The Deadline – why I think ‘campaign journalism’ can learn from this documentary

I was contacted just after Christmas by Phil Stebbing, director and producer of a new documentary called The Deadline that investigates the issue of fishing piracy off the coast of Guinea. Independently produced, Phil has worked on the film between other jobs – most notably the excellent Afghan Star. He asked whether the club would be interested in screening the film so I said I’d take a look at a DVD.

I was sceptical at first, mainly because from the trailer it is obvious that Greenpeace has a strong presence in the film and as a policy the club steers clear of films that have a strong ngo backed campaign agenda. Not because we have an opinion on the rights or wrongs of the campaign but because, by definition, we are an independent journalism establishment.

Having watched the film I’m happy that my scepticism has been proved false. I found it an enthralling and at times appalling film that really documents one of the biggest ecological problems facing the planet today. It shows how the globalisation and mechanisation of the fishing industry to satisfy the insatiable appetites of developed countries is a problem that requires a real international consensus. It also highlights the impunity of pirate fishing crews who flout EU regulations and deceive the Guinean authorities, who are ill equipped to deal with the task of policing their shores.

Greenpeace of course are the ones keeping an eye on the pirate fishing vessels and reporting back to the Guinean authorities. They are in the film as protagonists and as far as I can discern did not offer any funding to the filmmakers.

I believe the film is all the more effective for raising awareness due to the fact that Greenpeace’s agenda is not shoved in the face of the viewer, like I’ve found in many other films featuring NGOs. The film isn’t ‘about’ Greenpeace and therefore I didn’t feel like I was being sold a message – the viewer is treated with respect and allowed to judge for themselves. Too often we tune out of important messages because we feel preached at..

I believe this is something that other ngos could consider when funding their own campaign documentaries.