|Computers & Texts No. 14:
We have been asked to publish the following as a clarification of comments reported to have been made by Murry Weston, Director of the BUFVC, at the Film & Drama conference held on 17 March 1997. We are happy to do so. The text of the letter and the BUFVC's response to the consultation paper, 'Legal Deposit of Publications' will also be reproduced in the printed edition of Computers & Texts 15.
16 June 1997
Dear Michael and Sarah,
Thank you for the recent copy of Computers and Texts. It is a good issue. However, I thought I should write immediately to correct one or two misunderstandings which have arisen from my reported interventions in the Panel Session of the one-day meeting on Computer-Assisted Film and Drama Studies.
I thought I had said that the Legal Deposit of Publications discussion paper had left a black hole regarding broadcast television and radio. The statutory deposit of film (as cinema film) has been quite properly addressed in that paper. Currently (since 1st August 1990) all BBC television programmes receivable in London are recorded and held at the National Film and Television Archive and may be viewed by bona fide researchers. A selection of television programmes from ITV, Channel Four and Channel Five are also copied and held. However, the deficiency which remained in the paper on the Legal Deposit of Publications is that it was suggested that the system for the deposit of broadcast television and radio was adequately covered by arrangements within the Broadcasting Act 1990. These arrangements currently provide only a severely limited record of British television being retained for study purposes and there is no formal arrangement for radio.
In our view, scholars in the humanities really need to have access to as complete a record as possible of broadcast television and radio output. If we can justify retaining, in an archive for research purposes, copies of most newspapers published in the UK and providing access via the British Library's Colindale centre there must surely be a good case for the legal deposit of the nation's broadcasts. For your interest I attach a copy of our formal response to the DNH paper.
My polemic about access to BBC programmes was that, of all the broadcasting agencies, the BBC as a public broadcaster (having the benefit of mandatory licence fee monies) should have a public record responsibility to retain a copy of all television and radio programmes it has transmitted and provide better research access post transmission.
In the third paragraph under the heading Panel Session there is a misunderstanding. Section 35 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 allows any university to establish a library of off-air recordings from radio, terrestrial television, cable and satellite services receivable in the UK. However, where there is an off-air recording licence in operation, agreed by the Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry, this must be paid. The Open University has its own licence which is a transactional one (i.e. an institution pays per programme and an annual fee for each recording retained) to cover OU programmes which may only be kept for a number of years. This means that very few institutions hold more OU programmes than they actually need for teaching purposes because the larger the library the larger the annual cost to maintain it. The only other licence in operation is the Educational Recording Agency ERA licence which covers the recording of programmes from other television broadcasters. This licence is non-transactional and requires the payment of a simple annual charge which allows the institution to record and retain as many programmes in as many copies as required without further cost.
The following response focuses on issues raised in the paper which relate to the legal deposit of films and television recordings and the implications for research and scholarly access.
The British Universities Film & Video Council (BUFVC), established in 1948, encourages the study of film and related media for higher education and research. It has a special interest in tracking the location of, and access to, film and television materials held in archives and libraries.
In the absence, so far, of any systematic system of deposit underpinned by legislation, large numbers of recordings of important film and television productions have been destroyed, dispersed and disposed of during the last hundred years. Therefore anyone with a serious interest in studying published moving images needs to become familiar with the widely dispersed libraries, archives and private collections holding relevant and often unique material. In response to this the BUFVC publishes the Researcher's Guide to British Film and Television Collections and the Researcher's Guide to British Newsreels. These are the only available 'maps' to film and television archives in the UK.
Having located the likely site of storage, academic researchers wishing to study archive moving images (which may, incidentally, have been created within a licence fee funded system of public broadcasting) can find themselves impeded at every turn.
Access conditions, charges and viewing facilities vary greatly. The cataloguing of collections can be inadequate and patchy. The result, for researchers, is a badly fragmented record which presents huge navigation problems. It should be noted that, in our view, the combination of fragmentation and poor access has been a significant factor impeding the wider acceptance and use of audio-visual records as referenced sources in scholarship.
The general lack of overall policy with regard to the archiving of broadcasts, without the support of statutory deposit, has resulted in some surprising quirks. In the United Kingdom we now have a more complete collection of British cinema newsreels of the 1930s than we have of British television news of the 1970s. This has not been the result of the non availability of appropriate recording and storage media -- it is simply a reflection of production company policies which have not recognised the long-term historical and cultural value of certain types of television transmission. Members of the public are surprised when they hear that many broadcast programmes are wiped and discarded or not recorded at all. Most lay people believe that these matters are already in safe hands, that there is an agency somewhere which keeps a copy of everything that is transmitted -- if only as part of a public record responsibility. In reality this is still not the case and it is a situation which should be remedied.
The National Film and Television Archive has made best efforts to gather and to record as much television as possible working within budgetary constraints and a policy of developing a process of voluntary deposit with production companies. This work is now backed up by the Broadcasting Act 1990 but we believe it is not sufficient. The NFTVA is primarily a preservation archive. It therefore tends to acquire material at the highest quality possible for preservation. Its agenda is not (currently) driven primarily by the interests of those seeking to obtain access to the audio-visual record of what was transmitted.
There is a view, often expressed among film and television archivists, that it would either be too expensive or unnecessary to record all transmissions. This may be true if the recording policy were driven solely by the need for preservation -- recording and copying at the very highest quality possible.
Much important recording for preservation is going on and this should be sustained and increased. However, researchers really require access to viewing material which might be gathered in a 'blanket recording' method, stored and catalogued employing relatively low-cost systems. Our own organisation, the British Universities Film & Video Council, has some experience in this work. We currently record 16 hours per day of transmissions from BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel Four and Channel 5 and hold these recordings for three months on behalf of UK universities working within Section 35 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. The recordings, which are held in a buffer and are therefore not retained long-term, produce good quality viewing material retrieved later through the use of television listings information and control-track coding of recordings. Employing a similar recording system for public record/legal deposit purposes the annual cost of collecting, cataloguing and storing the output of all five UK terrestrial television channels in two duplicate copies would be in the region of £130,000 p.a. (or around £26,000 per channel per year) at current prices. These are not large costs which logically should be the responsibility of those publishing by broadcasting.
In our view the arguments for not archiving cable and satellite broadcasts(item 3.34) hold very little water. Large tracts of culturally significant UK broadcast television are in the process of migrating to cable and satellite distribution and the cost of retaining viewing material is relatively small. It would be entirely inappropriate to exclude these media from legal deposit based upon a cursory dismissal. This would be to continue the destiny of new media, the products of which have often been discarded in their early development. It is the reason why 80% of the silent films ever made are 'missing presumed lost' and why 90% of the audio-visual record of British television news of the 1970s was discarded.
In our opinion the provisions made under the Broadcasting Act 1990 are better than those which held before 1990 but they do not provide the statutory conditions for the deposit of a more comprehensive account of UK television transmissions. The existing arrangements are in effect a voluntary code, underpinned by law, which will only ever result in a partial account of broadcast output. If legal deposit were also applied to broadcasting under the proposals being suggested in the Consultation Paper this would be a thoroughly satisfactory move. Viewing access for research should also be included under such a provision, in a similar fashion to the operation of the Public Record Office.
Murray Weston, Director, BUFVC
British Universities Film & Video Council, 55 Greek Street, London W1V 5LR
Tel: 0171 734 3687
10th April 1997
[Table of Contents] [Letter to the Editor]
Computers & Texts 14: Supplement (1997). Not to be republished in
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