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George C. Stoney, the Father of Public-Access Television, Passes Away at Age 96

George C. Stoney, the Father of Public-Access Television, Passes Away at Age 96

Documentarian and public-access TV advocate George C. Stoney passed away in his home last night at age 96, according to the Alliance for Community Media, an organization started by interns from the Alternate Media Center, which he founded.   His impact on community media has been immortalized by the Alliance for Community Media’s George Stoney Award, which goes to individuals or organizations making outstanding contributions to community media.  

Stoney began as a journalist and then a photo intelligence officer during World War II before he started making documentaries in 1946, often educational in nature and focused on themes of social change. His extensive filmography includes work for the American Cancer Society, the Ford Foundation, the National Film Board of Canada and Planned Parenthood. A Professor Emeritus of film and television at New York University, Stoney taught classes at the school from 1970 until his death.

Stoney was a huge believer in the potential for film and video to be used to spark social change, an advocate for democratic media and for educating people in production, and the founder and administrator of public-access programs throughout the U.S. and Canada. The Alternate Media Center, which he co-created with Red Burns, was a means to these ends. From NYU:

Red Burns and her colleagues at the AMC came from backgrounds in documentary film and traditional media — they shared a vision for a freely accessible, grass-roots technology which would enable users to create their own documentaries and distribute them widely. Their efforts led to many significant developments in the field, including lobbying Congress for the creation of what is now public access cable television and significant field trials for two-way television in community settings, the use of Teletext in major urban centers and communications technologies for the developmentally disabled.

Speaking in defense of local public access at DemocracyNow.org in 2005, Stoney said:

We look on cable as a way of encouraging public action, not just access. Social change comes with a combination of use of media and people getting out on the streets or getting involved. And we find that if people make programs together and put them on the local channel, that gets them involved.

I started in the state of Georgia with a little educational program, and before long I found I was making films for people who should be making them themselves, but at that time, as you know, it was film and it was much more complicated. Now, with this user-friendly equipment, there’s no reason why people should not make their own programs. And now we have an outlet with public access.

Stoney’s 1952 film “All My Babies: A Midwife’s Own Story” was selected by the Librarian of Congress for permanent preservation in the National Film Registry in 2002. It’s available on SnagFilms in its entirety. (Indiewire is owned by Snagfilms.)

Take a look at an interview with Stoney from 2010 that originally aired, fittingly, on a public-access station, below:

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