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'Public Service' - in a Globalised Digital Landscape

Volkmer, Ingrid

According to Ingrid Volkmer (University of Melbourne), our communicative environment is no longer simply separated along the line of ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign’ polarities. In order to sustain the public service model for the future, Volkmer argues that we need to consider it in the context of ‘an increasingly dense ‘fluid’ globalized digital environment. Multi-level networks such as Google and Facebook, it could be argued, provide ‘public service’ knowledge in ‘completely new areas from ‘web search’, to virtual libraries, to new areas of public service, such as navigation’, creating new geographies and public spheres in which to cater for the needs of citizens. Australian Media and Communication Authority (ACMA)’s media regulation, for example, proposes a new approach which ‘moves away from the centrality of media towards the centrality of the citizen, embedded in chosen networks of communication.’

Ingrid Volkmer

Securing the Future of Arts Broadcasting

Noonan, Caitriona and Genders, Amy

The submission by Caitriona Noonan (Cardiff University) and Amy Genders (University of South Wales) focuses on the issue of serious decline in arts provision on public service television brought on mainly by structural and commercial changes in the television sector. Noonan and Genders argue that the need for intervention in arts television is even more crucial given the genre’s uniquely national character and mission to promote a shared and diverse cultural life. As television remains the key way to engage with arts across the UK, the medium is vital for the provision of the genre so that everyone has access to arts and culture regardless of economic or social background. Noonan and Genders furthermore acknowledge the need for a greater diversity in terms of subject matter in arts genre, taking more creative risks, and considering production and distribution strategies which would engage more with younger audiences as well as involve communities across the UK, not just the capital.

Caitriona Noonan and Amy Genders

Debating 'Distinctiveness': How Useful is it as a Concept in Measuring the Value and Impact of the BBC?

Goddard, Peter

Peter Goddard (University of Liverpool) questions the usefulness of the concept of ‘distinctiveness’ in measuring the value and impact of the BBC. With the term becoming policy nom du jour, Goddard argues that the term’s elastic and contradictory uses ‘conceals a threat to the notion of the BBC as a universal broadcaster as well.’ Goddard offers examples of BBC’s distinctive ‘breakout hits’ such as Top Gear and The Great British Bake Off which were not obvious candidates for commercial success, and could have only been developed within the non-profit model of broadcasting. Yet, while these programmes are initially praised for distinctiveness, they are also criticised for the lack of it, due to their popularity and longevity. The success and distinctiveness of popular programmes that the BBC produces is determined by its public service model, and its commitment to universality; as Goddard further points out, the BBC’s competitiveness is crucial to the ‘whole secure in ensuring that its competitors must seek to match quality of its output in order to compete for audiences.’

Peter Goddard

Television, Quality of Life and the Value of Culture

Hesmondhalgh, David

David Hesmondhalgh (University of Leeds) focuses on television being one of the key contributors to culture and thus overall quality of life. Culture has been intensified by digitisation ‘which allows access to culture to become more mobile, flexible, and frequent’. Culture has therefore become even more central to our lives and should ‘be considered alongside merit goods in the health and education sectors, as requiring public, democratic provision to prevent under-supply of goods that have a significant effect on people’s quality of life.’ As such, television should not be left to the market and only be understood in terms of consumers’ subjective preferences, as ‘consumers will generally over-value in advance the familiar, and underestimate the benefits of the fresh, the innovative and the challenging.’ As digitalisation also intensifies the problem of cultural fragmentation, a version of the current ecology of ‘a generously and universally funded BBC, alongside public service oriented commercial providers, must surely remain the prime means by which such cultural fragmentation is countered.’

David Hesmondhalgh

Reconsidering the BBC's Public Purpose of Sustaining Citizenship and Civil Society

Blumler, Jay

A short submission by Jay Blumler (Emeritus Professor, University of Leeds) focuses on the BBC’s public purpose of ‘sustaining citizenship and civil society’ as being inadequate and too general so ‘that any editor of any news outlet could claim to subscribe to and to be serving it.’ According to Blumler, recent years have seen a diminishing of the civic mission of BBC news and current affairs. This has taken place due to various issues, including unrelenting competition to attract and hold audiences as well as ‘a drift away from a mixture of sacerdotal and pragmatic approaches to political news toward a more purely pragmatic one.’ The public purpose therefore needs to be made more specific: to provide information and analysis of current events, as well as include a provision of presenting ‘the main options among different ways of dealing with current issues’ and ‘ensuring that the experiences and views of all sectors of society likely to be affected by proposed policies are presented and heard.’

Jay Blumler