Briefing Notes: Dispatches
IBT briefing on Channel 4 Dispatches September 2014
Daniel Pearl -Commissioning Editor, Channel 4 firstname.lastname@example.org
Karen Edwards- Executive Producer, Blakeway Karen.email@example.com
Daniel explained the set up at Channel 4. There are 4 commissioning editors who cover the whole of news and current affairs. He has overall responsibility for Channel 4 News and Dispatches. Siobhan Sinnerton has responsibility for Unreported World. Daniel encouraged everyone to take their international ideas to Quicksilver, the production company which makes Unreported World. They have two runs of 8 episodes each year so they are always on the lookout for good international stories.
There are 30 half hour episodes of Dispatches each year – most of these are domestic and Blakeway makes a good number of these episodes. In addition, there will be 8-12 one hour films each year – most of these will be foreign and, again, Blakeway, makes a number of these. Karen recently did a Dispatches called Hunted which investigated the persecution of gays in Russia. LGBT rights is an issue that she remains interested in.
Daniel says he is always in search of a good idea. At the heart of every Dispatches is revelation. These films are journalistic, not analytical, and they need to have something new to say. There’s always a shortage of good ideas so please send any ideas you have to Daniel (if you know you want to see them on Channel 4) or Karen (if you’re also open to seeing them elsewhere – as Karen also makes current affairs programmes for two BBC strands, Panorama and This World).
What’s the difference between Panorama and Dispatches? Not much, it seems. Daniel said that Panorama goes in cycles and so what they are looking for changes. Panorama is about to appoint a new editor so the direction of travel will become clearer soon. Channel 4, in Daniel’s view, is more willing to make mischief and challenge the establishment.
If you take an idea to Daniel and he likes the idea, he will work with you to identify the best outlet – it may work best in a short form for Channel 4 News for example. He sees Channel 4 News as a current affairs programme, taking the news agenda further, rather than just reflecting it.
Karen explained the set up at Blakeway – it is part of the Ten Alps media group which also includes two other independent production companies, Brook Lapping and Films of Record. Karen is head of current affairs and documentaries at Blakeway. She makes programmes for ITV, BBC and Channel 4. Before becoming an executive producer, she was producing Dispatches for 10 years, so she knows Channel 4 inside out. She likes dealing with Channel 4 as they are very flexible and have a number of different places for a good idea – the BBC is more restricted.
Karen loves doing foreign films. She is always looking for stories that feature real people – rather than just tissues. She doesn’t feel that current affairs works without strong personal stories and testimony.
Daniel has few slots for foreign films so the bar is set high – he has turned down some good ideas recently as his main focus is Syria, IS and the Ukraine. Ebola is being covered by Unreported World. Whereas Panorama will automatically cover the big foreign stories, Dispatches will not always do this. He’s currently looking for fresh angles on Syria and wants to find a way of showing what life is like inside IS territory. He recommended everyone to watch the Vice film made inside IS territory.
Daniel was asked whether NGO footage was of interest to him – he said he was always after original footage.
Daniel and Karen were asked about their experience of working with NGOs. Karen had good experiences when NGOs were helping her with access but when the NGO brought the film idea to her she felt there were sometimes unrealistic expectations that she was producing a puff piece. NGOs needed to understand that producers could not relinquish editorial control and had the right to criticize NGOs. This relationship needed to be made clear at the beginning. She did, however, say that she would show NGOs a cut of the finished film for comments and she recognized that safety of contributors was a major issue.
Daniel spoke about sponsored output. The current affairs team could not broadcast sponsored output. However, other teams in Channel 4 could. There would be a mention in the end credits that the piece was funded/sponsored by a third party.
Daniel and Karen were asked whether media officers should pitch to one of them rather than the other. Daniel replied that they could both be pitched to – but if you wanted the option of a BBC or ITV slot then go to Karen.
Daniel was asked if he was interested in tax avoidance/evasion – he said yes. He was also interested in new angles on poverty. He was particularly interested in what he called ‘rubbish jobs’ – people working on zero hours or poverty wages. He’d done several Dispatches on this issue but would do more if the right story came up.
Both were asked what issues they felt were under-reported. Karen said China and Daniel said migration.
Daniel was asked about pressure to get ratings – he said there wasn’t any pressure but that he wanted to appeal to a mainstream audience and didn’t want Dispatches to become niche viewing. He felt that if this happened the strand would not survive. Therefore his aim was that Dispatches should regularly get a 5% audience share.
Mark Galloway 25.9.14