Thursday, 26 February 2015

PACHI PAS FOI, Secret Forum - Saw you on Telly Last Night!

So, ITV is making a series about your workplace, your mates and maybe you yourself are in it, some of the things your colleagues have been talking about and working on are in it, your boss is filmed looking dapper in the library and there are clean metal detectorists and lots of shiny metal things and things that go 'bang' and things that go 'ploop' in the water and a fun "viewers' competition" at the end. Super! What does any normal person do? A normal person watches it, tells their mums and dads it's on, and then talks about it the next day. Many will look online for comments on it to compare their own impressions with. Don't they? That is the natural reaction of most of us, that brush with a five-minutes-of-fame, with the romance of "Treasure" thrown in.

"Britain's Secret Treasures" series 1 (the one the PAS supposedly "binned") was on FLOs' TVs 16 July 2012 to 22 July 2012. It got some pretty critical reviews alongside the written-to-order fluff pieces. Series 2, the patriotic one, from 17 October 2013 to 5 December 2013. There was less critical response to the already-tired formula. So both were on telly right slap bang in the period of my FOI request. To judge from the results of that, the PAS is peopled with individuals of steely resolve and a total lack of curiosity about what lesser mortals think.

There were no doubt many posts in the threads on the PAS Secret Forum about the series praising the two PAS-sponsored series, jubilating that Archaeological Treasure Hunting is on national TV and how "good" that is for the Scheme, and falling at the feet of the BM demigods and other celebrities who graced the programmes by their condescension to appear in it.

Yet to judge from the FOI [if we assume that the data were collected carefully], not a single one of the PAS staff members who visited my blog in that period and read my comments on each episode thought they could get away with making a single remark on that over on the PAS Secret Forum. Not a peep. Not a single one of the fifty archaeologists employed by the PAS would admit to having read and strongly disagreed with (for example) something I wrote about there. Yet, I know that quite a lot of them read the blog in that period, especially after the episodes when one of 'their' metal detectorists appeared. Yet none of them had any comment (loyally defending their 'partners') when I said something about some of the 'finders', nobody reacted to my public comments on the silly staged "viewers' competition", the idea of promoting Archaeological Treasure Hunting with a lack of proper discussion from the side of the PAS of what is and is not responsible in artefact hunting and collecting in general (in the end the CBA stepped in).

Unlike their secret forum, my comments on Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues are made in public for those who want to read them. People - members of the audience of the PAS and from whose pockets their salaries and office expenses come - see them, maybe form their own opinion about the PAS partly on the basis of them (those they accept and reject). That is the nature of the heritage debate. Yet, the PAS is deliberately and all too visibly failing to engage with this. There are many issues surrounding portable antiquities, they deserve discussion. The PAS is there to actually be the focus of this discussion in England and (for the moment) Wales.

Its efforts to make itself 'relevant' to the needs of our times however concentrate on a "look what we've got" showcasing of "interesting things" and their trite narrativisations - or go for "the numbers". This really is not enough. Surely the people - the qualified archaeologists among them at any rate - who work there (many of whom have this 'awareness of issues surrounding portable antiquities' written into their job descriptions) are aware of this. So where do they see we need to go with current policies and issues (beyond the stop-gap which is the passive PAS we have at the moment)? Because the archaeological record cannot much longer afford for Britain to stay in the same position for another two decades of inaction, turning a blind eye, avoiding the sticky issues and pretending they do not exist. The eyes of the world are on the UK, what do they see?

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