There hasn't been a single, factual, long-form programme about climate change on any mainstream television channel in the UK for over a year. This is one of the key findings of a recent research report published by the International Broadcasting Trust analysing non-news television coverage of the environment.
The key question this raises is - why? Why have the mainstream broadcasters failed to air any documentary which tackles - head on - the most important issue facing humanity today? Is it fear of the potential flack? 'Certainly not', we were told by representatives from Channel 4 and the BBC at the panel discussion convened to launch the report on Monday.
What were the reasons they gave?
1. It would be a rating flop. Audiences, we were told, simply won't watch a conventional documentary that deals with the issue of climate change head on. Instead, creative ways need to be found of 'smuggling in' the issues.
2. 'Its not our job'. It was suggested that their job is to 'reflect all shades of public opinion' and not to preach about specific issues.
3. It wouldn't have any impact. What could one documentary hope to achieve anyway? And perhaps television isn't actually very important in shaping public perceptions of climate change.
4. It would have the reverse effect. Addressing the issue of climate change head on may well have the effect of putting people off the subject even more. Again, 'smuggling in' the issues is more likely to be effective in informing the UK public in the long term, it was suggested.
5. 'What would it be about'? Climate change, we were told repeatedly, is an inherently difficult subject to cover. Innovative formats are therefore the only way of addressing this issue.
What should we make of these explanations? Are they convincing? Perhaps they are right to assert that no one would watch such a programme and it wouldn't make any meaningful difference anyway. But even then, are these explanations sufficient? Should audience ratings be the primary criteria by which we judge the worthiness of broadcasting a programme, especially on a topic as important as this? Shouldn't the BBC be informing and educating as well as entertaining?
I came away from this launch rather dissatisfied with the responses from the broadcasters. But perhaps I am being unfair on these particular individuals who, after all, did have the courage to come and answer these questions. Or perhaps I'm expecting too much of the broadcasters in general. Either way, I don't think we will be watching any documentaries about climate change on UK television in the near future.