In the British context, Public service broadcasting (PSB) has and still determines a standard definition of Broadcasting as a system since the establishing of the BBC in 1927, which grew out of recommendations of the Crawford committee. Since then broadcasting has become an important medium for the freedom of expression whether receiving or delivering it. PSB has historically sought to ensure that its signals are available to all and it is self-evident to the Public broadcasting community that no one should be disenfranchised by distance or geographical location. As a result bringing the nation into a sense of singular existence and prioritising the function of national identity in broadcasting.
PSB is a service provided to inform, educate and entertain its audience or public. These functions were initially to be developed in British broadcasting under the first director general of the BBC- Lord Reith, who incidentally viewed the entertainment aspect of the service as being the least in terms of priority. The recommendations of the Crawford committee are the foundation of the role of national identity, and what the concerns of PSB were fundamentally.
Included in those recommendations was the creation of a public corporation which would serve as a trustee for the national interest in broadcasting. It was expected that as a public, the corporation would emphasize serious, educational and cultural programming that would elevate the level of intellectual and aesthetic tastes of the audience.” (R.K. Avery). The eight guidelines that they constructed to be functions for the BBC were as follows: 1. Universal availability 2. Universal appeal 3. Provision for minorities, the disadvantaged by physically or socially.
4. Serving the public sphere 5. Commitment to the education of the public 6. Public broadcasting should be distanced from all vested interests 7. Broadcasting should encourage good quality programmes not numbers 8. Broadcasting should liberate rather than restrict the programme maker It is because of these points that PSB survives and has a vital role to play in the nation as a means of quality and beneficial broadcasting.
Firstly, the content of the channels is concerned with providing programmes that interest people regardless of age, sex, race, and those who enjoy comedy over classical drama, and vice versa as well as those who appreciate local, political and national affairs. This provides for differing people under one spectrum of broadcasting that will define each person as a member of a single and united population. This confirms PSB to be a cut above digital channels- better known as the commercial broadcasting channels, which only provide for a particular sector of the market e.g.
MTV- features music only Paramount- for comedy films only Bid-Up TV- centred on selling items on TV Premiership Plus- for football focus, etc. Yet with PSB channels like BBC1 and Channel 5 all these are incorporated to include all the different segments of the population e.g. Eastenders- for drama fans Traffic Cops- a documentary on police traffic unit Question Time- an interactive political series Fimbles- a kids programme Films- featured every night Football focus- featuring recent matches Boomtown, CSI, Law and Order- American drama imports.
This is clear example of how a number of commercial channels programming is consolidated by a single channel, for which the public need not pay anything more than the Television license fee from the corpus of users, without extra charges in addition to the fees we pay companies like NTL and SKY for digital TV. Locally produced British content in drama, music and entertainment like Top of the Pops, Eastenders, Coronation Street (ITV 1), and the dramatisation of local novels such as Pride and Prejudice, also a announces a healthy level of national pride and a concern with local creative capability.
Catering for minorities doesn’t only exist in TV broadcasting, but it is also very apparent in radio broadcasting with race specific broadcasting such as the BBC Asian Network, and BBC 3 that directs it attention to British national culture. These are areas of the media that constantly cry out for attention, and where commercial broadcasting fails dismally because they do not view these as profitable target audiences particularly in terms of numbers.
The regionalising of segments of broadcasts, with which ITV is well renowned for, creates a sense of community and regional esteem and reveals appreciation of the differing values for information in each province. “The public broadcasting community understands that each of us at differing moments is part of a majority and a minority” Secondly, all the public service stations’ broadcasts are available to everyone in the country regardless of geographical location as stated in the first guideline listed above. There is no preference or class division of particular regions and a sense of belonging to the same country and promoting the idea of a democratic system primarily existing within the broadcasting arena. This is unlike the nature of commercial channels can be accessed in specific regions because commercial broadcasting is concerned with competition and numbers for it to work successfully.
PSB is also committed to serving and nurturing the public sphere by serving for the public benefit rather than fulfilling individual interests and this is accomplished by understanding how important it is for the viewers to function as individuals as well as citizens. “It is a fundamental principle then that public broadcasting must motivate the viewers as citizens possessing duties as well as rights, rather than as individual consumers possessing wallets and credit cards” (Tracey, 1998 pp 29) The British system has successfully succeeded in performing this through devoted transmissions that: 1. Educate the public and 2. Present the Political atmosphere from a neutral but informative perspective.
According to Reith, broadcasters have a responsibility to provide audiences with what they need not just what they want because they are not only there to entertain but to enlighten. BBC, Channel 4 and ITV have taken up this challenge by extending into an educative function for their spectators. The BBC has a successful testimony with its GCSE Bitesize programme for revision and tackling of exam questions, this has led to an increased interest in the Bitesize site that has been used b 65% of all GCSE students.
BBC 2 contributes to this function trough programmes such as ‘The Next Big Thing’ and ‘Open advice: study to succeed’. Channel 4 are also developing an online homework service to back up their television giving access to qualified teachers and encouraging participation in the creative economy. All this contributes to a national identity because only PSB recognises that political and social literacy, as and actual literacy, is essential healthy for the understanding of how a democracy works.
Commercial broadcasting perceives the people as a means of production, therefore being very capitalist. Numbers of audiences equals profit therefore we find the dominance of popular genres in the digital scenario i.e. pornography and violence, and the moral duty of the media is ignored, as a means of societies presenting themselves to one another. PSB however, treats them as rational beings that learn and grow, and need to be fed with the information to facilitate that.
Though funded by the government the BBC remains an independent from the government, which suggests impartiality because they will not propagate information that supports the reigning powers that be. Instead this provides a platform for worthwhile discussion through programmes such as -‘Question Time’ These are real programmes give people access to politicians directly and are encouraged to be conscious of current issues through the likes of Crime watch.
In practice, independence is being promoted in a number of ways, including open, transparent appointment procedures that no single political party can dominate. The PSB is a regulated by governing bodies that have to see that the standards to which PSB is dedicated are being performed to the best of the broadcasters ability. “Twelve Governors regulate the BBC, upholding standards and defending it from political and commercial pressures. They set its objectives and report on its performance in their Annual Report to licence payers and Parliament” (www.bbc.co.uk/info/purpose/)
This may Sound Inhibiting for the producers, but these regulations protect the nation from harmful material disseminated to children, especially at the most untimely slots during the day, that present extreme violence, sex and vulgarity. The audience is also protected from the influential element of the media that exist to profit from unexpecting viewers. These regulations are liberating because they don’t allow for the PSB to be influenced or controlled by any capitalist powers i.e. advertisers and media owners and this has been successful particularly with BBC Broadcasters. They also liberate and extend the broadcasting covered by a single station to include all genres of programmes to include the entire spectrum of people and cultures inhabiting the UK.
PSB broadcasters promote diversity and pluralism because market pressures do not drive them, they can produce programmes that supply to a wide variety of tastes and groups, without necessarily requiring commercial viability. For instance, they have an obligation to serve the whole population and often provide services to minority groups, in minority languages, even though viewing statistics may be low.
They may also serve diversity by broadcasting programmes which cater to niche markets or which are costly to produce. They play an important role in promoting programme production at the local and national level with the production of local soaps- Holby City, Eastenders (BBC 1) and Coronation Street (ITV 1). In many countries this programming is under threat in many countries from high budget global programming.
More importantly, this sort of programming helps ensure that viewers can access quality news programmes that include coverage of local, national and international events. Broadcast media, on a local and national scale introduce and bring the subject of imagined communities to reality. This is because it creates an impression of people living in the same geographical space that experience and consume the same material at the same time. This ties a nation of different people into a community where no individual has more access to broadcasted information over another.
Percent of a panel of 6000 viewers agreed that whilst they watched few programmes made specifically for their region, they nevertheless regarded regional programming as an essential service for ITV to provide” ( ITC 2001 , pp5) This is unlike the broadcast in the USA that differs from state to state, with different broadcast with varying informational transmissions to each of their segment audience therefore this can: “Communicate elementary social information to the public and also contribute to the information and reproduction of a national identity…” (Gripsrud, 2002 pp271).
The most important aspect to note is that national identity in broadcasting requires an influential input or response from the population that receive it. The ITC, has conducted a survey to qualify whether to the public feel that PSB still plays a vital role in their viewing and listening, the response towards to the service was very positive and expressed how PSB is in its own right, a source of national identity. “The consensus across all respondents was that PSB requirements were prerequisites for good, quality television and that without them certain strands of programming would disappear altogether, and that quality itself would diminish. Few were confident that that market forces alone could deliver diversity, high quality or innovative programming” ( ITC 2001, pp5 )
PSB is being threatened as a meaningful broadcasting service by quickly evolving communications. This presents it challenges in techno-world context, yet the retention of PSB is important because it makes the provision of reliable high quality information a right and not a privilege because of the capitalist nature of the digital world. This decreases the rich / poor divide within the nation.