Environment in TV - The View From The Audience...

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[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.

Nick Breeze

Twitter: @NickGBreeze

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