THE BLOG

Television's Vital Role in Disaster Relief Must Not Be Forgotten

31/08/2015 16:20 BST | Updated 31/08/2016 10:59 BST

Right now the future of the BBC is being hotly debated, and part of the discussion revolves around the very nature of TV itself: is it a vehicle for mindless entertainment, or should it be edifying and educational?

On the one side, TV has been blamed for a host of ills: it glues us to our sofas, it gobbles our time and makes us fat as another reality show lulls us into complacency.

But there's another side to the great gogglebox in the corner of our living rooms. TV - in fact British TV specifically - has been the driving force behind humanitarian work that has helped millions of the world's most desperate people.

I'm the chair of trustees of the Disasters Emergency Committee, which represents the UK's leading international aid agencies when fundraising for humanitarian emergencies. The DEC has been phenomenally successful, in 67 appeals it has raised more than £1.5 billion, including £352 million for the Tsunami, £97 million for the Philippines Typhoon and, more recently £83 million for the Nepal Earthquake appeal.

We could not have done this without the whole hearted support of the big broadcasters led by the BBC and ITV, but fully backed but Channel Four, Five and Sky. Most of our money now comes in digitally, but it is the traditional broadcasting powerhouses that make our appeals famous.

It is the BBC and ITV that shape and edit our appeals films then showcase them around their major news bulletins and follow them up through individual news reports.

Four, Five and Sky rebroadcast the appeals and also throw their news teams behind our fund-raising campaigns. ITV have backed our recent appeals through its sport coverage, Britain's Got Talent and the X Factor.

And then, of course, there is the BBC reaching out to every aspect of British society.

With the BBC we not only get the support of all the national television channels, the five national radio channels and local radio. We can also call on the BBC news and programme websites, among the most powerful and most popular in the world.

Britain has a unique broadcasting system with public and commercial channels; both free to air and subscription; digital terrestrial, cable and satellite all in the mix. It is this vibrant combination which makes it still probably the best broadcasting system in the world.

Its future is currently under debate with its cornerstone the publicly funded BBC, its Charter and the licence fee, up for periodic review.

We live in a changing digital world and all organisations, particularly those in receipt of public money, should have their role and remit re-examined from time to time. We have always greatly valued the commitment and backing that British broadcasters have given to the DEC.

We are an independent organisation and we value all their support. But we are very conscious that if anyone one of them is greatly diminished, particularly the two big powerhouses of the BBC and ITV, so will the fundraising ability of the DEC and its unique relationship with the British public.

The DEC is no longer a unique organisation. In recent years we have helped to foster sister organisations committed to our collective form of fund-raising and co-operative disaster relief throughout Europe and in Canada.

None of them can yet match the DEC's phenomenal fund-raising feats or the close bond with its host public, although the Netherlands is getting there. A key part of this is the DEC's 51 year track record and its unique relationship with UK's top broadcasters.