Nature films: are broadcasters free riders?

Earlier this month, Paul Jepson of Oxford and his colleagues published a short article in Science Magazine advocating that the media should pay for nature conservation… Why?

Basically, they state that the industry extracts entertainment value from natural ecosystems and wild fauna and flora, but does not contribute to the cost of conserving these assets. Or at least not in an effective and transparent way.

Today, the media funds nature conservation actions through separate, voluntary initiatives (and the payment of filming fees in some protected areas). Nature conservation projects funded by the media don’t necessarily target the same areas or species used in the films or photography. There is also no mechanism to determine how much funding would adequately reflect the industry’s take. How much is that take anyway?

A key question is whether producers of wildlife content can afford to internalize the production costs of nature into their products.

The authors argue that a better mechanism would be to set up a trust fund, with the money coming from broadcasters on the basis of viewing (e.g. per viewer, or DVD sold etc.) and not as a percentage of production costs. Using common-place ratings and sales data to size payments would lower the cost of setting up the scheme. The trust would also come with a international governing body and transparent certification mechanism for establishing payment rates and monitoring payments.

The authors state that their scheme would ensure that:

  • Films that attract a large audience pay more than those who attract less viewers
  • Costs would be modest, and easy to set-up and monitor using common-place ratings and sales data
  • Sector leaders would have the opportunity to enhance their reputation or brand value
  • Deposits are linked to conservation actions targeting specific areas or species, where entertainment value is sourced
  • Payments are made by end-user broadcasters rather than less wealthy wildlife filming companies
  • Sends out the message that “by watching this, you are paying for conservation”
  • Unfortunately, the paper gives no details as to who would be involved in the governing body. It mentions an “international coalition of mass-membership NGOs, wildlife filmmaker associations, and the IUCN” but do not explain their choice. It is also unclear on what basis the certification process would establish the base rates (e.g. per viewer) for paying into the trust fund. The authors mention the need for “careful pricing” and “fair prices” but do not provide applicable solutions. Rather, they leave that difficult task to the NGOs (again!).

    leading environmental NGOs need to (…) introduce a PES-style mechanism

    Rather surprisingly, the paper has yet to receive the attention of the media outside academic circles. The authors are probably expecting responses. So should you.

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