London lowdown: Five

Ian Russell, deputy controller of news, current affairs and documentaries
October 1, 2007

Ian Russell, deputy controller of news, current affairs and documentaries

What has changed in the non-fiction industry over the past 10 years?
When I started here five years ago, we had a lot of television projects which were being funded by Five with quite a small budget. What’s happened more is that those budgets have increased, but we’ve increased them by acquisitions, coproductions – basically making use of the international market.

The other new thing is digital channels and commissioning things that work across different platforms.

How do you think the industry will change over the next 10 years?
I think we’re becoming more stripped back in our storytelling. Whereas in the past the programs could become sort of complicated, now a lot of the things Five is interested in are simple stories or they’re just people telling of an event that happened to them with very little editorializing from us – that’s something we’ve been doing a lot of for the past two years.

What does the term ‘viewership trust’ mean to you and why is it important?
I think it’s incredibly important to be as accurate as you possibly can. And that’s why we have regulations and all these levels of people controlling what goes through. I think there’s been a bit of confusion in the whole trust thing because there was one thing involving game shows and phone lines which was kind of a contractual, legal thing, and the other thing, which is about ‘do you trust the channel?’ All we can do is our very best to ensure everything is absolutely accurate. Ultimately it’s all about truth; what we’re trying to do is find interesting truths that mean something to all of us and portray them in an interesting way. Making a program is a selective process, and I think sometimes people confuse the selectiveness with dishonesty.

Truth is the currency in which we operate and we do our best – I don’t know anyone that doesn’t, and that will continue. Obviously in the current climate people are being a bit more introspective about it all, but I don’t think there’s any dishonesty inherent in broadcasting.

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.