Tuesday, 04 February 2014

Whatever happened to that programme about community? I missed this when first broadcast back in December, but R4 are now repeating three programmes under the heading ‘Whatever happened to community?’ Giles Fraser, recently appointed priest in the parish that includes the Heygate and Aylesbury estates in south London, sallies forth in search of a few questions and possibly some answers. Slipping from labelled urban to fabled rural, he solicits views from some insightful folk along the way, including David Goodhart for example. Scale and diversity were the main themes of the first episode, which you can catch for a few more days here, with the remainder in the next couple of weeks. As these programmes go, I thought it was pretty good. At least we got an unequivocal statement from a resident about how the architects and planners had got things plain wrong. This is not trivial when you think how determined architects can be to defend their mistakes. There was also some brief reference to the experience of community over the centuries, and there is plenty to be gained from a more thorough look in that direction, as Emily Cockayne for instance has shown. Scanning the blurb about the forthcoming programmes though, I saw no reference to gated communities. Given the attention paid so far to ‘thick’ and ‘thin’ community, inclusion implying exclusion, and so forth, it would be a curious omission not to use gating and locking and ‘secured by design’ as a lens for further insight: especially if the last programme is to bring us back to the reality of those huge built estates from which we are still learning. I'm also starting to wonder about the widespread assumption that neighbouring in recent decades has been changed fundamentally by the proportion of residents who are at home during the day - the decline of the housewife. I think there is something in this argument, but maybe after an interim period, diverse others are now more likely to be at home, so is it time to test the theory with some thorough research? Perhaps the Royal Mail have some data that could be used? Thanks Martin for the heads up.
Welfare and the broadcast media: has something changed? The other day I was contacted by a TV production company seeking my help in recruiting children and young people for a documentary programme about their experience of poverty. Obviously contacts like these are now subtly different, post-Benefits street: but in what way? Would another production company dare to treat people who experience exclusion in the way the producers of Benefits street did? Well, yes, quite possibly. There may be a different atmosphere now, but it does feel just like the no-brainer of press regulation, with plenty of empty words spouted so that journalists can go on manipulating disempowered people in the interests of corporate profit. Against that, I would so much like there to be a broadcast of the voices and experiences of young people like those we reproduced in A series of doors. That could have some impact, and would be worth striving for. But don’t hold your breath, there isn’t going to be a TV version of A series of doors. I passed on the request in a neutral way, but I’ll be surprised if there are any takers. There’s a question here about disregarding this opportunity as being ‘wrong channel’ – in two senses. First, I won’t reveal which TV channel is expected to broadcast the documentary, but it’s one which has done nothing to accumulate trust in the quality of its programmes. Secondly, is there an argument for turning backs on mainstream broadcast media – which, with a few exceptions, have let so many people down through callous, politicised and exploitative behaviour - in favour of all-out social media? Will social media come to outplay TV, in spite of the well-known problems of trolls and trash, where issues of this kind are concerned? Does the Benefits street rumpus represent a watershed in the history of the popular politics of welfare, in which the great artilleries of the broadcast industries are finally discredited and the guerrilla style of social technologies might be seen, retrospectively at least, to right some wrongs? (OK, well let me have my moment of optimism, I need it). If you’re sceptical about the role that media companies play in the creation of an uncaring society, you might want to glance over at the Diary of a Benefit Scrounger: Sue Marsh has blogged in some detail about her experience in this respect. She makes clear that it’s not just the media companies: the government is playing a canny game by declining to debate welfare, as Marsh explains: ‘For some time now, the DWP and No.10 have refused to put anyone up against me. (and presumably other campaigners) at all. At first, 3 (all BBC) went ahead, but the various researchers were all genuinely shocked at the lack of government engagement. All said they'd never known such blanket refusals to debate an issue. Perhaps more sinisterly, they were shocked that invariably the DWP refused to take part unless the stories were edited their way. Iain Duncan-Smith has written repeatedly and furiously to the BBC...

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