Wildlife Broadcasters ‘should pay for ecosystem services’

Media corporations that make and broadcast wildlife programmes and films should pay towards the cost of nature conservation under an existing innovative funding mechanism for the ‘use of ecosystem services’. The idea has been put forward in a paper in Science, led by an Oxford academic, in collaboration with researchers from the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) Institute of Zoology and Steve Jennings from Oxfam.

The researchers argue that following two recent major government reports that put a value on the services that nature provides, global media companies that make money from wildlife programmes and films should pay for the service in the same way as water and energy companies have started to do.

There has already been a major shift in policy to find mechanisms that enable companies that profit from the ecosystem service to pay for their protection or restoration. Water and energy companies are already entering agreements to provide PES (Payments for Ecosystem Services). The researchers argue that the media industry is another clear and obvious beneficiary of the services produced by ecosystems. They argue that under this innovative mechanism long-term, sustainable funding could be released for nature conservation.

Media corporations would make payments to a central trust fund, which would decide how to finance on-the-ground conservation, says the paper. The trust could also be combined with an NGO-governed certification scheme to give sector leaders an opportunity to enhance their brand and reputation. The scheme would also be concerned with a possible standard to set fair prices to film-makers.

The media industry currently makes financial contributions in the form of filming fees or donations made through philanthropic foundations. The researchers describe such contributions as ‘comparatively modest’ and ad hoc. They suggest that as they are inconsistently applied, they do not provide a much-needed guaranteed funding stream.

Dr Jepson concludes: ‘Our aim is to start a conversation. We all love wildlife films and want to secure the fabulous environments where they are filmed for generations to come. Rather than just leaving the audience with a warm, fuzzy feeling about the animals and places that have featured, we need to think about how we might harness the appeal of these programmes in an organised way that can benefit nature conservation. My hope is that filmmakers, broadcasters, academics and conservation professionals can come together to create innovative ways through which the wildlife media can pay for conservation.

The researchers ask whether the popularity of such wildlife programmes is providing indirect benefits for nature conservation through raising public awareness, but points out that not enough research has been done to support this opinion.

This influential component of public environmentalism has developed and proceeded over a century in response to changes in media, market, and public factors, but without much critical or strategic review,’ state the researchers.

They urge leading environmental NGOs to take advantage of the ‘window of opportunity to introduce a PES style mechanism’ presented by the need to generate new footage with introduction of high-definition TV.

‘Such an initiative would prompt a major review of the role of wildlife filmmaking in society and the relationship between conservation, NGOs and the media.’ assert the researchers.

Co-author Dr Kate Jones says: ‘Overseas conservation groups need to be able to plan for the long term, and to do this they have to receive sustainable funding. Instead, they are currently relying on fairly modest amounts of money on an ad-hoc basis. Finance linked directly to the markets, or mechanisms such as the now ceased BBC Wildlife Fund, would provide a guaranteed revenue stream.

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