TVE Asia Pacific (TVEAP) is deeply saddened by the death of its co-founder and Board member Robert Paul Lamb.
Robert, an accomplished science writer, TV journalist and film maker, was 59 when he lost his battle with cancer on 13 February 2012.
He was a widely respected thought leader and practitioner in factual TV production, and in communicating science and sustainable development issues using the media.
Robert was a long-serving member of TVEAP’s international Board of Directors. He headed his own TV production company, One Planet Pictures, and was also an Executive Producer with the Geneva based non-profit foundation dev.tv, both partners of TVEAP.
“Robert will be greatly missed. He was a visionary mentor and a strong supporter of our ideal of Asians telling their own stories using TV, video and web,” says Nalaka Gunawardene, Director of TVEAP. (See box for full statement.)
Robert Lamb was founder Director of the UK-based charity Television Trust for the Environment (TVE) from 1984 to 2002. He co-founded TVEAP in 1996 together with media, educational and development specialists in the Asia Pacific, and anchored -the regional programme in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
TVEAP Tribute to its
Co-Founder Robert Lamb
“Robert Lamb knew the power of moving images. For over three decades, he used them effectively to move people all over the world to reflect on how their daily actions impact their local environment and the planet.
“TVEAP owes its existence to the vision of Robert Lamb, who took a bold decision in the mid 1990s to regionalise in the developing world by engaging the Asia Pacific first.
“Robert was very well informed, highly analytical yet kept an open mind for fresh angles and new perspectives. He inspired us without imposing his own views.
“He walked his talk, practising in personal life what he advocated in his films. If he breathed heavily in the edit room, he trod softly on the Earth.”
“We salute Robert Lamb, and reaffirm our commitment to his vision and ideals.”
- Nalaka Gunawardene & Manori Wijesekera
Co-Directors, TVE Asia Pacific
Robert’s outlook was rooted in journalism, where he started his career. He later straddled the worlds of media and development and had a firm grasp of scientific, economic and political realities that shaped international development.
He moved among government officials, researches and activists, but always remained a journalistic story teller: one who demystified jargon-ridden science and procedure-laden intergovernmental negotiations in simple, engaging terms for non-specialist audiences.
While working with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in the 1980s, he saw the potential of television and video to raise environmental awareness and catalyse development debates in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Breaking new ground
Working with documentary film makers Adrian Cowell and Roger James, and encouraged by the South Africa born scientist Ivan Hattingh, Robert formed an unlikely alliance involving UNEP, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF UK) and Central TV, a commercial broadcaster in the UK. That was the origin of TVE in 1984.
As a half-way house between the worlds of conservation, development and broadcasting, TVE catalysed many documentaries that investigated complex, sometimes contentious causes of environmental degradation and social exclusion.
The charity generated substantial funding from the world of international development for making and distributing TV programmes and video films. It also ensured that the content was editorially independent – crucial for broadcaster acceptance.
From the beginning, Robert insisted that the factual TV content catalysed by TVE had their copyrights cleared for secondary use in the developing world. Over time, this built up a formidable collection of world class TV content on environment, health, science and human rights issues -- all available to broadcast, educational and civil society users in the global South without license fees.
TVEAP was originally set up to distribute, localise and promote the use of this material in the world’s largest region. It later evolved into a fully fledged regional non-profit foundation. When TVEAP ended all formal links with TVE in 2005, Robert Lamb was invited to continue as a Board member. By that time, he had left the UK charity.
Raised in the second half of the 20th century, Robert metamorphosed into a multi-media journalist of the 21st century. A highly adaptable and resourceful person, he kept up with rapid changes in broadcasting, media and development.
He successfully rode at least two major waves that swept his industry: rise of global satellite TV, followed by the rollout of broadband internet around the world.
In 1996, he started producing Earth Report, a journalistic exploration of the state of the planet that showcased both environmental problems and solutions. It was first broadcast on the global satellite channel BBC World (now BBC World News), reaching out mostly to policy and corporate viewers. Earth Report was later made available to dozens of TV stations worldwide in various local languages.
As Series Editor, Robert commissioned and quality controlled over 400 Earth Report episodes. This series was a principal reason for the BBC winning the Zayed Prize, the world's richest environment award, in 2004.
Robert embraced the web as an additional distribution platform by reorienting his thinking and practices. Most of his output during the past decade was conceived and produced to suit the multi-channel, always-on digital realities of the information society.
Yet he was not mesmerised by technology. “There is no substitute to good story telling,” he used to say. “New media can amplify messages and expand outreach -- but only if we have something worthwhile to say!”
In the 2000s, Robert started One Planet Pictures, through which he produced over 50 hours of innovative and informative TV programming on sustainable development, human rights and humanitarian issues. These have reached 800 million TV homes worldwide. Most programmes formed part of a multi-media package.
In particular, the several series of ‘on the frontline’ brought global TV viewers close to the harsh ground realities faced by ordinary people and various professionals fighting for survival or social justice. Different series were focused on violence against women, humanitarian relief, desertification and children’s issues.
A New Look at an Old Planet
In this piece that appeared on our website in October 2010, Robert Lamb recalls the making of Nature Inc, the path-breaking documentary series that puts a price-tag on environmental services such as forests and wildlife.
In 2009 Robert’s relentless search for interesting new formats led him to conceive One Square Mile, where TV reporters visit a marked out section of a town and talk to the people they meet to find out what their everyday concerns are. It was reality TV for discerning viewers.
Probably the most interactive and multi-platform project Robert Lamb originated was World Challenge. A partnership with BBC World News and Newsweek, and supported by Shell, this series –which has run for six years so far – championed sustainable community projects and businesses.
Each year’s competition started off with hundreds of global public nominations. An expert panel narrowed them down to a dozen before viewers could vote online for their favourites. The three with the most votes receive cash prizes and global media exposure.
||“There is no substitute to good story telling. New media can amplify messages and expand outreach -- but only if we have something worthwhile to say!”
- Robert Lamb
TVEAP distributes and promotes all these, as well as other series made by One Planet Pictures: Climate Challenge, Nature Inc series 1 and 2.
As their website explains, “One Planet Pictures/dev tv documentaries are the core of a multi-platform output that includes 3 minute news items, to 2 minute vignettes, 'viral videos', Apps and You Tube webcasts. The aim is to maximise audiences across the range of mobile phone, broadcast and Internet platforms.”
As a development communicator, Robert regularly advised the UN system, the World Bank and leading non-profits active on conservation or development issues. For some years, he was convener of synapse, informal association of leading environment and development media NGOs. He was also a founding member of the COMplus Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development.
He served on the boards of several companies and non-profits. Besides TVEAP, he held honorary positions on the boards of TVE Japan and TVE Mediterranean.
Born in Windsor, United Kingdom, Robert was educated at Maidenhead Grammar school and Downing College, Cambridge University (1971-74). He also qualified in advanced French from Sorbonne University in Paris (1971).
He joined the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 1975, where he was trained in TV production and TV journalism. He held various positions researching and writing news bulletins, radio/TV production, reporting and news reading.
He then served as Features Editor (1978-80) of Earthscan publishing in London, which at the time was part of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). From 1980-82, he became Director of Communications at IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, headquartered in Gland, Switzerland.
For the next decade (1982-92), he worked with UNEP, initially as Science Writer, and later as Policy Consultant to Executive Director. This was a decisive time for the development community, culminating with the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992. Part of this time, he was concurrently the Director of TVE.
Over the years, factual TV programmes produced or executive produced by Robert Lamb won over 200 awards that included Emmy, George Foster Peabody, Prix Italia, Ecovision Grand Prix, Ekofilm, BAFTA and New York Gold Medal.
A Fellow of Royal Geographical Society, Robert personally received several awards and honours, including the UN Award for Outstanding Environmental Achievement (1988) and Order of the Golden Ark (The Netherlands).
Robert Paul Lamb, science writer, journalist and TV producer, born 19 June 1952; died 13 February 2012.
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