NEWS

Media history in digital form

Greek State Radio and Television (ERT) launched its digital archive on the Internet just before Christmas, providing Greek web-surfers with free access to 500 hours of video, 250 hours of films, 1,136 programs, and 5,000 photographs and sound recordings – an audiovisual treasure-house. However, there has been a number of protests from Greek users of the Internet because of the decision to choose Microsoft technology, and because the material cannot be accessed outside the environment of its website. ERT’s old images take us right into the heart of the future and its problems. The ease of access to public property is changing drastically within the new media. The question is whether public property can eventually become everyone’s property. Anyone who wants to download a photo or video from the NASA website will soon find out that the most important space agency on the planet allows free use of its photographs, which in most cases are extremely expensive due to the processing they must undergo and also due to the fact that they are rare. The same occurs with most international scientific and other organizations. A few months ago, in an attempt to make its archive available on the Internet, the BBC found itself faced with the dilemma of whether to allow everyone free access. After much discussion and public debate, it released part of its archive on the basis of «creative commons» permits that allow every citizen of Britain to download and use the material for non-commercial purposes. In ERT’s case, things are a little different. The archive has been attracting some 4,000 visitors a day, far more than initially expected. The website (www.ert-archives.gr) offers search categories (news, ERT television plays, documentaries and children’s programs, among others) in an alphabetical list, allowing the selected program to be viewed via Windows media player. Material cannot be downloaded, nor can it be seen on any software other than Windows or MacOS. Technical problems will arise if any other search engine is used apart from Explorer or Firefox. Naturally one needs the latest edition of the Microsoft Media Player. In other words, you can view the archive under certain conditions but not make use of it. «Setting up ert-archives.gr is a good idea,» writes blogger Vrypan on http://vrypan.net/weblog./ «Unfortunately the absence of any philosophy regarding the technical options has had results that I don’t like at all. Yet again, a public organization has decided to tie us to Microsoft.» Another blogger, cosmix, attempts a technical analysis. «This effort by ERT is theoretically perhaps the most interesting undertaking by a TV station in Greece since the advent of private TV 18 years ago. The main problem with the choice of Windows media is chiefly the fact that the material is being made available to a closed, commercial system whose readability cannot be guaranteed in the future.» «Hasn’t ERT been maintained for so many years by Greek taxpayers?» asked another blogger (http://argos.wordpress.com/). «What is the point of intellectual property and protecting photographs with watermarks?» Giorgos Papanikolaou on http://blogger.p2pfoundation.net/ says it is a typical example of state property in modern Greek capitalism. «This property is exclusive and is administered by a bureaucracy; the people cease to have any ownership of it,» he writes. ERT’s management said the archives are in a pilot stage and appear unfazed by the criticism, even welcoming it. In the next phase, they said, an even larger section of the archive will be digitized, and access will be available to all. They are also reviewing the legal status (that is whether to allow users to download) and considering providing access in many different forms.» The use of «creative commons» permits allows archives to be copied and reproduced and this is the main demand of Internet users. There has been no decision on this; but management officials say it is being studied closely. The archive contains 70 percent of all Greek audiovisual material. Its availability on the Internet is expected to lead to wider use of broadband in Greece (users have criticized commercial firms for not making it available, while the firms accuse the government of not doing their part), and to the secondary production of cultural products through the recycling of existing material by means of remix techniques, something that is quite common abroad and provides teachers and researchers with yet another tool. Debate on the provision of information to all and free access to it is one that has arisen in the wake of fast Internet speeds and is of increasing interest to politicians, lawyers, technocrats and ordinary Internet users around the world, and now in Greece. As information has become a commodity of the highest value, access to it is considered increasingly crucial for education, the production process and the quality of democracy in a country. The project, which cost 1.95 million euros (80 percent from European Union sources and 20 percent from national funds), was designed by the Center for Digital Documentation. The result is that it will now be much easier for ERT to provide access to audiovisual material via the Internet.