Jul 13, 2012

George Stoney dies at 96; documentarian and founder of public access television

George Stoney, a pioneer documentary filmmaker who is also widely recognized as the founder of public access television, died Thursday (July 12) at his home in New York City. He had celebrated his 96th birthday on July 1.

A posting on the website of the Center for Media & Democracy, a Vermont public access TV incubator, called Stoney an "unflagging champion of free speech, open media and opportunity for all."

As he said in an interview Documentary magazine with last winter: "It's like writing. We have professional journalists, and we have novelists, and we have volunteer poets. There's no reason why we should restrict the cameras to professionals, and at the same time, there's no reason why professionals can't do a very good job."  

At the time of his death, Stoney was a professor emeritus of film and television at New York University. There, in 1971, Stoney and Red Burns founded the Alternate Media Center to train citizens in video production techniques for the fledgling public access television, and lobbied Congress for its support. He was instrumental in persuading the FCC to mandate that cable operators to fund equipment, training, and airtime, according to Massachusetts Community Media Inc.

Stoney was an active member of the board of directors for the Alliance for Community Media. That advocacy organization presents its annual George Stoney-Dirk Koning Award to "an organization or individual who has made an outstanding contribution to championing the growth and experience of humanistic community communications," the group said in a statement.

In a 2005 interview with Democracy Now!, Stoney spoke of the importance of citizen involvement in media, saying that supporters "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."

As a filmmaker, Stoney directed several influential documentaries, including 1953's All My Babies: A Midwife's Own Story, a training film, and The Uprising of '34, a 1995 film about a nationwide textile strike of some half-million workers.

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