiple jaws hitting the floor, because Channel 4 is probably as risk averse now as its ever been. Maybe it’s about to change, but from what Ralph Lee said last night, not so much so that it will take a risk to find an innovative way to put across the most important message of our time to a mass audience.
I’m in the production world and I’ve tried pitching climate change ideas to C4. At the moment, there is simply no appetite. Maybe the Global Warming Swindle farrago has left scars that haven’t healed, but saying it’s a difficult subject that will put viewers off is pathetic. Find a way. Make it a creative priority. Put out a brief to the brilliant pool of UK independent production companies to come up with the stunning film that will create headlines, stimulate debate, set the agenda and re-establish C4 as the campaigning, risk taking, upstream broadcaster it is currently pretending to be. They did it with the excellent Fish Fight. With the right will they can do it with climate change. Personally, I believe the story of the deniers and the culture of deniability is a fascinating one and offers a neat narrative to which the key messages can be justifiably attached. And if it doesn’t pull in the largest audience, so what? Done right, it will definitely attract noise and get C4 onto their beloved front pages. And C4 will have taken a risk on behalf of all of us.
The BBC have an issue with their editorial guidelines and their demand for balance and fairness. They can’t campaign or editorialise like other channels and that has to be accepted. However, when the scientific community is so united behind the overall evidence for climate change, what sort of balance is really required? Balancing the views of the Deniers against the science is comparing apples and pears – they aren’t the same thing. Yes, its complicated, but it would be wonderful to see some commitment from the BBC to finding a way through this issue.
To summarise, the current report card for UK broadcasters is a B- at best. This needs to change. Its just too important.
By Nick Ryle, Documentary Producer
[Invite read] I am pleased to invite you to this report launch jointly hosted by International Broadcasting Trust (IBT) and the APPCCG, examining television coverage of the environment in UK.
Key findings from the research will be presented, followed by a panel discussion.
Members of the panel will include:
- Bill Lyons, Executive Editor, Countryfile, BBC
- Dorothy Byrne, Head of News and Current Affairs, Channel 4
- John Smithson, Creative Director, Arrow Media
- Chris Rapley, Climate Change Scientist
- Caroline Haydon, author of IBT report
View From The Audience
by Nick Breeze
This week I attended the “Report Launch: International Broadcasting Trust’s ‘The environment on tv: Are broadcasters meeting the challenge?” in the House of Commons in Westminster. This was an interesting meeting that included the scientist, the NGO, the Channel 4 “Factual Programming Commissioner”, the BBC Producer, the report presenter and was chaired by MP and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group, Joan Walley. It was a valuable meeting because it brought together strands of the debate on why television, the UK’s most powerful mainstream media channel, was not putting out any programmes that directly discuss climate change.
I was with Nick Ryle, a TV documentary producer, who has had multiple experiences trying to pitch climate change programmes to Channel 4. They all fell flat. The broadcasters do not see it as their responsibility to communicate these challenges because they find it difficult. It is a great shame because what came across to the attendees at this report launch, and was voiced, was that these gatekeepers of the programming budgets, lack the creativity, and the will power, to tackle “the biggest drama that we have ever faced in the world”. That was a phrase that the scientist on the panel, Professor Chris Rapley, coined, and it is very apt. The Channel 4 factual commissioner repeatedly stressed that it was not his job to turn viewers off by presenting the reality of climate change. It was clear that he and his colleagues could not even conceive of looking at the issues as an opportunity to bring about a change in behaviour and policy through deeper understanding.
They asked repeatedly what we thought an audience could take away from a subject perceived as inherently negative. Nick Ryle said quietly that their statements were a “cop out” and this was echoed by others. We have a golden opportunity to look at the solutions that are available to us, in order to overcome the issues we face. It demonstrated, very clearly, a lack of coherent knowledge enabling these “experts” to act responsibly and creatively, thus bringing the audience on a journey towards demanding policy changes and comprehending the forces responsible for maintaining this dangerous and dying paradigm. The vagueness and self-satisfactory positioning of their authority was nothing more than stepping down from critical challenges when they should be stepping up and leading the way.
Understanding how the broader audience respond, should not mean taking no steps to engage them responsibly but rather a more coordinated and in depth strategy to break through and present the truth. Isn’t that what we expect from our mainstream media? It is, perhaps, the remit of the social media channels to take up that challenge and start to reach just as big audience in new ways. Still, there are many of us trying to do this but we do lack those large budgets and profile that can help us achieve those big audiences. All is not lost, we must simply continue. It means that the television takes another step down the road of irrelevance and ends up being little more than a means of escapism; carefully managed information for a large portion of voters who, we are told, cannot stand too much reality.
- Part 2: Environment In TV
- Environment in TV - The View From The Audience...
- Extended Interview With Dr Natalia Shakhova (& Igor Semelitov)
- Drought & Extreme Heating Will Increase Even If We Stop Emitting... But Doing Nothing Is Not An Option
- Bill McKibbon Comes To Town - A Personal Account Of Humanity In The Face Of Misdirected Authority
- Behind The Scenes At Exxon/Mobil
- Atlantic Pacific Breeze - Honey Bee Update Podcast
- CO2? Let Me Introduce You To My Little Friend: CH4 [Methane]!
- Playing Politics In The Arctic: To Drill Or Not To Drill
- Australia Suing Japan Over Illegal Whale Slaughtering