Through reading Test Card F, I was informed about a book on the public television experiments of the 1970’s. Starting out in Greenwich, Bristol, Sheffield, Wellingborough and in Swindon, all but Swindon closed down quite swiftly. The book primarily focuses on the experiments at Swindon Viewpoint and Milton Keynes’ Channel 40 (which launched in 1976).
Being written over 30 years ago, some parts of Local Television: Piped Dreams? (written by Andrew Bibby, Cathy Denford and Jerry Cross; Redwing Press, 1979. ISBN 0-906625-017) are clearly dated:

Then consider linking Viewdata with a home computer and the possibilities become quite wonderfully exciting. (We can only assume that this glorious communications revolution will take place some time after all members of the community are able to afford a home phone service, and the drafty callboxes on the edges of estates have vanished for ever from the scene.)
But much of what is written has a renewed relevence today with the government looking into a new network of local television, and the books feels like a great critique of the television experiments.
Our criticism centres around the point we have already stressed, – that the concept of a ‘community’ is an ideological one; as stated above, such a notion, though affirmed as a neutral and a political one, is nevertheless laden with political presuppositions.
I can’t help but think that local television is unnecessary today. With the revolution described above already exceeded and a situation where it is possible to get your voice heard in a variety of ways online to an audience that is both local and international, it feels like a backwards step. Aside from YouTube, perhaps Current.TV is the modern day interpretation of the local tv experiments.

Below are some snippets from the book and relevent links: – a blog post written by Adrian Masters: “It’s striking that Jeremy Hunt uses the argument that his experiment will boost the flow of local news and information. The authors of Piped Dreams say that was one of the dreams of the 70s version. In reality that information tended to come from local authorities, public bodies, police, citizens’ advice bureaux who produced their own items. And given that the most common motive was to ‘gain publicity for their particular cause or organisation’, the result was long, often unwatchable time-fillers.” – the ofcom website about the new local tv projects and a map of possible sites. – an article from The Guardian written by Maggie Brown: “That’s the problem with this bid by Hunt to create a new tier of local media. The whiff of public money is very powerful – while the Muxco solution seems redolent of the very thing local TV should not be about: a top down, centrally directed approach.” – from the BBC, lessons that can be learnt from America. Is it really just about the advertising?

Community Television in Britain: A critique
-Why television? Why fund any communications medium? Couldn’t the necessary expenditure be put to use in other more socially useful ways? Someone has to produce answers, implicit or explicit, to these questions – but it’s certainly not the ‘community’ that makes the decisions.
-Those who do get involved are not led to examine their motives by the staff, whose role it has never been to challenge them to justify their ideas.

Restrictions, Restraints
The Stations board of directors

-Certainly it is true that attempts to ‘demystify’ and ‘deprofessionalise’ the media may involve potential conflicts with the interests of workers who earn a living from the industry…
-”I was against the idea of having anybody with professional broadcast experience because I think that would have carried with it too many preconceptions and a dependence on resources that we simply wouldn’t have.”
-The media ‘radicals’ are almost to a man fine examples of “bourgeois individualism” incarnate.
-When the underlying ideology is revealed and… discredited, the contradictions don’t disappear – but the political issues to be faced in resolving them become clear.

Moving Forward
-It’s no use being naive about communications media. Political domination requires control of communications and that necessitates controlling an moulding the technology.
-What we’re trying to point out is that the use of video for community purposes is, realistically, just an insignificant part of a business whose real interests lie a vast distance from fine-sounding ideas of ‘bringing television to the people’. And anyone involved in the cable television projects, or in independent video projects, must be aware that developments in television are moving in quite the opposite direction. That said, it is true of course that technological innovations are making quite a difference in community video.
-Another important development in the technology is that of ‘digital’ technique
-The invasion of privacy by computers is equally a cause for concern – the Police National Computer in Hendon has at least 24 million records on it. The possibility of direct linking between video surveillance systems and computer stores is not a pleasant prospect.
-Are the people in Swindon and Milton Keynes given the chance to make programmes about their immediate locality, when in fact the issues and decisions which concern them are being discussed and decided and national – or international – level? Far from demystifying, are the projects only mystifying further, by turning attention away from important areas of concern?
-It will be interesting to see whether, now that some of the more interesting suggestions on local radio in the Annan report seem unlikely… people will take the law into their own hands…. Perhaps illegality is the only possibility.
-No project operates in a vacuum. All absolute philosophies like this are impossible to achieve; they treat the world undialectically, and disregard practical limiting factors…. But any future local media project… must start with some practical guidelines for its work. These aims must be development on an evolving, flexible basis, through experimentation and as external influences and restraints change.
-Early in Channel 40’s development, technical manager Cliff Evans hypothesised a local television station based not in a central building but in a touring van, able to operate in different areas of a town at different times, and plugging into a cable system (or raising a temporary aerial) from these locations.
-We are interested too in short-term or one-off use of distribution facilities, which can escape the less desirable effects of a constant, regular transmission schedule… The rather more ambitious project in the Vale of Leven, Dunbartonshire, took over a vacant cable channel for six weeks in 1976…. Although the practise at Vale TV was rather more chaotic, one senses that the impact and novelty of Vale TV might have been lost had an on-going ‘station’ emerged and tried dutifully to transmit programmes over a longer period of time.
-Collective work is also seen as less efficient than individual endeavour.

Over time, the Channel 40 workers unionised themselves. As with anything, with time and repetition, a project with innocent, revolutionary or dreamy aims to challenge a norm either takes on many of the traits of the thing they’re challenging or, perhaps less severely, finds its own traits which need challenging or become staid. Perhaps there’s something important about a one off.