Expert view: Get ready for television's D Day

I admit it: I am excited about television's digital switchover.

That's not because I want to bring the digital channel BBC Parliament to the masses, but because I fervently believe that the switchover has the potential to transform society - not just in terms of how media is consumed, but also through narrowing the digital divide and building stronger communities. The very opposite could happen, however, if the process isn't handled correctly. 

I should admit a vested interest here. CSV, Age Concern and a number of other voluntary organisations recently applied for funding from Digital UK, the organisation leading the digital TV switchover process in the UK, to run an outreach and support programme for those at risk of being left behind by the switchover.

My passion predates any funding bid, however. I've long argued that the switchover will define our society - just as decimalisation did in 1971. This time, there is no single switch day (and, mercifully, no Max Bygraves record to reach the parts other publicity materials cannot reach), but the risks for exploitation and creating a vulnerable underclass are just as high, if not higher.

In 1971, there were numerous examples of unscrupulous shopkeepers diddling the elderly and the confused of their correct change. This time, there's a real risk of people being encouraged to buy new televisions, aerials and technical paraphernalia they don't need.

Arguably, the people most at risk are those whom the voluntary sector interacts with every day. So we need to ensure that our staff and volunteers understand the switchover and are able to support their friends, family and clients accordingly.

You may not see this as your responsibility, but if your beneficiaries wake up after the switchover to blank television screens, you can be sure that they will be distraught. They might even ring you for help. As a result, it's worth investing time and energy now to prevent this scenario from happening hundreds, if not thousands, of times over.

Of course, this will mean that some home visits will take longer and staff and volunteers will need training so they can advise on an area that is outside their primary expertise. Funders will also need encouragement to understand and support the real cost of the switchover.

If we don't act now, the switch-over may reinforce the social exclusion that many vulnerable people already feel because they either don't have or can't properly use the technology they need to survive in a post-analogue world.

- Damian Radcliffe is Head of Broadcasting for CSV 

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