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Fight for recognition

Although the moving image has been part of mass culture for most of the century, there has been a lurking resistance within education to take it completely seriously as worthy of study in itself. Whatever the complex roots of this reluctance, the sheer weight of numbers of students signing up for media courses means that the subject has to be properly considered - some would argue, as "the new English", at the cultural hub of contemporary thought.

In a panel discussion, "What's worth knowing about the media and can schools afford to pay the price?", Sir David Puttnam described film and television as "the vital organs" of modern British culture, which should be recognised for their social significance. Now that the moving image was being woven into the new multimedia technologies, he argued that education should make clear representations to the Government that such software and hardware should be brought into the classroom, so that students could gain an understanding of an industry with great importance.

Although the conference looked forward to the moving image arriving in the classroom along a fibre-optic cable or on a CD-Rom, another session reminded those present that there were plenty of images moving on an almost daily basis, in almost all schools, in the form of schools television. In "School television: will it disappear from our screens or proliferate through new channels?", the commissioning editors for BBC and Channel 4 schools programmes were able to talk firmly about present achievement rather than future potential.

Channel 4's Paul Ashton looked forward to the possibilities of CD-Rom and interactive television, but pointed to the practical questions that had to be addressed about the cost and ownership of multi-media and multi-authored projects. Peering into his crystal-ball, he considered a future in which school television would offer a huge library of programmes, through a digital delivery system, but again pointed to the tension between creating programmes for broadcast and creating material for interactive services. If a high-quality schools series cost Pounds 600,000, then it would be unlikely that any comparable sum would ever be invested in interactive video-clips or a programme made for video.

The BBC's Frank Flynn emphasised the strengths of television, a medium that has "a soul and a poetry" when best presented. As an education department, he said the BBC would provide programmes for schools by whatever means were most appropriate.

Appropriately for an event dedicated to the moving image, the conference was itself what media students would probably call a "media product", addressing those beyond the conference hall as much as those within. And after this political display of heat and light, it will be interesting to play back the conference tapes in a couple of years and see how much has been put into practice.

Sean Coughlan The major debates from the conference will be broadcast on BBC2, May 16, 23 and 30 at 4.30am

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