The Labour Party

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In today’s modern society, the collective media are increasingly combining their resources to enable their content to be consumed through various means. This constantly increasing convergence has provoked limitless discussion, which has brought to light numerous benefits and drawbacks of, and has become the essential characteristic of, today’s “New Media”.

This term, “New Media” can be quite indistinct. As more and more technologies are developed, that which was once new media subsequently becomes outdated and is no longer considered to be a contemporary form of communication. But, generally, when referring to new media, we refer primarily to the Internet, particularly the World Wide Web, and to developing digital technology.

Digitalisation has become the basis of almost every form of contemporary media. This is a major transformation from traditional media, which used various analogue systems and were therefore, for the most part, incompatible. Now, the majority of media operates using the binary code of the digital system, and so the content of television, radio, the Internet, etc., can be easily amalgamated into larger, closely linked services.

One of the most rapidly increasing forms of digitalised media is television.

At present, the UK is the world leader in digital television, with over 50% of all UK homes accessing these services – a higher percentage than any other country and twice the European average. One quarter of the country’s population currently cannot receive digital television. Therefore once this problem has been solved, i.e. when we have an analogue switch off, this figure could potentially rise to up to 75%.

However, six years ago, the Government announced its plans to convert 95% of the population to digital television by the end of the decade. The original date that was given for the analogue switch off was 2006, but this has since faced set backs and has been delayed until 2008, and more recently 2010. It has even been suggested that we hold off until 2012, as this would appear to be a more attainable target. The Government’s concerns are those involving the technical cost of converting the nation to digital.

However, this will inevitably happen at some point in the future, as there are numerous benefits to an analogue switch off.

Those households living in areas which cannot receive digital terrestrial TV will no longer have a problem once analogue transmissions are stopped, and so the wide range of products and services that digital television offers will be available nation-wide. Broadcasters will no longer have to transmit their programming in both analogue and digital format, and so will save millions every year which can be invested in the production of programming, and hence increase quality and variety for the viewer. Radio spectrum frequencies, which are in very short supply, will be freed up by the switch off, as one analogue service requires the use of the same spectrum frequencies as around four digital terrestrial services. These newly free frequencies could then be put to good use for things such as additional digital channels, interactive facilities, such as “the red button” feature, and services to mobile phones users.

Digital television in general has many advantages over analogue. For example, there is an increasing number of channels due to more frequency availability. This means therefore, that the consumer is presented with greater choice and diversity. Television companies are also becoming more aware of the need for more specialised channels, tailored to the specific interests of certain niche groups. For example, the Racing Channel, numerous 24 hour news and sports channels, and those specifically tailored for children, such as CBeebies, or the Disney Channel. This allows the companies to, in effect, “sell” a more specific target audience to advertisers, and charge a higher fee for those adverts to be shown on their channel, as the results have proven to be more successful.

A recent advancement of digital TV has been a service known as “Sky Plus”, which allows users to programme their television to record programmes which they are interested in viewing, and store them for a time more suitable to that individual. It also has the ability to enable the viewer to pause live TV, and to record one digital channel while watching another, which was previously impossible with cable and satellite services. In effect, the consumer can create their own channel.

Another key feature of digital television is the EPG, or Electronic Programme Guide. The EPG provides the viewer with listings of all channels and their schedules and a synopsis of the programme, along with other relevant information.

A clear advantage of digital TV is the picture and sound quality that it offers. When viewing an analogue transmission, factors such as weather conditions, or a weak signal being received. This causes the picture to become “fuzzy”, or to flicker among other problems. A digital signal is not affected in this way. Whenever a signal is being received, the picture and sound are clear and crisp. However, there are rare cases when the signal is effected by factors such as extreme weather conditions, and we lose the transmission altogether. But these are very few, and new technologies will be increasingly able to combat this problem, enabling a good quality picture to be delivered to the consumer at all times.

However, for reasons unknown to the general public, the Government has been hesitant and uncommitted to putting the switchover to digital into action. At the minute, the UK leads the way in terms of digital technology and has the highest up-take in the world of digital television. However, other countries have also revealed their plans for digitalisation, and have set very reachable targets. Countries such as Germany, The USA and even China, the most highly populated country in the world , would appear to be catching up to the UK and the Government needs to continue to move forward with this venture if we are to maintain our status as world leader.

Perhaps one problem the Government must face is the small group of people who are against digitalisation. This would typically include those such as the elderly, among others, who may reject the new technology as unfamiliar and unreliable, or lower classes, who may feel they are not able to afford the new technology, and those who simply do not trust it. These are all issues which the Government will have to solve in order to make this a success.

But the effects on the Labour party itself of pushing these people into embracing digital television could be even greater. If switchover is not handled in an appropriate manner, this could become a serious deciding factor in the way that those who are unwilling to make the change place their political allegiance and hence how our country is run. A party that supports the preservation of an analogue transmission could come into power, and it could be believed that such a party would be one of out-dated policies, causing further advancements in areas of technology, among others, would cease to continue at the rate we have become accustomed to.

The public in general has been seen to have concerns. Some are worried that they will not be ready in time for the analogue switch-off, and therefore, in a sense, be left behind. Others say that they simply feel uninformed about the entire process and the timescale that the Government is working to. However, plans state that, initially separate regions will be converted one by one, loosely based around the regions that ITV operates in. They have also stated that no conversion work will begin until all households in that area have been given at least two years prior notice.

An article by Bobbie Johnson in the Guardian, 30th September, 2004, claimed “This isn’t really a political issue, it’s about upgrading the infrastructure of the UK…If it’s mismanaged, it would not do anyone any favours. In some ways…government is just an observer of the process, but a timetable would push consumers towards switching – as long as they understand the reasons why. They have to explain the changes”.

However, when we look back on other advancements in technology, such as mobile telephones, the internet, and even when television was first invented, they too faced objections and uncertainty, but are now considered to be common place, popular forms of communication.

“Successive waves of ‘information revolution’, from the invention of the printing press to film and television, and now ‘cyberspace’, have each presented problems of control and regulation for our legislators: problems of adaptation and restructuring for the media industries; new challenges and temptations for audiences. We have, as human societies, dealt with these new problems and challenges in the past, and we will surely do so with the latest wave. It is, as always, up to us.” Brian McNair, ‘The Media: An Introduction’, Briggs and Cobbley, 2002.

I personally believe that achieving this goal of an analogue switch off and relying solely on digital technology is extremely important for our society as a whole. This achievement would preserve our place in the world as being at the forefront of modern technological advancements in broadcasting, which can only have positive effects on the state of the country’s economy. Creating a nation of digital TV viewers and radio listeners will enable production companies to concentrate on supplying quality programming, and the opportunity to tailor specific channels to smaller niche groups. Consumers will have a wider choice of quantity as well as quality, as more channels will become increasingly available. Viewers can choose to watch or listen at times which are personally suited to their needs, instead of having to work around schedules dictated to them.

Once the Government begins to put the digital switch-over into action the country’s population should begins to see the effects and hence the multiple benefits they will come from it. And years from now we will reflect upon this time as we do on previous advances in technology, and future generations will learn of the ‘analogue era’ as a thing of the past.

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