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Sarah Mukherjee's week

Friday 21 August 2009, 16:33

Sarah Mukherjee Sarah Mukherjee

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There are many advantages to working in August.

True, while many of our colleagues (and listeners) are battling with dilemmas like "white or red?", "pool or beach?" and "if I eat anything else for breakfast, will I still be able to get into my swimsuit?", I am trawling through websites, specialist journals and my contacts (those who are left at work, anyway) to see what stories they may have that we can get on air.

But while London can be, like any big conurbation, rather oppressive in hazy, sticky summer days, you can at least get a seat on the train, the queue for coffee is mercifully short, and anything story you turn your hand to will have an excellent chance of getting on.

I've been a broadcast journalist for twenty years now, and every year it's the same. There is often, sadly, one overwhelming story that happens in August - the death of the Princess of Wales, or the murder or the two little girls from Soham (both of which I covered).

But lower down the running order, there's an interesting shift in editorial standards that takes place at about the end of July. A gradual descent downwards, hurtling towards the bottom of the barrel at about this point in the summer. Part of the job of a specialist correspondent is to advise the outlets we serve about the merits of a story. But no-one wants to hear "we've done it before" at this time of year - there are still hours of airtime to fill, and not a lot with which to fill it.

But if you manage to dodge the pleading emails from output editors, August can be a fantastic time to prepare for the big stories later in the year. So much of modern day journalism can feel like a bit of a hamster wheel. Within a day you must take calls and read emails from contacts, mobilise resources, book crews, check equipment (when I do radio slots for the Today programme it's me and a satellite dish, no back up, so it's vital to make sure it's working before you leave), talk to editors, and research and turn around a story at lightning speed. So the chance to lift your gaze towards the horizon at quiet times is enormously helpful.

Yesterday, I and producer Nora Dennehy took a trip up to Sandy in Bedfordshire, to the headquarters of the RSPB, to talk to their experts about illegal bird hunting, here and in the EU, and about the effectiveness - or lack of it - of the European legislation designed to stop the practise.

Much of our planning time is now being devoted to a big UN meeting in December in Copenhagen, at which - it's hoped - there will be a global deal to reduce in the future the carbon dioxide emissions that the vast majority of scientists believe are causing climate change.

My big concern is how we are going to cover a story that involves lots of people talking impenetrably to each other in a large conference hall, and cover it in a way that makes it relevant to our listeners, explains what is going on and considers the difference it could make to us all. Already there are some very highly placed people I've been talking to who think such a deal is too much to ask in the time available - so we already have to ask the question: what happens then?

One of our ideas it to take a van that runs on chip fat around the UK to visit some low-carbon projects and schemes that are actually up and running. It's obviously a big commitment, financially and logistically, for the BBC, so we've been talking this week within the department about how viable it would be.

But before I think about covering talks designed to save the planet, I need to check out a story about a UK-wide early conker harvest, and conker-killing beetles that seem to be travelling by car. August may always be quiet, but the variety of stories that cross your desk as environment correspondent never ceases to surprise me!

Sarah Mukherjee is BBC environment correspondent.

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    Comment number 1.

    Here are some thoughts.

    - Why oh why are we listening to more of this metropolitan "Tis too hot and my chums are in Tuscany" style stereotyping. Not everyone goes on holiday in August - it is just skewed to appear that way because of the media's understandable obsession with the Houses Of Parliament and the fact that most media people travel on the Tube, when very few of the real population of the country do..... - I'm still annoyed at Sarah Montague for personally precipitating the rainfall that spoiled the last dry weather.. Still Humphrys will be happy, so that's alright.

    Still, a good article, but it does prompt some thoughts about your general environmental coverage.

    Why are the RSPB getting disproportionately greater coverage of the impact of wind farms than the potential benefits of having a Severn Barrage, even though the localised impact on wildlife will be high ?

    Why does the BBC think we are so thick that we cannot be trusted with the naysayers on global warming as well as those in favour ? Children were shielded from some of the nasty PR from tobacco companies about the lack of proof a link between tobacco and cancer. But adults were allowed to judge for themselves on the balance of the evidence.

    There doesn't seem to be enough coverage of the urgent need to start building more nuclear power stations. Nor, on the flip side, consequences for local populations of the steam-rollering of public consultations and planning process for such large projects. Which can be a blessing if it means reducing carbon emissions, but negated by the un-opposed building of new runways and airports.

    Why are you not educating the public about just how much of the UK will disappear under the water or be zapped by coastal erosion when climate change kicks in ?? Indeed maybe you should point out to the rarefied minority who go to Tuscany [one would think that they form the majority of the British populace from reading the broadsheets..] that they should jolly well go and visit the Norfolk Broads or the Gower Peninsula, since they won't have the chance when they have retired...

    Maybe you should cover the politics of the National Parks and the conflict / cosy bed relationship [as differing people see it] with big business / corporate developers. The New Forest being a case in point.

    Indeed, as environment correspondent do you really need to live and work in London at all ?? The real environmental stories are never there - it is not as if the politicians who make the big decisions are based there.

    Such big decisions are made at EU / UN level anyway - although I would concede that much of the capitulation to big business on things like the 3rd Runway at Heathrow, and the lobbying in the House of Lords takes place there. But I guess that is the 'turf' of the political correspondents like Laura Kuenssberg.

    And James Lovelock doesn't live in London - and his is a voice that does not ever seem to get the profile it deserves on the BBC. And what about getting a different perspective from Julia Hailes. Controversial as she works with big business, but radical in that she understands that change of behaviour is best done by persuasion and nudging than legislation - which to my untrained eye seems singularly ineffective at changing hearts and minds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    p.s. you could also try a feature with both the National Trust and the Forestry Commission, both of whom are trying to get with the programme on environmental awareness.

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    Comment number 3.


    It seems that you and excellent time on Radio 4...I hope you enjoy it...

    =Dennis Junior=

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    Comment number 4.

    So the BBC is already planning its Copenhagen propaganda offensive. What a depressing prospect, although quite how the Today programme can cram any more hysterical climate change items into its running order is beyond me. A van that runs on chip fat? Oh, good one. Did you come up with that at a brainstorming retreat? Will it have peace signs and Green Party bumper stickers? Note to self - book ski holiday to coincide with Copenhagen boondoggle.

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    Comment number 5.

    duhbuh - calm yourself. A van that runs on chip fat is of absolutely no use in reducing the 'carbon footprint' of transport, so if you don't believe in 'climate change' you can at least console yourself that such an initiative, along with 'biofuels' which require chopping down of rainforest and are thus just as useless as 'fossil fuels' in sustainability, will be no better or worse at affecting the long-term impact on the climate.


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