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Public service broadcasting

Public service broadcasting (often abbreviated to PSB) is the style of broadcasting established by Lord Reith, the first Director General of the BBC. Its mission is to "inform, educate and entertain".

A public service broadcaster is not broadcasting for commercial ends but rather aims at social betterment. For this reason, PSB is often incompatible with commercial stations. For the same reason, it is often seen as being overly paternalistic in nature.

Perhaps the most famous example of a "public service broadcaster" (in theory if not in practice) is the BBC.

There is no standard definition of what PSB is exactly, although a number of official bodies have attempted to pick out the key characteristics. The Broadcasting Research Unit[?] lists the following:

  • Geographic universality - that the stations' broadcasts are available nationwide, with no exception (a criterion failed by the UK's Channel 5).
  • Catering for all interests and tastes - as exemplified by the BBC's range of minority channels (BBC2, BBC Radio 3[?], and various digital services), but also by the commercial Channel 4.
  • Catering for minorities - much as above, but with racial and sexual minorites etc. (eg. Channel 4, BBC Asian Network[?]).
  • Concern for national identity and community - this essentially means that the stations should in the most part commission programmes from within the country, which may be more expensive than importing shows from abroad.
  • Detachment from vested interests and government - in other words, programming should be impartial, and the stations should not pander to the desires of advertisers or government. In practice however, such impartiality is questionable, even with the BBC. Even when a station is removed from corporate and government interests, there may be a sense that it panders to a particular social group (ie. the Middle class that ascribes the values PSB aims to disseminate).
  • One broadcasting system to be directly funded by the corpus of users - ie. the licence fee in the case of the BBC.
  • Competition in good programming rather than numbers - quality is the prime concern with a true public service broadcaster. Of course, in practice, ratings wars are rarely concerned with quality, although that may depend on how you define the word "quality".
  • Guidelines to liberate programme makers and not restrict them - in the UK, guidelines, and not laws, govern what a programme maker can and cannot do, although these guidelines can be backed up by hefty penalties.

In the modern world, the mass media is tremendously competitive, and as such, it can be difficult for a public service broadcaster to survive amongst commercial interests, especcially with the increased number of channels that digital broadcasting provides.

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