By Siobhán Sheerin, Senior Communications Officer, Concern Worldwide UK
I attended February’s IBT briefing with the BBC’s Today programme assistant editor, Laura Cooper.
It was a full room of course; after all, the Today programme is an institution, and in many ways sets the broadcast news agenda for the day. In the words of Laura herself, Today has the “luxury of beginning a conversation for the day”, and its prominence internationally and domestically means it always attracts significant players.
Right now anyone who works for an NGO is acutely aware that given the current, rather febrile, political environment, there is no shortage of domestic news – so how do we get more ‘under the radar’ stories with an international focus on to the news agenda?
Compelling human narratives
Laura said that Today was looking to expand its international focus, and cited an example of an upcoming trip to Beirut to look at the dilemmas facing Syrian refugees who are considering returning home. She also talked about the positive response to some of the recent outside broadcasts with Mishal Husain – one from Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, and one from Gaza, which focused on mothers on each side of the divide. The reason for their success she said was a “compelling human narrative.”
Given the context most NGOs work in, “compelling human narratives” is not something we are short of. We have hundreds of human stories to help personalise the issues we want to highlight. We also have a responsibility to the people we work with to make sure their stories are told. Maybe we need to do more to make sure these stories are at the forefront of our pitches when approach news journalists?
When Laura mentioned a trip to Liberia in 2012, a collaboration with Save the Children, which involved several follow up trips and so gave the opportunity for more in-depth coverage, Mark Galloway from the IBT, who was in the Chair, asked why they had done nothing like this since then. Laura admitted that Today tends to focus on stories in the news – and there’s the rub. Whilst undeniably important, Gaza is always news. Syria is always news. These are tangible conflicts with recognisable actors, a role for UK foreign policy and international western players. But as Laura herself said – the BBC are ever conscious of resources – if they are going there, it means they are not going somewhere else.
Lack of coverage of countries not linked to the news agenda
For me, and it seems for others in the room, this highlights the lack of coverage of countries not necessarily linked to the news agenda. Rose Caldwell from Concern Worldwide UK asked: “What about DRC? What about Central African Republic? What about the crises that fall under the radar?” Another person mentioned Darfur. Laura said that these places had been covered but acknowledged that there were definitely countries which were being unreported.
The Central African Republic is officially the world’s hungriest country, with a population of just under five million, and half of these people need humanitarian assistance. I can’t remember the Today programme mentioning that recently. Is it because we as NGOs need to work harder to convince programmes like Today, that there is value in giving a voice to people from a country most people couldn’t find on a map? Or is it because countries like CAR, with their long drawn-out protracted crises of hunger, conflict and displacement, can’t be linked in any obvious way to the news agenda? Or maybe the issues can’t be explored fully in a short broadcast segment? Should we as NGOs focus less on getting airtime for our CEOs and work harder to find the individual stories – the ‘compelling human narratives? ‘
Laura said that Today believes in putting time into the stories that take more time to tell – which also means more effort from us as NGOs to convince broadcasters these are stories worth covering. Surely somewhere like CAR would fit into this category? It would certainly fit the Today criteria of giving the listener something “significantly different to what they have heard before.”
Photo credit: Chris de Bode/Panos Pictures for Concern Worldwide
IBT holds monthly briefings with senior members of the media. These popular sessions have helped our members pitch successfully, create better informed plans and work more effectively across teams.