logo
  ABOUT US  
  YOUR CONTENT arrow
  EDITORIAL arrow
  PECKHAM PULSE  
  PECKHAM arrow
  V DAY arrow
  OUR TV WORK arrow
  DIARY  
  NEWS arrow
  MENTAL FIGHT CLUB  
  MY LONDON  
  S.TV INTERNATIONAL arrow
  MENTAL HEALTH arrow
  VIDEOS  
  SLIDESHOW  
  NOTICEBOARD  
  SOUTHWARK.TV arrow
  CONTACT  
  LINKS  
 
Home  divider  Sitemap  divider  Help  divider  Media Library  divider  Find a Partner  
divider
The Communications Bill: a lost opportunity
As the governmentís Communications Bill (which is now an Act) made its way through the House of Lords much discussion has focussed on the stand taken by Lord Puttnam to subject a broadcasting merger or takeover to a public interest test. This was designed to subject to public scrutiny a possible purchase of Channel 5 by a media magnate like Rupert Murdoch, without going so far as to prevent outright such a takeover. Whilst the Lords amendment and the governmentís subsequent acquiescent response are welcome, the debate on media and public participation in producing media has been mired in this one issue, when it ought to be a far broader discussion.

I am British but lived in the US for 19 years, returning home in September last year. I had spent the last 5 years in America in public access TV. Whilst the received view of American TV as a steady diet of reality TV, celebrity gossip and relentless trivia purely driven by ratings is largely true, one area of US TV is gloriously eclectic, unpredictable, uncensored and exhilarating, where the public interest is represented and citizen participation is welcomed: public access, where volunteers and non-professionals make their own television programmes. Before I worked in public access I had never picked up a video camera before, but within a few months I was doing interviews, making documentaries and other shows. I made media about what interested me; it wasnít a commission handed down from management in which I had no interest or sense of purpose.

Though public interest broadcasting is minimally served in this country, the lack of public access to media making is a yawning chasm in the democratic vista. And in the reports I have read itís not addressed at all in the Communications Bill, whose apparent aim was simply to produce larger media corporations through deregulation and consolidation, as if this was in itself a good thing. The introduction of Public Access Television is vital to the reinvigoration of democracy in this country, just as in the States it is the last bastion of that treasure of American democracy, the First Amendment. Our government claims to be interested in stemming voter apathy, and the Electoral Commission is pushing to lower the voting age to 16 to encourage participation, but in the Communications Bill a real opportunity to counter indifference and make our democracy more meaningful to the citizenry has been lost.

I hope to talk about what public access is and could be in future pages, but I wanted to work for Southwark.tv because it develops peopleís abilities to create their own media and not be passive recipients of what is handed down to them. But Southwark.tv was conceived and started by Chris Haydon personally as a new model for community media in the UK, and fortunately Southwark Council (especially Stephen Douglass) showed an enlightened interest in sustaining the project which we hope will be a model for the rest of the UK. We need to start lobbying now for the next media bill to contain ideas on citizen access to and involvement in the creation of mass media.

Chris Booth
Southwark.tv