Benefits of Public Service Broadcasting Versus Price

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  • Topic: BBC, Television, British Broadcasting Company
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3. In the recent report by the Scottish Broadcasting Commission, the chair Blair Jenkins said “Broadcasting is important to the economic, cultural and democratic health of the nation. At its best, it has a unique power and impact which can enrich our imagination and our thinking, and our space to share, discuss and challenge as a society.” But ITV has also recently said that the costs of such Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) outweigh the benefits and have asked Ofcom to reduce their PSB commitments in areas such as local news and current affairs. Do you think that the benefits of Public Service Broadcasting justify the price tag?

In the UK, Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) is put into service by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which was founded in 1922 as the British Broadcasting Company, later becoming the corporation in 1927. The BBC’s content is regulated by the BBC Trust, although some output is regulated in addition by the Office of Communications (Ofcom): the UK’s independent regulatory authority for broadcasting. For the BBC, this means of regulating is the case for certain output which is broadcast on its services in the UK (www.ofcom.org.uk). However, with such a service comes a price: the licence fee- the BBC’s means of funding. The licence fee is currently £139.50 for a colour licence and a considerably lower £47.00 for a black and white (bbc.co.uk). “Almost all debates about the BBC tend to come down to debates about the licence fee, payment by every owner of a television set of a fee to be allowed to receive the broadest signals.” (P. 99. Michael Tracey, 1998, The Decline and Fall of Public Service Broadcasting, Oxford University Press). Despite the BBC’s efforts to deliver highest quality services and its significant impact on society debatably right to the present day, whether the costs of the service outweigh the benefits is still largely under dispute. In this essay, I will discuss the benefits and detriments of the BBC’s public service and licence fee. With particular emphasis applied to the advent of the digital age, I will explore ideas and conclude as to whether it should be sustained. Although the BBC supplies ten radio networks and dozens of local radio services, for the purpose of this essay I will focus solely on television broadcasting to allow fewer subject issues to be explored in more depth and complexity.

When assessing the benefits and detriments of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) together with its licence fee, we must first consider: what is Public Service Broadcasting? In the published document, Building Public Value, The BBC allege that Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) “can perhaps best be defined as a range of high-quality programmes and services whose only aim is to serve the public interest, be universally available, and treat people equitably and fairly” (BBC, 2005: 26). However, over the years, the concept of PSB has broadened, thus a “concrete definition of public service content and indeed, public service broadcasting, remains elusive” (p.8, Public Service Content: First Report of Session 2007-08, Vol 1, Media and Sport Committee House of Commons- Culture, Great Britain: Parliament: House of Commons: Culture, Media and Sport Committee, The Stationary Office, 2007). Director of Economic Policy Studies, Irwin Stelzer, at the Hudson Institute averred that “‘the hunt for definition is a feckless search’, as it allow policy-makers to make the ‘mistake’ of defining public service content as ‘anything you want it to be’” (p.8, Public Service Content: First Report of Session 2007-08, Vol 1, Media and Sport Committee House of Commons- Culture, Great Britain: Parliament: House of Commons: Culture, Media and Sport Committee, The Stationary Office, 2007). Thus there is some discrepancy between definitions of PSB, although what we can certify is that in the UK PSB refers to broadcasting intended for the public interest rather than for...
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