Broadcasters fear charity TV could reduce foreign coverage

A new service launched by APTN to provide a feed showing footage shot by aid agencies could be used by newsrooms to justify cutting resources for foreign coverage, it is feared.

In a climate of cost-cutting, and with so much cash being poured into covering Iraq, it would be “very tempting” to decide not to send journalists into a region, and instead rely on footage provided by UNTV”, said Rodney Pinder, former TV news editor at Reuters, a rival to APTN.

“You can just imagine, with so many cuts already being made in foreign news that someone would say ‘It’s OK, we don’t need to send anyone out there, we’ve got this from an aid agency’,” Pinder told Press Gazette.

Susan Farkas, director of radio and TV for the UN said: “Some people may air the material as it is. We want to get people’s attention and that’s why we’re putting our material out there.”

Pinder said during a debate at the News Xchange conference in Portugal on the relationship between aid agencies and journalists that it would be difficult to check all the material supplied by agencies before broadcasting it.

“How do we check out the pieces they send? It’s going to be extremely difficult, particularly when you can’t talk to the cameraman or the producer”, said Pinder, who is now director of the International News Safety Institute.

“Aid workers do their job well, but they are not journalists. They have not got the professional training or the background.”

Pinder added that as broadcasters frequently fail to label footage that is supplied to them by news agencies such as Reuters and APTN, he was not confident that material from aid agencies would be properly labelled.

Caroline Howie, head of news for BBC World, said she would not be happy using footage fromaid agencies as a sole source of material.

“Journalism is all about resources and it might help alert us to events,” she said.

But later she said she was concerned that it would be “only too easy to rely on that type of material when resources are so scarce”.

She added: “In Iraq at the moment there’s a lot of material that’s coming to us all that’s not first hand and if you use material like that you have to explain that your people may not have been in the place they are reporting on.”

Fergal Keane, the BBC’s special correspondent who chaired the debate, said he was aware of a growing “atmosphere of antagonism and contempt” among journalists and aid workers.

But Helen Boaden, the new director of news at the BBC, said journalists should not be cast as the victims of aid agencies.

“The onus is on us to check out a story before we go out somewhere,” she said.

“It’s our job to check out the accuracy of what we’re being told, whether it’s by politicians, aid agencies or the lady down the road.”

Sandy MacIntyre, director of news APTN, accused Pinder of “getting his wires crossed”.

He said APTN was looking at “giving a window on the world” to UNTV by putting out its footage but this was completely separate from APTN’s own bulletins compiled by its own journalists.

“We are not relying on UNTV for footage and we will continue to cover all the big stories,” he said.

By Julie Tomlin

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