Real life on Earth
I am constantly amazed, in my business of turning up in
different places in order to film some obscure bird or other, to meet
people all over the world who have seen some of my programmes and who
vividly remember, and talk about, the animals they saw. Rather, I am both
amazed, and not amazed. For there is no mystery in the almost universal
interest in television films about natural history and the environment.
Unlike so much of what is on television, such films are about reality.
They are not about commercial people trying to promote a product, or
political people trying to persuade you that they are right, or about
silly glamorous people. They are about real people tackling real life.
We are often not aware of the reality of what goes on elsewhere, and so
tend to adopt glib answers to problems of which we have little personal
comprehension. Television can be a great connector, bringing a broader and
deeper sympathy than was there before. It is seen by the most educated and
the least educated, by people who speak all languages, everywhere in the
BBC World television is now broadcasting a weekly environment and
development series - called Earth Report - to try to increase this
understanding of the real world. Produced, on a strictly editorially
independent basis, by the Television Trust for the Environment (TVE) and
the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF International), the series aims to be
a viewer's report card on how well the world is doing to meet the targets
set by the Earth Summit in Rio four years ago. I am delighted to introduce
The five-minute stories range from a promising new method of farming to
save mountain gorillas like those I visited in Life on Earth, to
the ecological catastrophe enveloping the Black Sea, from a crisis in
coral reefs in the Caribbean to community action to combat pollution in
Peru and the Ukraine. Other programmes will consider how 'green' will be
the Olympic Games in Sydney in the year 2000, describe citizens'
initiatives to make life better for the poor in Calcutta, look at
increasing pressures on the Mediterranean, and show how threatened species
are making comebacks in Saudi Arabia and Patagonia.
It began with start-up funding from UNEP and UNICEF, which made possible
12 pilot programmes. These were well received, not least by the BBC which
had found a strong demand in Asia, the Middle East and Africa for more
coverage of wildlife and environmental issues. The BBC says it had no
hesitation in turning to TVE to meet that demand: since it was set up by
UNEP and Central Television 12 years ago, it has established a worldwide
reputation for its independent, high-quality programmes.
The series has been made possible by the generosity of WWF and the
MacArthur Foundation, which have provided more than half the $900,000 it
is costing to provide a regular service. Other finance has come from such
sources as the Global Environment Facility, the World Health Organization,
UNEP, and the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention.
The series is produced by a Colombian, Marc de Beaufort, and local film
crews have almost always been used in the 30 developing nations and former
Eastern Bloc countries so far visited. A team of women film-makers is
producing programmes on issues considered at the United Nations Conference
on Population and Development in Cairo two years ago.
I am particularly pleased that the programmes will also be seen by many
more people even than those English-speakers who tune into BBC World: in
fact, the vast majority of viewers will get them in their own languages on
their terrestrial television channels. The BBC will make Arabic and
Japanese versions. AETI, operating from Madrid, will beam the reports in
Spanish and Portuguese to public service broadcasters in Latin America.
WWF and TVE will be distributing them in local languages through their own
I hope that people will feel that these programmes give them an insight
into the most important problems that face them in the real world. We
cannot, after all, migrate to another planet. We all have a part to play
in preserving the one we have got.
Sir David Attenborough - whose Life on Earth, Trials of Life
and Secret Life of Plants are among the most popular programmes
ever broadcast - is on the board of TVE and is a former Controller of BBC
2. He has given his services free to Earth Report.