Asian broadcasters: Make poverty a copyrights free zone!

Today was the second day at Asia Media Summit 2007 in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. Among the topics taken up today were gender, poverty reduction and climate change — all discussed from the perspective of broadcasters.

I was part of the plenary session on ‘Mobilising airwaves against poverty’ held this morning. Among the other speakers were Walter Fust, director general of Swiss Development and Cooperation agency (SDC) and Stephen King, Director of BBC World Service Trust.

As speakers, we were asked to address these among other questions: How can we generate in media real interest in development issues such as poverty? How can we secure more airtime in educating and bringing about better ways to fight poverty? How can media put the poorest of the poor at the center of attention?


In my remarks, I called for an on-air/off-air combined ‘assault’ on poverty, ignorance, corruption and other scourges of our time. Powerful as they are, broadcasts alone cannot accomplish this massive task, I pointed out.

Here’s an extract from my remarks:

We all know the power of moving images. Used strategically, moving images can move people to change lifestyles, attitudes and behaviour.

Indeed, the right kind of information -– whether about microcredit, contraception, home gardening or immunisation — can vastly improve the quality of life, and even save lives that are needlessly lost.

But this is not something that one-off or even repeat broadcasts alone can accomplish. We need a mix of broadcast and narrowcast approaches.

Communicating for social change is a slow, incremental process that involves learning, understanding, participation and sharing.

At TVE Asia Pacific, we work equally with broadcast, educational and civil society users of moving images. Our experience for over a decade shows that narrowcast work can reinforce and build on the initial broadcast outreach.

But that’s easier said than done. Every year, excellent TV programmes are made on different development topics. Public and private funds are spent in making these programmes, which draw in the creativity and hard work of committed professionals. Many TV channels willingly broadcast these programmes. After a few transmissions, these end up in broadcast archives. A few are adapted for multimedia use. That’s the nature of this industry.

Yet, as I pointed out, most of these programmes have a longer shelf-life. They can be extremely useful in education, awareness raising, advocacy and training. But unfortunately, copyrights restrictions are often too tight for that to happen. Even when the film-makers and producers themselves are keen for their creations to be used beyond broadcasts, the copyright restrictions stand in the way.

I said: “Broadcasters need to let go of development related TV content after initial broadcasts. They must also allow educational and civil society users greater access to vast visual archives, gathered from all over the world.”

I then repeated a proposal I first made last year, which I have since presented at the UN Headquarters and other forums: make poverty a ‘copyrights free zone’.

The idea is to have broadcasters and other electronic publishers release copyrights on TV, video and online content relating to poverty and development issues -– at least until (MDG target year of) 2015.

Read my original essay on poverty as a copyrights free zone, published in June 2006

There was a mixed reaction from the predominantly broadcast audience. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy sell: this industry is so closely tied to copyrights and licensing in not just commercial but also emotional terms. Letting go of these rights, even in a limited way for a highly worthy cause, is a quantum leap for broadcast managers raised on strict rights regimes.

More about the reaction in a later post.

Meanwhile, here’s the full text of my remarks:


Photo courtesy Manori Wijesekera, TVEAP

Author: Nalaka Gunawardene

A science writer by training, I've worked as a journalist and communication specialist across Asia for 30+ years. During this time, I have variously been a news reporter, feature writer, radio presenter, TV quizmaster, documentary film producer, foreign correspondent and journalist trainer. I continue to juggle some of these roles, while also blogging and tweeting and column writing.

One thought on “Asian broadcasters: Make poverty a copyrights free zone!”

  1. You are exactly right…poverty images need to be copyright free. I often am searching fruitlessly for free images of poverty to include on signs, posters, and so on. You have my vote!


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