Debate Magazine

Defining Public Broadcasting

Posted on the 03 September 2011 by Mikeb302000

This is an aside from Microdot’s post How to Kill a Vampire Post, which was reposted by the man with the muckrake where there was the anonymous comment: Too much BBC and Public television for you

The comment about NPR and the BBC is very telling and actually quite apropos for Microdot’s post. I want to expand on my comment since Public Broadcasting is very subversive.

US Public Broadcasting (It’s more than just NPR, since there is also PBS, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), Public Radio International (PRI), American Public Television (APT), and American Public Media) is a big bugaboo for the right since it is technically public. Public funding is supposed to remove it from being beholden to special interests (read big business). On the other hand, the US right has done everything it can to keep NPR broke.

There is a loophole in that Public Broadcasting can also get funding through “underwriting” which are the commercials that you see on Public Broadcasting. I find that there is a lot of corporate and special interest (e.g., Cato Institute) input in US public broadcasting. So, it is hardly unbiased.

The BBC is totally funded by the Public, there is a television tax. This means that there is no business funding; however, there are links with US Public Media and the Discovery Channel (BBC America is a Discovery Channel subsidiary). That would be a total anathema to the US interests.

This post takes it’s name from this section of the wikipedia article on Public Broadcasting and I’m adding my own comments:

There is no standard definition for public broadcasting, although a number of official bodies have attempted to identify key characteristics. Public-service broadcasters may transmit programming intended to inform, or of cultural value; the aim of much commercial broadcasting is to provide content that attracts a large audience, maximizing revenue from advertising and sponsorship. However, publicly funded broadcasters may transmit popular programs with little informational or cultural value;[1] and commercial broadcasters may be obliged by the terms of their license to transmit programs considered to be of value, but with appeal to only small audiences. The distinction between public and commercial is not always clear; UK Channel 4 is ultimately publicly-owned but largely commercially self-funded, and transmits much entertainment but is subject to a public service remit.

Technically, US Broadcasting is supposed to broadcast cultural and public interest material. One commentator noted that the media can present uplifting material, but it usually doesn’t sell. The notable difference comes from some “cable” networks (HBO, Showtime, etc.), but they are pay networks and one can debate how uplifting shows such as “the Sopranos”, “the Wire”, and so forth can be.

The next bit is the most interesting:

In 1985, the UK Broadcasting Research Unit (1981-1991) defined public service broadcasting as involving[2]

1. Geographic universality — The stations’ broadcasts are available nationwide, with no exception. Generally, the “nationwide” criterion is satisfied by either having member stations across the country (as is the case with PBS) or, as is the case with most other public broadcasters around the world, the broadcaster’s use of sufficient transmitters to broadcast nationwide (as with ABC Radio National across Australia).

I wonder how the Beeb’s refusal to support third party iPlayer plug ins fits into this?

2. Catering for all interests and tastes — as exemplified by the BBC’s range of minority channels (BBC Two and BBC Radio 3).
3. Catering for minorities — much as above, but with racial and linguistic minorities. (for example S4C in Wales, BBC Asian Network, Radio-Canada, and Australia’s multicultural Special Broadcasting Service (SBS)).
4. Concern for national identity and community — this essentially means that the stations mostly part commission programmes from within the country, which may be more expensive than importing shows from abroad.
5. Detachment from vested interests and government in which programming is impartial, and the broadcaster is not be subject to control by advertisers or government. Even when a broadcast medium is removed from corporate and government interests, critics argue that it may nonetheless have a bias towards the values of certain groups, such as the middle class, the politics of the incumbent government, or in the case of partially or wholly commercially funded networks, the advertisers.
6. One broadcasting system to be directly funded by the corpus of users — For example, the license fee in the case of the BBC, or member stations asking for donations in the case of PBS/NPR.
7. Competition in good programming rather than numbers — quality is the prime concern with a true public service broadcaster. Of course, in practice, ratings wars are rarely concerned with quality, although that may depend on how “quality” is defined.
8. Guidelines to liberate programme-makers and not restrict them — in the UK, guidelines, and not laws, govern what a programme-maker can and cannot do, although these guidelines can be backed up by hefty penalties.

Again, the public broadcasting model runs contrary to big business interests in that it wants good programmes, not numbers, and detachment from vested interests. The vested interests in question regarding the US media would be the US media corporations themselves as well as other large corporate interests. There really isn’t any dissenting media in the US. The message is rather homogenous.

A seven-month series of polls by the Center for Policy Attitudes and Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland found that Americans receiving their news from non-profit organizations were far more likely to have accurate perceptions related to American foreign policy than those receiving their information from for-profit entities. The study also found the variations could not be explained as a result of differences in the demographic characteristics of each audience, because the variations were also found when comparing the demographic subgroups of each audience. Source

Not all of these points apply to public broadcasting in other countries; for example the US Public Broadcasting Service transmits foreign content, such as from the CBC/Radio-Canada and the BBC.

An alternative model for implementing public-service media exists, known as Citizen Media. As it relates to broadcasting, this generally means a radio or television outlet which has some sort of public access, that is, most or much of the programming is created by members of the public which receives the programming. This can be in the form of community radio, campus radio, and public access television, although the latter is not a form of over-the-air broadcasting, as it is only available on cable television systems.

The alternative? Commercial broadcasting where 1/3 of the material presented is advertising. So, who is brainwashed under that system?

Let’s take Fox News, which is incredibly biased, which I will admit to never watching, but one doesn’t need to watch it to be aware that it isn’t worth my time. For example, Newscorp funds the Cato Institute and donates to the GOP.

Amazingly enough five companies control 80% of what you see on TV, and 10 companies control two-thirds of what you hear on the radio in the United States! We can get into how this affect the accuracy of US Commercial media, but you can find that in fine detail at this site.

In closing, I would also add that the BBC is consistantly one highly rated amongst world news sources.

So, let’s hear it for Public Broadcasting!

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