This project is sponsored by George Orwell and his Big Brother

Anyone who has lived without a television will know how hard it is to convince TV Licensing staff that is possible to exist without constant video entertainment. It is one more freedom that is to be taken from us. Like the telescreens in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four that citizens could turn down but not off, the giant screens planned for 60 towns and cities will make watching television compulsory.

When the BBC and the organising committee of the London Olympics first mooted a network of screens the assumption was that they would be there only during the Games, allowing us all to share the excitement. It turns out that they are to stay and broadcast audibly for up to 18 hours a day.

As if the intrusion were not bad enough, we will, of course, have to pay for the screens, and not just through the licence fee: residents of Middlesbrough, for example, will be paying £35,000 towards the set-up costs, plus an annual £28,000 running cost. Surely councils’ leisure budgets should be spent persuading us to get away from the TV, not to get us in front of it.

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It is promised that besides showing news the screens will be used to promote culture; that they will be “digital canvases for local artists, film-makers and students”. But there is an ulterior motive, given away by Bob Belam, of Waltham Forest council. The screens, he said, would be used to “provide important information and will be able to get out messages about antisocial behaviour”.

They are less about entertaining us than about control – another part of the Orwellian machinery of the modern British city. It isn’t hard to imagine how they will be used: “We are interrupting coverage to remind you that bathing in the fountains is prohibited.”

I can foresee walking through an empty town centre, to the sound of a message, delivered with no irony from a 30kW screen: “Citizens are reminded that they can cut their carbon footprint by not leaving their TVs on standby.”

– Ross Clark is author of The Road to Southend Pier: One Man’s Struggle against the Surveillance Society

July 25, 2008
Ross Clark

Source: The Times

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