HENRY SINGER, who has won several awards for his work as a film-maker and thrives in creating documentary films about underreported stories and social injustices, claims the commercialisation of British television is making it increasingly hard to get the support and the funding required to keep making public service films.
Today, Singer says he finds himself awaiting funds to be able to proceed with his new documentary film, despite its important role in covering the bloodiest war since World War II and the attempt to hold a Bosnian general accountable for horrific war crimes such as the slaughter of 8000 men and boys in Srebrenica in the Balkans.
“I am talking to the BBC about it, but I am having to put together money from Sundance in America, the British Documentary Film foundation, two or three foundations here in the UK, Swedish television, Norwegian television, Dutch television and German television.
“I spend as much time trying to raise money for this film as I do making it, so you end up being a fundraiser as much as a film-maker,” says Singer.
Singer claims the role of journalists and film-makers should be to bring new stories to the world’s attention. He says there are many stories about interesting people in the world and terrible injustices that go unnoticed because the contemporary media prefers to tell people more and more about stories they are already familiar with.
Singer claims the BBC has become significantly less interested in documentary films regarding sensitive and complex issues. He explains the pressure to remain relevant to the public in order to justify their licence fee has pushed the BBC too far into the commercial end of the sector.
He says: “In the old days, I could go in with an idea to the BBC and I could say ‘Look, I’ve got access to this incredibly important trial, are you interested?’ and they would have given me half a million pounds to make it”.
However, he says the vast changes in British television over the past decade and a half prevents this from happening today. Singer claims the addition of hundreds of channels on cable TV, on satellite and the Internet has pushed the terrestrial channels towards a more populist programming in order to compete with the others.
Singer claims there was a time where documentaries like 9/11: The Falling Man and Baby P: The Untold Story were in high demand. Today, however, the BBC seems to believe they will lose their audience if they do too much of it and only commission enough documentaries to retain their reputation of a channel of public service.
“I think journalism should absolutely point out injustices and wrongs and misdemeanours and I was drawn to the Baby P story partly for that reason,” he says.
Singer states his purpose with the documentary film about Baby P, which exposes the British press’ horrific failure to report the actual circumstances of Peter Connelly’s death in a desperate attempt to intensify sensationalism, was to serve as a window on how powerful institutions operate in a time of crisis.
He says, “Newspapers and the media remain hugely influential.
“They historically had enormous power, they choose the stories that we all read about and they choose the angles of the stories that we all read about.
“I think, certainly with the Baby P story, the Sun turned that story into a campaign that became not just a source of information for all the people who read the Sun, which is over a million people a day, but for other newspapers and other broadcasters including the BBC who sort of followed suit”.
This was not the first time Singer sought a different conclusion to one already cemented by the mainstream media. When conservationist Joan Root was murdered in her house in Lake Naivasha and all the news reports claimed the flower farmers had murdered her, Singer decided to travel to Kenya in 2008 to investigate the story by employing techniques of real journalism to reveal the truth about what really happened to her.
Singer asserts it would have been easier to make a film that said the flower farmers had killed her and that it would have been a sexier film as it fits into people’s idea that all corporations are evil and wish to destroy the environment. Yet journalism revealed this was not remotely the truth and getting the truth to the audience was far more important than merely entertaining them.
Singer claims the power of the media has turned them into the gatekeepers of the information that reaches the public. He claims the problem is both global and local, as the British tabloid press has a kind of influence that is uncommon in the United States.
However, he asserts Fox News, owned by Rupert Murdoch, has become the equivalent of the British tabloids in the United States.
Singer claims the people in positions of power know exactly how influential the media is which is why they shut it down during military coups and why a lot of it has become throwaway media.
Yet he insists journalists and film-makers should persevere and push important stories forward because, despite what may be said, there are still many people out there who are interested in knowing the truth about the world we live in.