The Peacock Report of 1986 was particularly influential in its argument that the broadcasting market should be opened up, and for many this alone signalled the end of public service broadcasting. In the past publicly owned broadcasting was appropriate as there could be no entry into the broadcasting market, yet now entry into broadcasting was possible. Digital technology permitted many more channels to be carried, both by traditional terrestrial transmitters and by satellite. With this communications revolution there was an increase in channels specialising in particular programme types, such as news, music or sport.
It is thought that viewers of the future will be charged only for the programmes they watch in a pay per view system. Yet this ability to select and pay raises many questions. Why for instance would anyone continue to use generalist broadcast channels, and why should they pay for a majority of unwatched, unchosen programmes? Yet a greater question raised by this idea of pay per view is what about those who can not afford it, this is particularly significant for any democratic society which insists that everyone should have access to information no matter what their social status might be.
Although the BBC is funded by licence fees and is independent of advertising revenue, change in the commercial broadcasting market has influenced the BBC’s behaviour. The BBC undoubtedly strives to maintain high audience share believing that, should sufficient numbers of UK viewers and listeners cease to use BBC services, licence funding will loose its legitimacy. Certainly in the 1990s with the development of cable and satellite stations and their increasing consumption many commentators predicted that the BBCs share of the total UK market would hit a ‘legitimacy barrier’ below which public funding would no longer be defensible.
Yet so far we can see that these predictions have failed to materialise. There is however evidence from Preston which emphasises the decline of Public Service broadcasting. 9. He shows that in 1980, around 75percent of European channels were public service ones, yet by 1995 this figure was less than 25percent. 10. However more recent sources which have focused simply on broadcasting within the UK have produced contradictory results; official doctrine from 2002 shows that the five major terrestrial channels together account for up to 80percent of UK viewing.
One of the major reasons why there is such widespread talk concerning the end of public service broadcasting has much to do with the process of globalisation. It is argued that within a now globalised and interdependent world, the concept of the nation is increasingly fragile because the processes of cultural homogenisation make national distinctiveness and national identity difficult to define. Consequently Public Service Broadcasting is faced with a crisis of legitimacy due to the fact that it is unsure what public it is supposed to represent.
Liberalisers talk of privatising the BBC on the assertion that competition improves efficiency and will increase choice; they maintain that technological change has facilitated effective competition in broadcasting and that the public interest can best be served through the operation of the market. Yet advocates of public service broadcasting argue that competition will not guarantee quality, diversity or impartiality. Furthermore there is fear that privatising the BBC would mean placing the control of a key instrument of democracy in the hands of its owners.
This is of course worrying especially when you look at the concentration of media ownership. In countries where the media are almost exclusively privately owned, there is general agreement that such ownership is becoming more strikingly concentrated in a limited number of companies. 11. This increased concentration is referred to as conglomeration and for Murdock it poses an important question; does private ownership on this scale mean that there is a conflict between the role of the media ‘as a key resource for citizenship and its economic base in private ownership?
‘. Or is it that this pattern of ownership is the guarantor of a free press and an open media? The political economy perspective argues that private ownership on this scale leads to a media that is biased and limited in scope and diversity. 12. This can be seen through Herman and Chomsky’s idea of the ‘propaganda model’ in which they argue that the mass media is a transmission belt for the ideas and ideologies of the powerful, a group they see as including governmental and corporate elites. The deepening of ownership can be achieved in three ways.
The first is horizontal concentration which is when one media company buys into or merges with other media companies that serve the same market. The other two forms however are known as vertical concentration. The first type of this form involves corporations which make and distribute programming who then buy into,or are taken over by ones that manufacture the hardware used to show media products, items such as video recorders. The second form consists of corporations which are established in one area of the communications industry and then buy companies in other sectors of the business. 13.
The largest example of this to date can be seen with the merger of America-on-Line and Time Warner in 2002. 14. Television is certainly one of the most important mediums for the communication of information so consequently questions of power and control behind broadcasting are of great importance, it can be said that the output of television is a ‘heavily selected interpretation of events, one which structures reality for us, which shapes and frames a world for us to inhabit and accept as real and legitimated, one which sets the agenda within which…. we are led to discuss the terms of our lives’.
For Marx this argument goes even further, his theory suggests that because of the unequal distribution of wealth in society, only certain groups have access to ownership, and that in order to maintain their position at the top of the social and economic stratification they will use the media to consolidate their power and wealth. Marx went on to write that there is a very close connection between the control of material wealth and the control of ideas and culture, for the ruling class is able to dictate, because of their control of the ‘means of mental production’ such as the media, the context in which people think about the world.
Liberal theorists on the other hand however reject this argument, claiming that ownership is not a significant factor in understanding how ideas come to be produced and circulated, because they assert that everybody is free to own and run media corporations. Despite many commentators arguing that the age of Public Service Broadcasting is over there are many counter arguments insisting that this type of broadcasting will survive.
There is one particular reason as to why public service broadcasting is important to society and that is because it is trusted. As the choice of programmes swells, consumers are likely to place increasing value on a service provider whom they trust to select and package a flow of products. The BBC for example is trusted to select a flow of programmes partly because it is non-commercial, and therefore able to serve users interests without pre-emption by shareholders
Furthermore for many the BBC has over the years acted as an instrument of positive regulation; encouraging certain types of behaviour. Through its presence it has provided an important benchmark of standards which competitors have had to acknowledge. It is argued that the very existence of the BBC works to compel other broadcasters to maintain and improve the quality and character of their own services. This argument emphasises the importance of public service broadcasting as it has a positive impact on all television and radio consumed.
It is therefore claimed that as long as the BBC remains a powerful competitor in broadcasting markets it services will offer benefits to all viewers and listeners even including those who do not consume them. Nicholas Graham for example argues that new technology will not determine the future of broadcasting, rather consumers will. He believes that the majority of consumers will continue to enjoy broadcasting as well as new interactive delivery mechanisms. That the new media will supplement Public Service Broadcasting not replace it.
There have been many examples throughout media history, whereby technological revolutions were predicted to replace the existing medium. Yet in most cases the new media did not replace the established media completely. For example radio and cinema have both survived television. The creation of the BBC as an independent body initially had the predominant aim of informing the public as a means of enabling them to make educated and rational decisions. Today this notion is still upheld and the BBC remains an institution people rely on for independent, impartial information.
Moreover if universal access to information is so essential in terms of freedom and democracy why then is public service broadcasting under threat, surely in this sense its end can not be justified. It is in this context that the fate of public service broadcasting assumes an importance as it is often represented as the defence of the democratic ideal against the commercial one. Furthermore public service broadcasting is based on addressing its audience as citizens as opposed to consumers and therefore has a mandate to tell them what they want to hear as well as what they do not.
Multinational corporations seeking to extend their media portfolios constantly see Public Service Broadcasting as an obstacle to their ambitions and so for many years now their pressure on government has been unrelenting. So perhaps what might be seen as the greatest hazard facing Public Service Broadcasting is the degree to which governments support it in the future and the degree to which governments concede to the demands of media corporations.
Of course the future is unknown and so predictions as to the end of Public Service Broadcasting or to its continued importance deserve to be treated sceptically. Yet based on the sources I have read and in conjunction with my own assertions I conclude that there is no justification for abolishing or privatising public service broadcasting and I do not believe it will happen for quite sometime if indeed it does happen at all. Although I acknowledge that it is currently under attack I do not see that these threats have enough substance and support to bring about such a radical change.