Will the Television be Revolutionised - Local TV Comes to Bristol and UK - by Dave Greenhalgh

This is an archive article, for current news of Local TV in Bristol and the UK check Local TV in the UK.

On February 11th, the i-Contact Video Network held a public meeting at Easton Community Centre to discuss Bristol's new local TV channel. By the end of the year, it is expected that half of Bristol will receive an exclusive local TV service available to all television sets on channel six. Reaching 200,000 viewers, including Easton, it will accompany similar experiments in local terrestrial TV throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom. The Independent Television Commission have handed out two year Restricted Service Licences (RSLs) across the U.K. City TV of Wiltshire have received international frequency clearance for a Restricted Service Licence (RSL) for Bristol and have applications pending for Bath, Exeter, West Wiltshire and Taunton.

Guest speaker at the i-Contact meeting was Dave Rushton, Director of the Institute of Local Television, chair of Scottish RSL holders Channel 6 and lecturer in Media Production and Media Management at Edinburgh University. After years of campaigning, he sees the RSLs as an experiment with the chance to persuade the government of the need for locally based TV, possibly financed as Public Service Broadcasting by TV licence fees. Rushton says that RSLs are, 'the last great television adventure which encourages broadcasting by community groups, voluntary associations, colleges and universities as well as by radio broadcasters, smaller television producers, video workshops and access centres. By connecting citizens to one another, it could regenerate a sense of community and combined identity. If combined with the new information communications technologies, it could enable a more responsive, interactive political system to develop at a local level'.

City TV's Simon Bond also addressed the audience of 60 or so. He outlined a commercially pragmatic 'bottom line' where the formula is viewers equals advertisers equals income. He explained the high costs involved in terrestrial broadcast compared to the less expensive equivalents of cable based public access TV in the United States (where most households have cable). City TV's model comprises an even mix of shopping channel, video juke box and studio phone in. Simon Bond, former director of public affairs at Telewest, has so far declined to reveal who is financing the estimated 1.5 million capital funds required for the South West although he admits that both financiers and advertisers will be able to influence content. ITC safeguards against corporate control ensure that there must be a national plurality of ownership of TV broadcasters. However, there would appear to be little to prevent a large company using the local RSL as a golden advertising opportunity by monopolising and controlling content.

Dave Rushton has outlined a model for democratically run Television Trusts and cites examples in the U.S. where citizens own shares in the local channel raising funds through pledges made each year on a fortnight long Red Nose Day type promotion. A channel 6 model in Barnsley, a former mining community, is successfully developing around a community ownership structure.

Neither would a local sixth channel have to broadcast pictures at all times. It could be used for radio on TV supported by for example computer graphic art, only broadcasting when visual material is called for or available. 800 or so teletext pages could be used for anything from the local second hand car dealer through support for the homeless, homework support for school kids to a local entertainment guide. Unlike the web, 99% of households have TV, 70% of which support teletext. The internet means we can easily access community TV output from other local communities around the globe, share our experiences, bypass centralised news filters and never be short of material to broadcast. People needn't be intimidated or even impressed by the BBC's long established model, but rather can rather begin to creatively participate in TV as a truly interactive medium.

Without a chunk of our Public Service Broadcasting licence fee going to our local TV, however, or unless there is some other form of community accountability, we are reduced to lobbying City TV and their financiers for a chance to effect what goes into our local TV channel.

A Bristol coalition is in the process of forming to promote local accountability and input into the new channel.