Developing world docs hit all-time low

An increased focus on world news since September 11 has led to more international stories featuring on the main evening news bulletins, but a corresponding drop in international factual documentaries, according to research published this week.

A survey carried out by Steven Barnett, professor of journalism at the University of Westminster and an Observer columnist, concluded that factual television coverage of the developing world is at “the lowest level ever recorded”.

Commissioned by media charity and human rights lobbying consortium 3WE, the report said “the Iraq war’s domination of international news in 2003” meant that other stories were frozen out.

“[Iraq] led to some of the highest ever figures for developing country news. Other regions of the developing world, and other key story subjects, had very limited news coverage,” it said.

“While news planners have changed their policy to track the post-9/11 world, factual programmemakers appear to be burying their heads in the sand.

The statistics make grim reading,” said Paul Mylrea, head of media at 3WE member Oxfam.

According to the report, actual programming about the developing world on terrestrial channels was 40 per cent lower in 2003 than in 1989/90, effectively halving since the survey began that year.

While each of the five terrestrial channels broadcast its lowest ever level of developing country factual programmes “without exception”, BBC One and ITV1 each showed less than 20 hours of factual programming filmed in developing countries in the entire year, it said. The tendency had been towards “Brits abroad” travel programmes giving little insight into international cultures.

Only 24 factual programmes in the year dealt with issues of politics, development, environment and human rights in developing countries, marking a further drop of one quarter since 2000/01.

According to the report, half of the Ten O’Clock News’s output last year was on foreign affairs – the BBC’s highest ever level, up from 24 per cent in 1975.

Channel 4 News devoted 39 per cent of its coverage to foreign affairs last year, effectively the same level as when it began in 1982.

By Wale Azeez

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