Archive for November, 2009

Why public content is more than one institution and why we need to create a national digital archive

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

One of the interesting aspects of the new broadcasting legislation, which has created the BAI (Broadcasting Authority of Ireland), is that it has sought to deepen the definition of public broadcasting or more precisely public content and increase the public’s access to the institutions which create public content. The new law mandates all broadcasters to create audience councils which will represent the public and ensure the public interest is served. It also allows for a public right of reply which means people have a channel to seek a right of reply outside of the courts and gives greater weight to the concept of the public ownership of broadcasting in terms of the content that is delivered to the public. While the new regulator, the BAI, now takes care of both public broadcasters like RTE and TG4 as well as commercial ones like TV3 and Newstalk 106, the law tasks the BAI to test new offerings, new broadcasting media offerings, against public need as well as market feasibility. The BAI may now feel daunted by the amount of new tasks which are piling up due to the new legislation but from the public’s point of view it is all good and put the focus back on the public concept of media rather than on the institutions which provide that media. While the new legislation gives a strong sense of the secure future for institutions like RTE it also makes clear the accountability aspects to ensure that public monies deliver relevant and appropriate content.

The broadcasting fund, Sound and Vision, now gets 7% of the TV licence fee (which may simply be tagged a public content licence in the future) and that money can benefit any Irish licensed broadcaster once they commission/create content which meet a public content criteria which includes children’s programming, arts/culture, history, Irish language etc. A new category has been added which means the fund can also now benefit programming which seeks to tell the story of development, international development and Ireland’s relationship with it, providing a global perspective on our story-telling which will allows projects relating to the developing world to come under the scheme, for both radio and television. One category which has existed since the Funding Act was passed in 2003 is archives, particularly digital archives, and this category has, to date, not benefited from the fund and indeed the whole sphere of archiving remains at an embryonic stage in Ireland. While RTE has a clear archiving policy and has been digitising its archives the lack of a national plan on a national audio visual digital archive is holding any progress back.

Other countries, like Norway in the mid 1990s, have long since grasped the nettle and invested to create an open access and free national digital archive which draws on all the cultural institutions from broadcasters to universities to ensure that the public, (whose money created the content in the first place), can freely benefit and enjoy the archives as a cultural and educational resources. The lack of policy on this is more significant than revenue since a policy led approach would mean that the 7% allocation to Sound and Vision could finally begin to benefit archives and assist the creation of a national audio visual archives which exploits the best digital technologies we have for public and educational use. One last thing - where would be a good place to house and create this digital national archive? The GPO of course. A central building in both our national history and cultural life which could be the new centre for the irish digital archive where people can walk in and enjoy the experience of the archives from RTE, the universities, the museums, the private institutions which may share their collections. It would cost less than moving the Abbey there - and would avoid the horror of trying to match the needs of a future focussed performance company like the Abbey with a protected and historic building like the GPO. Ironically now is the time, in the midst of this recession, to plan and get the policy right and then to ready to create a central and accessible resource which will be a lasting and living monument for the island and a lasting and living installation of the legacy of public content. What do you think? Let me know.