Sally-Ann Wilson wanted to be a doctor or a nurse, but could not do mathematics. Instead, her innate curiosity about natural history and development led her to a career in broadcasting.
“I had connections with radio and volunteered during university. I was doing three a.m. brekkie,” Sally-Ann said. She trained in radio and, over time, made documentaries for the BBC.
Her fascination with natural history led her to work as a TV consultant in Bristol – where David Attenborough was working in the BBC History Unit. Sally-Ann was thrilled to join him on a year-long expedition into Indonesia. Her voice glowed with memories of the mangrove forest.
After 20 years producing and directing TV for BBC, Granada and Discovery, Sally-Ann joined the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA) in 2001. Her project, which still fires her passion, was to set up World View, a broadcast media scheme in partnership with the UK government.
“I prefer to be out in the wider world,” Sally-Ann said. “World View is our [UK] equivalent to AusAid to redress the balance and provide support for producers to travel widely in the developing world, and bring these stories on film to the UK.”
The online space for new and emerging filmmakers, Your World View, was showcased at the Student Masterclass during the recent CBA Conference in Brisbane. More than a space for film and multimedia content, it’s intended as a forum for international issues.
When asked, Sally-Ann said that the concept may be extended to radio “one day”. Radio is more popular in some countries, but film works well online.
About 350 films have been made since 2001, some with seed funding. Up to £10,000 is available for young filmmakers, but project funding ends in 2013 unless other funding partners are found.
In 2010, Sally-Ann became Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association. She paid tribute to her predecessor, Elizabeth Smith, who had done a great job of building up the association over 16 years.
It was time, though, to change the focus to contemporary broadcasting – international coverage with a focus on connecting cultures.
“It’s a critical time for public broadcasting – it’s more genuinely public,” she said.
“Public broadcasting covers infrastructure, technology and content. The big challenge is that digital switchover [from analogue] is occurring in different phases [by country] over the next 10 years.
“It’s hard for room to grow given the selling of [wireless] spectrum.”
Sally-Ann retains a passion for education and academic research. In 2008, she founded a Master’s programme in Media and International Development at the University of East Anglia, and still teaches on it.
As she had a plane flight to the UK to catch, my final request was for her top tips to new journalists.
“Be focussed, determined and curious,” she said. With a final tip that people skills are important, she added: “Be pleasant and confident without being too pushy or obnoxious.”