You&MeTube? New big society television channel.

January 24, 2011 at 9:31 am Leave a comment

On Friday Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt unveiled plans for a new television channel, that will provide content at a local level. Local news and information and local programming will be shown, although it hasn’t been made clear as yet just how locally devolved it will be. It will be a tv channel that will offer “a new voice for local communities, with local perspectives that are directly relevant to them.”

As a communications professional working with journalists and programme makers I am all too aware of television’s capacity to give individual people and communities a voice and the resulting impact this can have on viewers. Television is a powerful tool in communicating and establishing relationships between people and issues. It brings tough social issues to audiences in an accessible format. Take the issues of mental distress and cot death. Eastenders recently ran a storyline of a character who, while grieving for her deceased baby, steals a baby from another woman. The storyline received a record number of complaints – more than any other Eastenders storyline in history. Viewers felt the storyline was ill-handled and insensitive to the issues and the producers were forced to cut the story short. It is highly unlikely that an insensitively handled newspaper article would have stimulated the same response. Well made documentaries and dramas, that tell powerful stories well, are much more likely to invoke empathy.

If the new television channel shows great programmes with a local focus it could really feed into the big society idea and help mobilise communities into action. However, if the television channel just shows locally focussed news and current affairs programmes with less narrative it won’t have nearly the same level of impact. High quality dramas and documentaries, traditionally, cost money and this investment comes with a guarantee of viewing figures – which will be fragmented to an extraordinary degree if this channel is as local as the rhetoric suggests. But if this works it could really be a tool in the big society armoury. The key is in the stories and programme makers spend a long time searching the country for the right ones. YouTube has revolutionised video, with the people taking ownership of broadcasting. Users don’t have access to expensive equipment so today’s society doesn’t need or expect high production values to engage with content. But people do need great stories. If citizen’s and communities can be given the help they need to tell their own amazing stories they can create their own content and the channel could operate more like a community owned You&MeTube and less like the BBC. Then it could have real potential.

Kathryn Tyler
Head of Communications

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Entry filed under: Big society.

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