Friday, 25 April 2008

A bit more on awards

This is the time of the year when the nominations for charity awards are trawled. I have already had a gripe about the charity awards (see UK Charity Awards 2007 and Ripping off Charities with awards?) and that moan got quite a lot of positive feedback, from a wide range of sources, not just on the WLT website, but was picked up on other sites.

Coincidentally with this years Charity Awards, I also got notification of the Annual Whitley Awards for Conservation. Now I am considerably more ambivalent about these awards -- not surprisingly because anything that helps conserve wildlife must, per se, be a good thing. However, even here I do have serious reservations. The awards are given to individuals, on the grounds that charismatic leaders are what really move conservation forward. But is this true? In the short term, it probably is true, but in the long term, I think it is certainly rarely so, except in the case of world shattering leaders. Clearly people like Sir David Attenborough, Sir Peter Scott, Aldo Leopold, Julian Huxley, Max Nicolson, Jacques Cousteau -- to name but a few -- had massive and long-lasting impacts. But they certainly didn't need awards to tell them or the rest of the world so. But when I look at the list of the winners of the Whitley Awards, past and present, it is a pretty random selection.

Unfortunately awards will also always tend to operate under Darwinian rules of 'natural selection', in that those with access to publicity media will come to the forefront, those with big egos will float to the top, and those who cultivate a wide network of contacts will gravitate to the centre.

Now I have supported applicants to the Whitley Awards in the past, and will no doubt do so in the future -- there's cash in it for conservation. But giving the prize to individuals simply feeds the all pervasive cult of the celeb'. We have already seen wildlife films debased by gung-ho figures such as Steve Irwin. And the argument is that it brings it to a wider audience - am not particularly anti even those presentations. And last summer a string of 'celebs' were flown around the world for the BBC's Saving Planet Earth series, again, justified on the grounds that it brought the issues to a wider audience. But is this all worth the sell-out? I am not taking a particular stance, but I do have concerns. Inside knowledge is potentially a dangerous thing -- I know many of the persons involved at all levels -- from selections committees to winners. And I know that a few of the winners represent totally unsustainable projects, that are dependent on one or two individuals. But does this negate the benefits of such awards?

Who thinks what?

1 comment:

  1. I'm impressed you were able to write such an objective stance of the topic. I tend to let my emotions get the better on me. I do think using celebrities to advocate causes brings it to sections of people that otherwise might not give a thought to water shortages in Africa, or endangered species in Costa Rica. I do think it needs to be done responsibly. And awards to help projects get further than they may have been able to on their own. Can't be a bad thing, can it?