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Summer 04


Regionalism and Globalised Cultures

University of Ulster, Coleraine - 28-30 July

An international conference on film, television and media: Cultures and policies

The conference will explore the relationship between ‘global’ popular culture and various definitions of ‘local’ culture. Crucial to an understanding of this relationship is the concept of ‘the region’ as it has become reconfigured by global economic and cultural forces. Regional cultures exist in relation and in opposition to dominant national cultures and interact with them in complex and contradictory ways.

National cultures are themselves often posited as ‘regional’ cultures in opposition to the global and the concept of ‘critical regionalism’ has been canvassed as a challenge to global conformity or homogeneity. On the other hand, in line with the strategies of multinational corporations more generally, multinational software manufacturers have divided the global market into ‘regions’ for the purpose of controlling the DVD market. This would suggest that, despite the potential of regional cultures to offer alternatives to the global market, there is in fact nothing intrinsically challenging or radical in the concept of the region. The conference will explore the complex and contradictory relationships among the local, the regional, the national and the global and assess the implications for both media representation and local, national and transnational audio-visual policy.


Keynote Lectures and Plenary Sessions:

John Tomlinson: Globalisation and Cultural Identity

Ang, Ien: Changing Meanings of Asia and Asianness in Contemporary Global Culture

World Premiere Screening: Rebel Frontier, Desmond Bell, (2004, 64 mins.) Desmond Bell will attend the screening and answer questions afterwards.

Toby Miller: The People of the United States Cannot be Trusted: Globalised Hollywood 2

Panel Discussion: Film Policy in the UK: Four Years of the Film Council with David Steele, Senior Executive Researcher, UK Film Council; Prof. Sylvia Harvey, University of Lincoln; Prof. John Hill, University of Ulster and member, UK Film Council and Richard Williams, Director Northern IrelandTelevision Commission

Pat Loughrey, Director, Nations and Regions, BBC: Local Identity in the Global Village: the BBC’s Regional Policy


Mapping the Metropolis

Sylvia Harvey

When the Chairman and the Director General of the BBC both resigned in the wake of the Hutton Report in January 2004 there had not been such a politically-motivated culling of senior BBC staff since the enforced resignation of Alastair Milne in January 1987 - despatched by a Tory grandee who had been appointed by Margaret Thatcher. By strange coincidence, or perhaps by action of some sardonic higher power commenting on the continuities between Thatcherism and Blairism, both Alastair Milne and Greg Dyke walked the plank out of Broadcasting House on the same date: 29 January.

There are some important differences, of course, as well as some similarities in the causes and consequences of these events. The cull of 2004 took place during the early stages of the debate about the renewal of the BBC’s Charter. And the attendant storm of publicity seems to have had the effect of increasing public interest in what has previously been a rather un-noticed and elaborately esoteric ritual, namely the review by government of an organisation (the BBC) operating under the provisions of a Royal Charter. Taken in conjunction with the emergence, also in January, of the new regulatory body, the Office of Communications - ‘Ofcom’ - designed to oversee both telecommunications and television, and the first few months of this year have been a busy time for politicians, journalists, media historians and policy theorists.

Milne’s resignation was a consequence of government anger at the BBC’s coverage of the American bombing of Libya, allied with controversies over the investigation of war and terror in Northern Ireland (some will remember the ‘Real Lives affair’) and the BBC’s attempt at investigating the secret services (Duncan Campbell’s famous or infamous series: Secret Society). Dyke’s disappearance was a consequence of disagreements about coverage of the war in Iraq. Both men were effectively sacked as a result of direct and indirect pressure from the government of the day. Michael Grade (long before his recent appointment as the new Chairman of the BBC) was to refer to the removal of Milne as an example of the ‘brutalisation’ of the BBC.

But what do these affairs of state and of front-page newspaper coverage have to do with the more sober pace and objectives of scholarly research? The Public Policy and National Identity strand of research within the AHRB Centre has been attempting to keep abreast of current changes in public policy, to analyse and assess these changes and to contribute – where appropriate – to the shaping of policy.

This work began with a response to the government’s White Paper on the Future of Communications issued in December 2000. Prepared by no less than two government departments (the Department of Trade and Industry together with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport) the White Paper and its subsequent legislation represented the biggest shake-up in the regulatory framework for broadcast communications in the United Kingdom since the ending of the BBC monopoly and the creation of commercial television in the 1950s. The White Paper outlined the sometimes conflicting objectives of support for the development of dynamic markets in the communications industries and recognition of the role played by public service broadcasting in the political and cultural life of a nation. Our response highlighted some of the difficulties of combining the regulation of communications infrastructure (and issues of competition related to the provision of telecommunications services) with the regulation of television content (with all of its attendant controversies around issues of quality and diversity in programming, the maintenance of impartiality in news and current affairs and the desirability of support for indigenous production). We noted the cultural and political significance of television and its role in facilitating informed citizenship, and expressed some concern that any approach which appeared to prioritise issues of economic competition above those of cultural significance might result in a reduction not an expansion of real choice for viewers and listeners.

As the Communications Bill passed through Parliament and a strong controversy emerged about the government’s proposal to enable American ownership of British television companies – for the first time in the history of UK broadcasting – the Centre organised a well-attended public meeting to debate the issues. Around seventy people met in Sheffield to listen to politicians representing the views of government and of opposition, to contribute their own views and to hear, also, proposals coming from the community media sector.

Since the Communications Bill became law in July 2003 and both Ofcom and the DCMS have swung into action with their reviews of public service television and the BBC’s royal charter, the Centre has continued to make written submissions in the various public consultations and to participate in an ever-growing number of mainly metropolitan-based policy seminars. Throughout this process we have been asking to what extent and in what ways academic research into communications policy might contribute to the framing of public interest principles and objectives. Our most recent written contribution to the debate about Charter Renewal has suggested that licence-fee payers might take on the responsibility of electing the governors of the BBC, thereby both improving structures of accountability and strengthening the BBC’s independence from the government of the day.

We shall never have the resources to match the treasure house of statistics and the detailed analysis of audience trends being assembled by Ofcom, DCMS and the BBC, but we may be able to make a modest contribution to re-framing the key questions that underlie public debate about the social, cultural and political significance of broadcasting in the twenty-first century.

Film and broadcasting policy submissions to a variety of public bodies can be found on this site at www.bftv.ac.uk/policy.


An early shop-front cinema in London’s Old Kent Road

The London Project, as reported in the last Newsletter, has been getting under way. Luke McKernan’s appointment as Senior Research Fellow in May (on half-time secondment from the British Universities Film and Video Council) has kick-started an intensive process of assessing the available information about the early film business in London and identifying sources of new data. Also appointed is Jonathan Davis, a senior consultant to the UK Film Council, who will advise on presentation of the London project’s findings in ways which may be of particular interest to today’s planners.

The Project was formally launched with a Press release on 20 April, coinciding with the launch of Film London, the new government-backed agency intended to coordinate services to production and all other activities that foster the presence of film in the capital. Ken Livingstone was one of the speakers at the City launch of Film London, and the only one to remind the large audience that film isn’t only about economic benefits, but has long been a vital cultural experience, especially for the poor. As Film London looks to develop schemes to make film more varied and accessible throughout the city today, with grants to specialist festivals and projects, the Centre’s London Project will be unearthing evidence of how film spread rapidly as a new industry and entertainment during the late Victorian and early Edwardian era.

A first Advisory Seminar for the project was held at Birkbeck on 16 June, with some twenty invited experts from many fields. These included Richard Gray and Allen Eyles from Cinematograph Theatres Association, which has done much to promote awareness of the surviving material history of cinema-going through publications and campaigns on historic cinemas; the economic historian John Sedgwick and film historians Richard Brown, Nicholas Hiley and Stephen Herbert; and Vanessa Toulmin, research director of the National Fairground Archive at Sheffield University. Also present were Jude Cowan, a Birkbeck research student working on early British cinema, and Patrick Keiller, filmmaker and currently AHRB Research Fellow in the Creative and Performing Arts at the Royal College of Art.

Luke McKernan outlined the project’s aims as:
- to provide a comprehensive assessment of the early film business in London
- to produce a summary of existing knowledge and to create new resources for further the study of early film in and beyond London
- to establish the physical, social and economic presence of film in London between 1894-1914
- to establish a methodology for the socio-economic analysis of early film
- to obtain a new recognition of film as a social factor among historians of this period
He then offered an impressive synthesis of existing knowledge before spelling out how much remains to be discovered. Much of the seminar was profitably devoted to discussing how little is known about many aspects of the business, from questions of topography to the cost and means of film transport, and how admission prices related to disposable income for different classes. The recent example of the mobile phone phenomenon seeming to have no obvious economic rationale provided a striking reminder of how unexpected yet dramatic shifts in media consumption continue today.

Among current research that will inform the project, Jon Burrows’ recent major study of ‘penny gaffs’ and other early types of exhibition venue in London (published in two parts in Film History vol 16, nos 1 and 2) challenges received wisdom about these equivalents of America’s ‘nickelodeons’. Making use of a wider range of licensing and other records, Burrows questions previous estimates of their numbers and dating, proving how fundamental research is urgently needed in this field. The seminar contributed strongly to identifying both refined research questions and methods and sources that may help answer them.

Luke’s presentation ended with a 1910 quotation from Montagu Pyke that strikes a balanced note amid the claim and counter-claim that surrounded early cinema. ‘It forms in fact – I like the word – a diversion. It is in some respects what old Izaak Walton claimed angling to be: An employment for idle time which is then not idly spent, a rest to the mind, a cheerer of spirits, a diverter of sadness, a calmer of unquiet thoughts, a moderator of passions, a procurer of contentedness.’

Allen Eyles (l.) and Luke McKernan at the London Project’s first Advisory Seminar at Birkbeck in June, with Montagu Pyke’s words on screen.






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Last modified 24 November, 2004 ; web@bftv.ac.uk