News in Brief

The ITC backs indies in the U.K.; the OFT takes a look-see at the Beeb's commissioning practices; and PBS's 'Frontline' awaits a verdict on capturing capital jury deliberations
November 28, 2002

Independent producers in the U.K. are rejoicing that they’ve finally found someone who understands them. On Tuesday, the Independent Television Commission (ITC) released the results of its two-month investigation into the program supply market for British television. Its conclusions? Broadcasters have too much power. Of the numerous recommended changes the ITC proposed, indie prodcos will be most pleased with the one that suggests rights be unbundled and that broadcasters shouldn’t automatically be given ancillary rights. The ITC also proposed that the U.K.’s current 25% quota for indie production be applied on a per-channel basis. In an official statement, the BBC responded to the latter recommendation: ‘To apply quotas to BBC1 and BBC2 individually is manageable, providing we have adequate time to consider the implications in detail and plan any necessary changes.’

In related news, the U.K.’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has enlisted media consultants to investigate the BBC‘s commissioning structure, reports the Guardian. The probe follows the OFT’s finding that the Beeb missed its indie production targets for 2001. The pubcaster must commission 25% of its output from independents, but for the year ending March 31, 2001, the BBC’s output from indies dropped to 23.7%. In 2000, indie output for the BBC was 28.1%.

A documentary crew with ‘Frontline’, the current-affairs doc strand produced by U.S. pubcaster PBS’s Boston outlet WGBH, is waiting to hear whether or not it will be allowed to film the jury deliberations for a capital case to be tried in Austin, Texas, U.S. Two weeks ago, Houston trial judge Ted Poe gave producers Miri Navasky and Karen O’Connor the go-ahead. The prosecution subsequently appealed the ruling and on Monday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals suspended jury selection to reconsider Judge Poe’s decision.

In an official statement, Michael Sullivan, exec producer of special projects for ‘Frontline’, said, ‘This case seems to rest on the stark contrast between the district attorney’s apparent pessimism that the capital justice system has inherent weaknesses and will suffer from this kind of detailed examination, and Judge Poe’s optimism that the jury system is strong and will only benefit from more sunlight. We think Judge Poe has it right.’

The case in question involves Cedric Harrison, a 17-year-old accused of killing a man during a carjacking. The defendant, his attorney, and his mother have agreed to the proposed filming.

A British TV crew working on a film for Channel 4‘s foreign affairs strand ‘Unreported World’ were arrested on Monday while crossing Bangladesh’s eastern border into India. According to Reporters Without Borders – a watchdog for the freedom of the international press – U.K. journalist Zaiba Malik, Italian cameraman Bruno Sorrentino, their interpreter Pricila Raj and their driver Mujib are being detained on suspicion of subversive activities. Channel 4 is working to have the crew released, and , head of current affairs for the BBC, has written to Sheik Razzak Ali, high commissioner of Bangladesh, requesting the country’s courts release the filmmakers. Both Malik and Sorrentino have produced programs for the BBC’s ‘Panorama’ and ‘Correspondent’ strands.

NHNZ‘s stockshot library in New Zealand has acquired 52 hours of historical footage from British Movietone News. The acquisition includes images from the Boer War, the Russian Revolution and the Spanish Civil War, as well as other major events and developments of the 20th century. The buy marks British Movietone News’s first presence in the New Zealand/Australian market.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, pitching forums work. An exit poll of producers and commissioning editors who participated in the 2002 Hot Docs’s Toronto Documentary Forum (May 1 to 2, 2002) revealed that over 50% of the 36 projects pitched raised financing as a result of the event. Confirmed deals include: The Lost Boys of Sudan, from U.S. director Christopher Quinn, which won over the Scandinavian territories; A Fight for Justice by DocLab in Italy, which brought the BBC onboard and secured a pre-sale from Canadian pubcaster TVO; and Citadel de l’Europe from France-based Tetra Media, which picked up funds from the BBC.

‘True Stories’, a profile strand on U.S. channel Starz Encore, has chosen legendary doc director and World War II photographer John Ford as the subject of its first original production. John Ford Goes to War is a one-hour documentary that will air on December 7. It features footage from Ford’s 80-plus military-related films produced during his tenure as chief of the Field Photographic Branch of the Office of Strategic Services (the precursor of the CIA). The documentary will be followed by Ford’s Oscar-winning docs The Battle of Midway (1942) and December 7th (1943).

Toronto, Canada-based Alliance Atlantis Communications announced the results for its second fiscal quarter, ended September 30, 2002. Revenue came in at CDN$252.2 million (US$160.3 million), up 14% from last year. The Broadcast Group, which houses the company’s TV outlets, showed revenues of $36.6 million (US$23.3 million) for its operating channels, an increase of 27% from second quarter results last year. And, revenue from the company’s developing channels – the digital outlets launched second quarter last year – came in at $4.8 million (US$3.1 million), compared to $2.0 million (US$1.3 million) for the same period in 2001. Among AAC’s TV holdings are Life Network, HGTV Canada, History Television, The Independent Film Channel, BBC Canada, and National Geographic Channel.

U.K.-based Carlton Communications, which holds shares of ITV and is expected to merge with Granada in the new year, announced a loss of £156 million (US$242 million) for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2002. Carlton lays blame for the loss on a weak advertising market. The £188 million ($292 million) hit it took when ITV Digital folded also didn’t help matters.

Canadian venture capital firm le Fonds d’investissement de la culture et des communications (FICC) has announced it will invest in Seville Entertainment, a producer/ distributor based in Montreal and Toronto, Canada. Seville partnered with the FICC with an eye to expanding its business into the international market. The company is currently handling the Canadian theatrical release of the documentary feature Standing in the Shadows of Motown, by director Paul Justman.

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.