News in Brief

Group alleges discrimination by C4; job cuts at the Beeb; Sundance delays launch of doc channel
November 14, 2002

The newly formed Black and Asian Film & TV Producers Alliance may take Channel 4 and other U.K. broadcasters to court, allegeding systematic discrimination against black and Asian-owned prodcos, The Guardian reports. ‘Up to 1994 there were about 15 to 20 black and Asian production companies,’ in the U.K., doc-maker Mahmood Jamal (Black Bag) told the newspaper. ‘Today, you’ll be hard pressed to find two,’ he said. The alliance has taken its concern to the Commission for Racial Equality. The group cited C4 in particular for allegedly failing to send out tenders for projects to black-owned businesses. C4 managing editor Janey Walker ‘absolutely refuted’ the claims, The Guardian reports.

Job cuts are coming to the BBC, and the news and current affairs departments are being targeted. Director of news Richard Sambrook, The Guardian reports, has sent an email to all of the 3,300 news staff, inviting them to apply for redundancies for the savings goal of £15 million (US$23.7 million) next year. The overall cuts are part of a plan to save £160 million ($235 million) over the next two years.

National Geographic U.S. has reduced the staff of its National Geographic Today program by a third, or just under 20 people. According to company spokesman Russell Howard the cuts were because the show was reduced to a half-hour from a full hour. ‘Obviously, for a show that is half as long the production needs are lower,’ he told RealScreen Plus. He noted the restructuring is part of plans to roll out a dual feed, and that some of the people were moved to other departments. All of the layoffs were at Nat Geo’s Washington, D.C. office, the staff of which is roughly 200.

The launch of the Sundance Documentary Channel has been postponed. Citing the ‘dramatically changed’ business climate for cable and satellite companies, a Sundance Channel spokesperson says the spin-off of the doc-specific channel has been moved back from the earlier planned late-2002 launch to ‘later in 2003.’ She noted: ‘We continue to move forward and talk to distributors about [the launch].’ It was first unveiled at the last Sundance Festival.

In related news, the Sundance Channel and the International Documentary Association have agreed to have the annual IDA awards and similar events broadcast by Sundance. The three-year agreement includes the 2002 edition of the IDA awards taking place December 13 in Hollywood, U.S. According to the Sundance Channel, highlights of the awards show will be part of a year-in-review program to air as part of Sundance’s recently announced ‘DOCDay’ strand (it launches in March). The event will eventually be carried on the Sundance Doc Channel. Michael Moore (Bowling For Columbine) will host this year’s ceremony.

The Washington, D.C.-based Project for Excellence in Journalism has released a study that confirms what many viewers may have suspected – the attacks on the U.S. haven’t changed television news in the country. ‘Irrelevant national news’ such as poor weather, road-rage incidents, and domestic abductions dominated the majority of newscasts in the U.S., according to the study, which analyzed 53 local stations in 17 markets over two-week periods in March and May. The lead news focus, crime, accounted for more than 25% of all news stories. Coverage of policy and defense issues increased to 9% from 4%.

Micheal Moore‘s Bowling for Columbine has made over Cdn$1 million (US$635,000) in Canada since its theatrical release in mid October, according to Alliance Atlantis, whose Toronto-based Odeon Films distributes the film. The success, however, hasn’t been controversy free. The Canadian Press reports that the Canadian Firearms Centre, the government controller of guns and ammunition, says the film inaccurately represents how bullets can be purchased in the country. It says a scene in which Moore is handed bullets without question in a Canadian Wal-Mart contravenes gun-laws in place since January 1, 2001 (a special permit is required). Moore wasn’t available for comment, but his sister Anne says he was not asked for paperwork. Wal-Mart Canada said it is looking into the matter.

Debt-heavy French media giant Vivendi Universal reported quarterly sales (excluding its French water unit Vivendi Environnement) fell four percent to 7.4 billion Euros (US$7.7 billion) on a pro forma basis. It said overall sales climbed one percent. Its pay-TV unit, Groupe Canal+, which now incorporates international TV revenue from Universal, boosted actual third-quarter sales by five percent to 1.2 billion Euros ($1.2 billion). For the first nine months of the year – which saw former CEO Jean-Marie Messier exit, a cash crisis and a massive loss in the first quarter – the company posted a five percent rise in pro forma sales to 22.6 billion Euros ($22.7 million).

Japanese pubcaster NHK is planning the first-ever live high definition broadcast from the bottom of the ocean. The broadcast will take place in two sessions, on November 15 and 16, and is being executed in cooperation with the Japan Marine Science and Technology Center and the National Space Development Agency of Japan. The live shoot involves Hyper Dolphin, a remote-controlled underwater vehicle equipped with an ultra-sensitive HD camera. It will go down 1,200 meters off an island roughly 100 kilometers southwest of Tokyo.

The World Wildlife Fund has opened an online archive consisting of more than 1,500 hours of natural history video footage as part of a deal with World Images. Launched this fall, it includes shotlists and copyright information. It can be accessed at //

London, U.K.-based channel Zone Vision is offering a dedicated reality TV channel. Launched November 12 as part of digital cable-provider NTL’s basic package, Reality TV is hitting 1.2 million homes in the country. Zone Vision says Reality TV is now seen in 17 million homes in more than 100 territories. The company also announced it is planning to commission original programming sometime in 2003.

Sir David Attenborough says he is appalled by the proliferation of specialty channels. ‘The danger with the trend towards specialist channels is that it removes a valuable means of recruiting new audiences to new and fascinating things,’ Attenborough told The Guardian. He also slammed the race for ratings, saying, ‘Putting the same things on at the same time for ratings is the broadcasters’ decision.’ He added: ‘I don’t believe in it myself.’ The Life of Mammals, Attenborough’s new landmark natural history series, debuts on BBC1 mid-November.

Wildscreen Trust founder Christopher Parsons has died at the age of 70. Parsons, who passed away the weekend of November 9 and 10, was the one-time head of the BBC Natural History Unit and founded Wildscreen in 1982. He produced such docs as the series Life on Earth.

The Canadian Television Fund has made several changes to its License Fee Program ranking system. In a prepared statement, the CTF says the changes were made in response to structural changes to the television production industry. For further information, go to //

It turns out what a woman may want most in life isn’t a diamond ring on her finger but an HDTV remote in her hand. That is the conclusion of a survey conducted by the Consumer Electronics Association in the U.S., released November 6. It found that 58% of those surveyed would prefer to receive an HD set over a one-karat diamond ring. It also calculated that three out of four women initiate the purchasing of a consumer electronics products, whether alone or as part of a couple.

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