Dispatches 2

New Dispatches strategy will see greater emphasis on interactivity and social media, with a new website to be launched to accompany the series

Credit: Channel 4
Channel 4 is to change the format of its flagship documentary series Dispatches as part of new plans for its current affairs output.

The series will be increased from 30 to 40 programmes per year, although the majority of those will be half an hour instead of an hour, meaning that the overall amount of programming will fall from its current 30 hours.

However a Channel 4 spokesperson said that a number of one-hour programmes within the new format could take the overall number of hours close to 30.

Announcing the changes today, Dorothy Byrne, the channel's head of news and current affairs, said that research had suggested viewers wanted "faster, more reactive content available across a number of platforms".

She added that the new format would allow the channel to "expand the range of subjects" and "be fleet of foot, getting to air quickly with an original take on a story".

"With an increase in the volume of Dispatches we will also have greater flexibility to return to the issues viewers feel passionate about."

Dispatches will also benefit from an increased focus on interactivity, according to Byrne, with a new bespoke website set up for the programme and increased emphasis on social media.

"Social media presents one of the greatest opportunities for investigative journalism. By dumping our leather jackets in the bin and being more open about what we’re investigating, viewers will become our co-producers, providing videos, sources, leads and journalism for us to pursue. Social media and our digital platforms make this possible."

Channel 4 also announced that it will revisit its controversial documentary Sri Lanka's Killing Fields, Jon Snow's investigation into the final weeks of the civil war between the country's government and the Tamil Tigers.

The documentary, first aired in June, generated 118 complaints to broadcasting regulator Ofcom over impartiality and misleading and offensive material.

But Ofcom ruled that the programme – which Snow called "one of the most important" he'd ever worked on and which prompted the Foreign Office to repeat calls for an independent investigation into alleged war crimes during the 2009 military operation in the country – was not in breach of any regulations.

Channel 4, claiming that the Sri Lankan government has "failed to fully investigate the horrific crimes featured in the film", has now commissioned a follow-up documentary due to be aired in January. Snow said he was "very proud" of the planned follow-up, provisionally titled Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished.

"We believe it shows more evidence of official complicity in war crimes and we will continue to show what we find to the world. I hope this film captures, shocks and educates in the same way as the first did."

The channel has also announced a new investigative journalism fund with a planned investment of £250,000.

The Channel 4 Investigative Journalism Training Scheme will offer training for 20 people over two years and is currently inviting tenders from four production companies to provide paid work and mentoring.

Announcing the scheme,
deputy head of news and current affairs and Dispatches editor Kevin Sutcliffe said it would take into account new technologies and social media.

"We are making this substantial investment in investigative journalism because it is a specialist area of film-making, currently there are only a limited number of production companies and experienced producers and directors we work with. We want to increase the pool of talent to ensure greater diversity of supply in the long-term – providing fresh new ideas, angles and stories.
"Crucially, as well as training in the fundamentals, our scheme will train journalists for a converged world, ensuring they know how best to utilise and interactive with new technology and social media."

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