Monday, 11 May 2009

Public service broadcasting

Public broadcasters may receive all or a substantial part of their funding from government sources, either from the general tax revenues or from license fees. Public broadcasters do not rely on advertising as a source of revenue to the same degree as commercial broadcasters; this allows public broadcasters to air programs that are less saleable to the mass market, such as public affairs shows, radio and television documentaries, and educational programs. That public broadcasters do not chase ratings in the same way as commercial broadcasters can lead to the criticism that they are unresponsive to what their viewers want, but also to the positive claim that they can explore issues in greater depth and with more complexity than is possible in commercial media, and that they can present cultural fare that has social value but would not be supported by markets. It may also be pointed out commercial broadcasters program not for audiences but for those audiences which will buy their products.
Additionally, public broadcasting facilitates the implementation of cultural policy (an industrial policy and investment policy for culture). Some examples include:
The Canadian government is committed to official bilingualism (English and French). As a result, the public broadcaster, the CBC employs translators and journalists who speak both official languages and it encourages production of cross-cultural material. Quebec separatists argue that this is also a policy of cultural imperialism and assimilation.
In the UK, the BBC supports multiculturalism and diversity, in part by using on-screen commentators and hosts of different ethnic origins.
In New Zealand, the public broadcasting system provides support to Maori (native New Zealander) broadcasting, as a way to improve the opportunities, maintain the cultural heritage and promote the language of these New Zealanders.
Critics of public broadcasting systems argue that this implementation of cultural policy imposes the values of the public broadcaster on the populace. However, it can also be argued that commercial broadcasting has a bias for certain values or cultural forms, such as pop culture, militarism, culture bias, and consumerism.
Public broadcasting, and also some pirate broadcasting, provides a counterweight to the commercial media. Advocates of deliberative democracy argue that public broadcasting helps to maintain modern democracies, since public broadcasters can engage in journalism for its own sake. In wealthier countries public broadcasters tend to not be beholden to political parties or the government of the day. This is especially true where the broadcaster is funded by licensing fees and so, theoretically, not dependent on the government for any of its funding.

Future viability

The advent of digital age has brought about many questions about the future of public service broadcasting in the UK. The BBC has been criticized by some for being expansionist and exceeding its public service remit by providing content that could be provided by commercial broadcasters. They argue that the BBC can distort the market, making it difficult for commercial providers to operate. A notable example of this is the Internet services provided by the BBC. However, those who defend the BBC suggest that the BBC needs to provide new services and entertainment, to remain relevant in the digital age. Furthermore, there are also questions about the public service commitments of the commercial broadcasters. All commercial channels that broadcast solely on digital platforms do not have public service requirements imposed. After digital switchover many of these channels will have the same coverage as the analogue commercial broadcasters. This has raised the question of how the analogue commercial broadcasters, with their costly public service obligations, will compete on a level playing field with such digital channels. ITV has been attempting to significantly reduce its obligations to produce and broadcast unprofitable PSB programming, citing the increased competition from digital and multichannel television. Similarly, Channel 4 has projected a £100m funding gap if it is to continue with public service broadcasting after digital switch-over. As a result, Ofcom has recently been consulting on what direction PSB should take in the future.

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