The BBC & The International Broadcasting Trust
By Paul Homewood
Thanks to Maurizio Morabito, we now know the identities of the 28 “top scientific experts” who attended the seminar at the BBC’s television centre in London in January 2006. As we have now discovered, the 28 were not “top scientific experts” at all, but merely the usual bunch of NGO’s, environmentalists and commercial interests.
But what about the IBT, who organised the seminar? According to their website :-
The International Broadcasting Trust is an educational and media charity working to promote high quality broadcast and online coverage of the developing world. Our aim is to further awareness and understanding of the lives of the majority of the world´s people – and the issues which affect them.
Our work focuses on three main areas of activity:
– lobbying Government, regulators and broadcasters
– dialogue with the main public service broadcasters
– research on broadcast and online coverage of the developing world
We regularly publish research and organise events to encourage a greater understanding of the role which the media plays in engaging people in the UK with the wider world.
We are a membership based organisation. We organise briefings for our members so that they can work more closely with broadcasters and producers.
IBT is a membership based organisation. Our members determine our strategy, mission and vision. They come from a range of organisations who work in issues related to development, the environment and human rights. IBT is managed by a Board of Trustees who are all elected members.
Their current membership includes the following:-
It is noticeable just how intertwined these organisations tend to be. For instance the “Stop the Climate Chaos Coalition”, who were one of the attendees at the seminar, share Oxfam, WWF, Christian Aid, Tearfund , CAFOD and UNICEF as members. Another attendee, the IIED also list Comic Relief, Oxfam, PANOS, PLAN and WWF as funders.
In their latest Annual Report, the IBT claim “some important lobbying successes”:-
This year has been marked by some important lobbying successes for IBT including the introduction of a new international purpose as part of the Channel 4 remit, along similar lines to the BBC’s global purpose. The BBC Trust has agreed to amend the BBC2 licence as a result of lobbying by IBT.
We have continued to work in partnership with Channel 4 and the BBC, holding regular meetings to discuss how they plan to implement the international aspects of their remits. We have also worked with other broadcasters including Sky News. Our series of briefings with commissioners has continued. This year we heard from Siobhan Sinnerton, Channel 4 Commissioning Editor, News and Current Affairs; Tim Miller, Senior Foreign Editor, Sky News; and Jo Confino, Executive Editor of The Guardian. We organised a workshop at Sky News to look at the new BGAN lightweight satellite terminals.
This year we have also focused on climate change, organising a joint event – as part of One World Media Week – with The Guardian, Oxfam and Ipsos MORI entitled “Climate change – has the media got it right?” As part of our work on climate change we submitted evidence to the BBC’s Science Impartiality Review. We argued for changes in the way in which the BBC reports climate change in order to improve the quality of debate about the likely impacts, particularly in developing countries.
We have also launched a new International Development Media Panel to bring together a small group of influential media players from press, online and television to review the impact of IBT’s research and our other media initiatives, and to advise on future strategies.
So it appears that the IBT’s tentacles extend deep into, not only the BBC itself, but also the BBC Trust, which is the governing body of the BBC. This is an important distinction, as the Trust is supposed to work independently to the Executive Board and review the work of the latter. If the BBC Trust have allowed themselves to be influenced by the same group that have been working hand in hand with the management of the BBC, they clearly have not been doing their job. The Trust is a sovereign body within the BBC, and they have a statutory duty to maintain this independence as the guardian of the public interest.
One is also entitled to ask why an outside organisation such as the IBT has been allowed to infiltrate meetings with the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky in order to “discuss how they plan to implement the international aspects of their remits”. What business is it of the IBT? Editorial policy concerning current affairs at any TV station should not open to interference from any outside group, particularly when the BBC is involved, which is publically funded and has a duty to be impartial. Why did not the BBC and the others simply tell the IBT that such attempts to influence editorial policy were unwelcome?
REAL WORLD BRAINSTORMS
Let’s now take a look at the document issued by the IBT, “Real World Brainstorms”, which describes the series of seminars that they organised for the BBC . The introduction states :-
The International Broadcasting Trust (IBT) has been lobbying the BBC, on behalf of all the major UK aid and development agencies, to improve its coverage of the developing world. One of the aims is to take this coverage out of the box of news and current affairs, so that the lives of people in the rest of the world, and the issues which affect them, become a regular feature of a much wider range of BBC programmes, for example dramas and features. The BBC has agreed to hold a series of seminars with IBT, which are being organized jointly with the Cambridge Media and Environment Programme, to discuss some of these issues. So far, 6 seminars have taken place. They have had a significant impact on the BBC’s output and have also provided a unique opportunity for dialogue between those working in development and broadcasters. As a result of the success of these seminars, further brainstorms are now planned for 2008.
Details of each of the six seminars follow :-
The first seminar took place in London, on Thursday May 20, 2004 and the second in Cambridge, on September 16 and 17, 2004. Each event was attended by 20 senior BBC executives, including the Director of Television, the Channel Controllers for BBC1, 2 and 4, the Heads of Drama, Documentaries, Specialist Factual, Learning, Children’s, News, Current Affairs and Sport. 20 developing world experts also attended. They included academics, film makers, writers, grassroots activists, representatives from UK based NGOs (including Barbara Stocking, the Chief Executive of Oxfam), Government Ministers and business leaders. The Kew meeting was addressed by Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State at the Department for International Development. Delegates traveled to the two seminars from a number of countries including Pakistan, South Africa, Mexico and Haiti.
A one day event was held in London on January 26 2006, focusing on climate change and its impact on development. The brainstorm brought together 28 BBC executives and independent producers, this time including several from BBC News, and 28 policy experts. It was chaired by Fergal Keane and looked ahead to the next 10 years, to explore the challenges facing television in covering this issue. Several delegates attended from developing countries, including Ethiopia, China and Bangladesh.
On September 14 and 15 2006, another one and a half day event took place at Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge. The theme was ‘interconnectedness’ and there was also a particular focus on Latin America. Many of the BBC participants were drama and comedy producers, directors and writers. One of the aims of the seminars has been to persuade non factual programme makers to introduce international themes and stories into their programmes. As a result of the Kew seminar, the BBC commissioned Howard Brenton to write a drama on contemporary China. It is now recognised that drama, comedy and entertainment offer ways of reaching new and wider audiences. One of the most popular programmes in the BBC’s Africa season was the Richard Curtis drama Girl in the Café which was produced by Hilary Bevan-Jones who attended our New Hall seminar.
A one and a half day event was held on July 12 and 13 at New Hall College, Cambridge entitled ‘Telling stories about an interconnected world: the challenge to broadcasting.’ There were four ‘carousel’ sessions with a wide range of experts, who all approached the theme of an interconnected world from different angles. Some of the specific issues explored included innovation, design, migration, generational differences and the role of global business. This was a very successful event. The BBC’s upcoming India and Pakistan 07 season was highlighted and broadcasters found the interconnections theme challenged them to rethink the nature of their work. The specialists appreciated the opportunity for a deeper insight into media decision making. There was recognition of the need to acknowledge some of the complexities and contradictions in communicating global stories. Roly Keating, the Controller of BBC2 took up this theme in his closing remarks ‘We’ve got to keep challenging the frames in which we put these stories because every frame – whether a news item or a classic 60 minute documentary – carries with it all sorts of inbuilt rather unexamined assumptions about the way we tell the story.’ Roly urged producers and commissioners ‘to generate more variety – shapes, tones, formats – because the liberation of coming at these subjects from a completely different spirit is so breathtaking.’
Finally they present their plans for 2008.
There will be a one a half day brainstorm in Cambridge in July 2008. The specific focus has yet to be agreed but one of the aims will be to invite producers and writers, in addition to BBC executives and independent producers. It will also provide an opportunity to see how well the BBC is doing in fulfilling its new purpose of ‘bringing the world to the UK’.
It is utterly unacceptable that the BBC, right up to Controller level, has been so closely involved with an organisation, that has made no secret of its objective to lobby “ on behalf of all the major UK aid and development agencies”. The BBC Trust has a statutory duty to “protect the BBC’s independence” and should now be taking action to discover whether this has been compromised and hold the executive management accountable for any such lapses.
It is ironic that another of the Trust’s objectives is “to set new standards of openness and transparency”. Many would ask they did not do so when the BBC’s lawyers were fighting Tony Newbery’s FOI request.