Broadcasters face becoming irrelevant to audiences if they fail to act on climate change, media chiefs have warned.
Senior figures from the BBC, Channel 4, ITV, Sky and STV urged their competitors to create more content reflecting the realities of climate change during a panel coinciding with Cop26.
It came after 12 of the UK’s major media brands agreed to increase the amount and improve the quality of their climate change storytelling across drama, comedy and daytime programming.
Simon Pitts, chief executive of STV, said there is a “commercial imperative” for broadcasters to make changes now.
He told the panel: “In a couple of generations, when they look back not just on Covid but what we are doing now, we are not going to be judged on whether we managed to hit our quarterly targets and profit numbers – it is if we stepped up and did the right thing.
“This isn’t pure altruism, it is a commercial imperative for us. If we don’t do all the things we are discussing, we won’t be relevant to our audiences and, crucially, to our people.”
Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon said there is a “collective responsibility on us as CEOs because we are in a position of power, because we have the ability to put things in the media that influence consumer behaviour”.
She added: “You hear that in different ways from all of us. We have to look at the facts and what our responsibilities are as running businesses.
“But we are running particular businesses – so now we have cleaned up our own organisations over 10 years, as you have heard, the question is now ‘What can we do to influence the behaviour of the population?’ Because we have the ability to do that.
“We have to do it in the right way, in a way that is not lecturing or hectoring, but we can do that in a way that makes massive, massive impact on the UK.”
BBC director-general Tim Davie said climate change is no longer a “politically controversial” issue and the pledge does not affect the corporation’s impartiality.
He told the panel: “The overwhelming consensus is that we, as humanity, are causing global warming. There are voices on the fringes but, in my view, when it comes to due impartiality for the BBC, we are now at a point where we have consensus around that.
“But then you do get into political debate around policy, speed of change, the social consequences – there is tough stuff to debate and we will do that as the BBC.”
Dame Carolyn McCall, chief executive of ITV, said UK broadcasters can also influence their foreign commercial partners through their programmes.
“We are talking very much about the UK here, and that is right. But there is a point here that is all of our content travels and so we can have a influence worldwide,” she said.
The signatories to the pledge – who also include Britbox, Discovery and RTE – represent more than 70% of the time UK audiences spend watching TV and film.
The pledge was brought together by Albert, the screen industry organisation for environmental sustainability, and is being launched to coincide with the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow.
However, the companies have not set measurable targets and will announce their own commitments in the coming year.