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  • Cited by 19
  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: December 2009

4 - Public service broadcasting in the digital world



The concept of public service broadcasting (PSB) is for many people summed up by the mission given to the BBC by its first Director General, John Reith, in the 1920s: to ‘inform, educate and entertain’. This broad statement encompasses several elements, some clearly appealing to viewers themselves (to entertain), others with wider social purposes (to educate and inform)., The aims of public service broadcasting would therefore appear to encompass two main strands: that television should give people the programmes that they want to watch and that it should also satisfy wider social purposes such as education and the promotion of ‘citizenship’. Reflecting these strands, in this chapter we discuss two broad questions concerning the provision of television broadcasting:

Will the television broadcasting market give people what they want to watch?

Should people be allowed to watch only what they want to watch?

The first question investigates the traditional ‘market failure’ arguments for public intervention in broadcasting. These hold that the commercial broadcasting market will fail to meet viewers' demands in a number of important respects. Advertising-funded broadcasters will produce a bland diet of low-quality programmes, appealing to mass-market tastes and ignoring niche interests. We explore the basis for these arguments by assessing market provision of television broadcasting. Specifically, we consider whether audience numbers will be efficient, whether the level of advertising is appropriate and whether the right mix of programmes, in terms of diversity and quality of content, will be produced.

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