Fighting for Space: International content and the future of public service media in a digital-first era

As the media landscape continues to change rapidly and radically, we are calling for significant changes to how the PSM providers approach international content. 

Read more in our report on the future of public service media, written by our Director of Advocacy Gareth Benest.

Members and non-members can read the report here.

TikTok: A Guide for Charities

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Charity Campaigning: Where Next?

Since Make Poverty History, a high point for charity campaigning, bold movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo have shaken up the campaigning landscape. Campaigners are also faced with new challenges, including increasing accusations of ‘wokeness’, changing social media trends, fast-moving news cycles and the impact of the pandemic. Some recent campaigns have succeeded by rising to these challenges, while others have struggled to make an impact.

Members and non-members can read the report here.

The Media: Where Next?

The pandemic accelerated the pace of change and forced the media to adapt to survive. Methods of gathering and telling stories changed significantly as a result of severe travel restrictions, and hastened the move to digital. All of these changes have major implications for INGOs wishing to use the media to tell their stories.

In this report, we track the changes that have taken place in the media landscape as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement, and identify how INGOs can take advantage of them to engage more effectively with a range of audiences.

Podcasts: Where Next?

Podcasts at their best offer an unusually intimate and immersive experience and their huge growth in recent years shows that they are successfully connecting with audiences. But with tens of millions of podcasts now available, how can INGOs best take advantage of this trend?

In this report we look at the changing podcast landscape, the trends dominating the field, where podcasts are heading next and we explore how INGOs can best utilise the medium. For those wishing to launch their own podcasts, the report advises caution. Think carefully about who your target audience is and how best to engage them. Successful podcasts often work best when they are aimed at niche audiences.

The Challenge of Children’s TV: How to engage the YouTube generation with the wider world

Download evidence documents:
Quantitative Analysis
    Children’s Focus Groups    Opinion Poll

Children’s media is rightly in the spotlight at the moment. The Government has set up a fund to promote new and innovative content and the media regulator Ofcom has asked the commercial public service broadcasters to improve their offer to children.

Broadcasters and producers now have an opportunity to stand back and review their current output.

This report is therefore timely. In it we focus on one aspect of children’s television that concerns us: content about the wider world. Our goal is that children in the UK grow up with access to media which informs and engages them with the wider world.

Television continues to play an important role in children’s lives and there is some excellent content that does provide a window on the world but it is increasingly rare. We’d like to see broadcasters do better and we hope that the evidence presented in this report helps them to achieve that goal.

Faking It: Fake News and How it Impacts on the Charity Sector

Fake news is of course a very topical issue and much has been written about it, but this is the first report that examines the implications of fake news for the charity sector. In an increasingly strident online environment it’s much harder for charities to be heard. It’s also easy for them to fall victim to false accusations, which often originate online but gain traction through mainstream media.

Sometimes misinformation is disseminated by NGOs, whether intentionally or not. As many institutions, including charities, suffer from a loss of trust, some audiences are more likely to listen to their family and friends than to traditional news sources.

In this report we examine the phenomenon of fake news and look at specific examples that have had a direct impact on charities, particularly those involved with international development. And we make recommendations to help charities negotiate the increasingly complex media landscape and rebuild trust amongst their supporters, the media and the general public.


Video First – making an impact

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“I see video as a megatrend” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently. “That’s why I’m going to keep putting video first across our family of apps.”

We now live in Facebook’s new ‘Video First’ world.  When Zuckerberg talks of a megatrend, he means it. And people are inclined to sit up and take notice …

Mark Galloway, Director of IBT writes:

If you go online, on your smartphone or computer, you’re increasingly likely to watch video rather than read an article, and the social media platforms are actively promoting video over text. The rapidly changing media landscape presents huge challenges for media organisations and, arguably, even greater challenges for NGOs.

Organisations that want to reach audiences need to produce their own video content. But it’s a crowded and competitive space. And there are major challenges. The algorithms used by Facebook and other platforms ensure that more sensational content is promoted because it provokes stronger reactions. This poses a particular challenge for those who want to produce content that is not sensational.

In this report we examine how video is viewed online, what works and what doesn’t, what the latest trends are and we look at some key lessons for NGOs wishing to produce their own content.

This new and timely report from IBT, presents a template and great background for development NGOs wishing to get ahead of the game. We launched this report in May at the Channel 4’s Headquarters in Horseferry Road. Sophie Chalk presented the key findings and there was a panel discussion with a range of broadcasters and social media experts. (Members can read the Briefing Notes of this event.)

If you’re reading this, you’ll in all likelihood want to view some NGO videos and comments while you’re here. The following links are not intended as a set of best practice in making videos, but they may well give you thoughts and raise questions in your mind.

First in line (both for serious lessons and just for fun) are the annual awards for the best (the Golden Radiator Award) – and the worst (the Rusty Radiator Award) videos of the year. The Awards is an annual event created by the Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund (SAIH). By highlighting the best and worst charity ads of the year, the goal with the Radi-Aid Awards is to change the way fundraising campaigns communicate and engage people in issues of poverty and development. Check out the full event Radi awards 2015.

Next something at the opposite end of the scale.  No millions here to throw at good – or bad – videos. Rather a grassroots army of Video Volunteers helping to create new social constructs in rural India. Not many laughs here, but a lot of good ideas, and some might just translate to the UK?

Finally after those samples …

… some practical tips and tricks from the Guardian’s Network of Global Development Professionals on making a good video yourself. There are lots more guides like this out there, but this one is short and sweet. Enjoy!

Tips and tricks

Climate Change On Television

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IBT has a longstanding interest in climate change. Several years ago we published The Environment on TV – are broadcasters meeting the challenge?  That report highlighted a creative gap – broadcasters wanted innovative and engaging content on climate change but they struggled to find the right ideas to bring to the screen. Since then, we have worked with independent producers, broadcasters and a wide range of experts to stimulate their creativity and to make the case for reframing climate change so that it is not just seen as an environmental issue but one that affects very many aspects of our daily lives.

A year ago, the Paris Agreement was signed and governments committed themselves to major reductions in their carbon emissions. These commitments imply far reaching changes to everyday life. Since television is one of the main sources of information for the UK public about climate change it is timely to examine the way that it has covered this issue over the past year.

In this latest report, Climate Change on Television, Joe Smith talks to a range of broadcasters, independent producers and academics. He argues that television has a good track record of making issues related to climate change accessible to mainstream audiences and he makes some concrete suggestions for ways in which it could continue to tell a range of stories about climate change that will engage audiences and better equip them to respond to this dynamic story.

Small Screen, Big World

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In 2009 IBT published research on the quantity and nature of international news coverage by the main UK television and radio broadcasters. This report presents the results of a similar study conducted during a two week sample period in January 2016. The results were then used to inform interviews with news executives, NGOs and media academics.

Reflecting a Changing World?

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This year has seen some outstanding international programmes on our television screens. The Tribe, Escape from Isis (both Channel 4) and Hunters of the South Seas (BBC2) demonstrate the power of television to engage audiences with important international issues and to shed light on how people live their lives in other countries.

And yet, the role of public service broadcasting is disputed. The BBC faces criticism for its scale and scope in the face of Charter review, and the possibility of privatising Channel 4 remains on the horizon.

International content is one of the defining elements of PSB, delivered not just through news and current affairs but across a range of genres. And, since we live in an increasingly globalised world, it should be more important than ever that we in the UK are aware of what is going on beyond our shores. Television plays a vital role since, despite the growth of the internet, it remains the main source of information for people in the UK about what is happening in the world.

It is in this context that we publish the latest findings from a unique study which we have been undertaking since 1989. It examines in detail how much international content there is on which channels, covering what topics, through which genres, in what countries and how this has changed over time.

The aim of this research is to document as accurately as possible the quantity and nature of international content on UK television, to provide a basis for an informed debate about the contribution that such content makes to our understanding of the wider world.

The Aid Industry

There has been growing media criticism of the aid industry in recent years. Some of this has been ideologically driven and some opportunistic but it also appears that journalists are more insistent on holding aid agencies to account than they have been in the past.

This is a good thing but often the aid sector has appeared unduly defensive in the face of criticism.

This report seeks to understand what a broad range of journalists – both specialists and generalists – think about aid and the agencies that deliver it. The criticisms are wide ranging but several themes emerge. There’s a consensus that the aid sector as a whole needs to be more open and transparent.  Since media reporting of the aid industry undoubtedly has a big influence on public opinion, it’s important that we take the views of journalists seriously. 

A better understanding of what journalists really think will also enable those working in the aid sector to deal more effectively with media criticism.

Social Media – Making your voice heard

Social media is becoming increasingly important as a way of engaging the UK public with global issues. But it is also an increasingly challenging space in which to operate. In this briefing, we explore the changing social media landscape, look at what works and what doesn’t, and make a number of recommendations for how NGOs can be more effective.

It’s clear that social media offers huge potential for public engagement but many NGOs are failing to realise that potential. Social media challenges the traditional ways in which NGOs communicate with the public, their supporters and beneficiaries. To be more effective, NGOs will need to find ways of promoting an organisational culture that gives social media a central role in its overall strategy, and also move away from a predominantly broadcast model to one which places far greater emphasis on dialogue.

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The Lobbying Act

There’s growing concern amongst NGOs about what exactly can be said and what can’t be said in online communications, in light of the new Lobbying Act.  In this short briefing note, we offer clear guidance for ways of ensuring that online campaigns comply with the restrictions placed on charities by the new legislation.

The briefing recommends that all NGOs review their social media campaigning activities on a regular basis even if they decide not to register under the Act. All staff should be provided with social media guidelines and a named person within the organisation to contact for advice.

HIV and Stigma

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Huge progress is being made in tackling HIV, yet one fundamental obstacle remains: stigma. It’s clear to all commentators that eradicating the shame related to HIV is a priority; what’s less clear is how you go about achieving this change.

Stigma manifests itself in numerous ways and the result is that many people are reluctant to come forward for HIV counselling, testing and treatment and are much less likely to take the appropriate medication. The stark consequence of this is that incidence rates are far higher than they should be.

In this report, we look at the role of the media. There’s a consensus that the media has an important contribution to make in challenging and changing societal attitudes. And there’s also agreement that the media is not achieving its full potential.

It faces a number of challenges: there is fatigue with the HIV story both on the part of the public and of journalists; in many countries there is a lack of training and resources; the media and NGOs using the media sometimes struggle to achieve the right tone and audiences turn away.

Our aim is to provide an overview of media initiatives which seek to reduce HIV related stigma, and to look at what works and what doesn’t. Where something is effective, there is a strong case for replicating it. But the sector needs to work harder to measure the impact of media initiatives in order to make the case for scaling up more persuasive.

A crucial part of this report is the result of a field visit to Swaziland. This gave us the opportunity to examine in detail different types of media initiatives aimed at reducing HIV related stigma, to speak to people living with HIV and to explore public attitudes.

We hope this research will provide useful evidence and concrete suggestions that will be relevant to all who have an interest in this issue: funders, NGOs, policy makers and the media.

The Environment on TV – are broadcasters meeting the challenge?

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This report looks at how television covers the environment, including key issues such as climate change and the weather, population, biodiversity loss, food and farming.

Our aim is to discover what works and what doesn’t and whether broadcasters could be more effective in engaging mainstream audiences. The focus is non-news output. The news provides small nuggets of information but the rest of television helps place these in a wider context and make them comprehensible.

Our findings are based on a quantitative study of all factual programming, drama and comedy on the main UK television channels over a 12 month period, and a series of interviews with TV commissioning editors, executives, independent producers, experts and NGOs.

An Uncertain Future

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Current affairs is facing a crisis of confidence in the aftermath of the ill-fated Newsnight investigation into child sexual abuse. This crisis makes it all the more necessary to stand back from the BBC’s present tribulations, and to take a rigorous look at current affairs on television, its value to society and its future.

There’s no doubt that current affairs has made a huge contribution to society by exposing injustice and has been a key element of public service broadcasting. But, with increasing competition, falling budgets, a new Communications Bill on the horizon and a Government committed to deregulation, the future of current affairs is far from secure.

This report by Jacquie Hughes, a distinguished journalist, producer and former commissioner, is timely because it draws attention to the that current affairs only survives because it underpinned by legislation.

All public service broadcasters, as part of licences, currently have a statutory obligation to broadcast national and international current affairs in peak time. It’s vital that this obligation is restated in any new Communications Bill.

We need to put the Newsnight crisis behind us and argue for a clear commitment in forthcoming legislation to television current affairs.

Outside the Box

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2010 was a year in which UK broadcasters produced some remarkable international programmes. There were superb documentaries like The Lost Girls of South Africa (Channel 4), Mugabe and the White African (More4) and Women, Weddings, War and Me (BBC3). There were memorable current affairs programmes, for example This World – Hostage in the Jungle (BBC2), Dispatches – Africa’s Last Taboo (Channel 4) and Panorama – Chocolate, the Bitter Truth (BBC1). There was innovation with Welcome to Lagos (BBC2).

And there were brilliant dramas like I am Slave (Channel 4) and Blood and Oil (BBC2). All these programmes were striking reminders of the extraordinary power of television to engage audiences with important international issues and to shed light on how people live their lives in other countries.

And yet the future of international content on UK television is far from certain.

In chapter 1 we present the latest findings from a unique study which we have been undertaking since 1989. It examines in detail how much international coverage there is on which channels, covering what topics, through which genres, in what countries and how this has changed over time. This latest research looks at 2010. Some of the findings are cause for celebration and others raise serious concerns for the future.

In chapter 2 we look at how international content can achieve greater impact with audiences, given the rapidly changing media environment, specifically in relation to marketing, time-shift television and social and online media. Whilst these changes bring significant opportunities, they also present huge challenges for international programming.

The aim of this research is to encourage broadcasters, producers and those who collaborate with them to think more strategically about ways in which international content can reach and engage a range of audiences, now and in the future.

Once you have read this report, please take the time to give us your feedback.

Kony 2012: success or failure?

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The Kony 2012 online video campaign was a remarkable phenomenon. The video achieved more than 100 million hits on YouTube.

But did the campaign ultimately succeed or fail? Invisible Children, the organisation behindthe campaign, believes it has brought much needed attention to the conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army. Others tell us that there was little of the deeper engagement which a campaign like this should seek to achieve. And of course, Joseph Kony himself is still at large, evading the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court.

In this report, our focus is not on the merits or otherwise of advocating military interventionto capture Kony, but on the campaign itself. We have talked to a range of experts in the UK, US and Uganda and we consider in detail the logistics of the campaign, how and why it reached so many people, and the lessons which can be learnt for any future online campaigns.

We hope that this report stimulates a wider discussion about the potential of online campaigns. IBT always welcomes feedback, so once you have read the report please let us know your thoughts.

Connecting to the World

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As the Kony 2012 online campaign demonstrated, the Internet offers huge opportunities for engaging the public with global issues but it also presents huge challenges. The proliferation of online content makes it increasingly difficult to gain people’s attention online – and it’s so much easier to move on to something else the moment you lose interest.

For NGOs, the public sphere presents particular challenges. They need to find the right tone and produce content which audiences want to share. In this report, for the first time, we look at how global campaigners can be more effective in engaging online audiences.

In chapter 1, Charlie Beckett argues that in the new networked public sphere NGOs must learn to communicate in a way which is radically different from the way in which they have communicated in the past, both with their supporters and with the general public.

In chapter 2, Alice Fenyoe presents the findings from focus groups conducted with activists and the public to discover how audiences respond to NGO content. She, too, concludes that there is urgent need for change.

If you find this report of interest please share it with friends and colleagues. IBT always welcomes feedback so please get in touch if you have comments on the report or would like to find out more about IBT.