Television is too parochial, claims charity group

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The Independent Online

British televison has become increasingly insular over the past decade, according to a wide-ranging study published today. There are now far fewer international factual programmes on our screens, and those that appear tend to be about travel or wildlife rather than culture or current affairs.

British televison has become increasingly insular over the past decade, according to a wide-ranging study published today. There are now far fewer international factual programmes on our screens, and those that appear tend to be about travel or wildlife rather than culture or current affairs.

Channel 4 and Channel 5 and ITV are named as the worst offenders in "dumbing down" international factual programming, so far that both ITV and Channel 5 are in danger of falling short of their licence obligations to provide "diversity" in programming.

Commissioned by 3WE, a group of charities including Oxfam, the World Wide Fund for Nature and Christian Aid, the research finds the amount of international factual programming has dropped by 42 per cnet in the past decade, while 58 per cent of the remaining programmes are about travel or wildlife.

ITV's record is so bad that it could run into trouble with the Independent Television Commission (ITC), which grants its licence to broadcast, the report finds. The network's output of international documentaries fell by more than half to just 64 hours during 1998-99.

The report laments the passing of ITV's First Tuesday strand, which "every month showcased important documentaries, including the October 1988 Afghansti on Soviet conscripts serving in Afghanistan".

Channel 5 is also condemned for its pitiful lack of international factual programmes. These are almost exclusively old wildlife films, many made up to 25 years ago for Anglia Television's Survival strand. The few additional foreign programmes are dominated by travel shows such as Russell Grant's Postcards.

Although Channel 5's licence requires one hour a week of national and international affairs, the report finds that "at present it appears to be providing no international current affairs at all".

Channel 4 is also criticised. Overall, its international factual programming has almost halved, and there were almost no international subjects in its highly regarded Dispatches reports last year.

This, the study states, is in sharp contrast to 10 years ago when in the Dispatches strand there was "a clandestine report from inside Tibet and an instant report on the collapse of the Czech communist regime".

Also, The World This Week, the channel's excellent international current affairs magazine, has disappeared.

A decade ago, the report observes, there seemed to be space available on Channel 4 for non-British perspectives, including the 50 programmes and films commissioned for the Soviet Spring season. "These genuinely international perspectives seem to be missing in Channel 4's schedules", the report says.

The record on factual programmes on developing countries is even worse, and has fallen by almost 50 per cent since 1989. BBC1's output has also dropped, by 28 per cent, and BBC2's by 37 per cent.

One important mitigating factor, however, is that the decline in international factual programming has been measured against 1989 - a year in which there was an unusually high amount, partly because of the brutal crushing of the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square, Peking, and the overthrow of communism in eastern Europe.

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