‘The difference between commercial broadcasting and public broadcasting is the difference between consumers and citizens’ – Nigel Milan (former Managing Director of SBS)
The topic that was discussed this week was public media. In general, public media’s main purpose is ultimately, to serve the public. Public media is an umbrella term which includes all traditional publicly-funded broadcasters and networks as well as public users of new platforms and distribution mechanisms, such as the internet (via podcasts and blogging). It can turn a profit as long as it’s main purpose is to serve the public and not turn a profit. Some example of public media include: ABC, SBS, 4ZZZ, etc.
Public media’s role in a democratic society is to provide media that is in support of public and democratic processes. It should have public value, which includes characteristics such as: embedding a ‘public service ethos’, value for license fee money or taxpayer’s money, weighing public value against market impact and public consultation (as according to BBC).
According to Broadcasting Research Unit public media should be: available to the whole population, should cater to all interests, have special provision for minorities, especially for disadvantaged minorities, recognize their special relationship to the sense of the national identity and community, should be distanced from all vested interests and in particular from those of the government of the day (ABC very specific in terms of bias and particular companies, as well as SBS), Competition in good programming rather then competition for numbers and finally have public guidelines for broadcasting should liberate rather than restrict broadcasters
There are many beneficial functions of public media such as nation building, by linking Australia via the interweb, showing national heritage by broadcasting the ANZAC day parade and historical documentaries, emphaising the national identity and national conversations by broadcasting the AFL and other sports. Public media also has a commercial element with businesses such as the ABC, SBS and BBC shops which generate massive incomes which are put back into the organisations – making them not for profit.
Focusing now on how public media presents News, it is clear that it is very different than commercial media. Public media is less bias than anywhere else and the only source which provides lengthy in depth interviews with politicians and the nations leaders rather than talkback and ‘tabloid’ style stories. It shows that this news styles pays off as 41% of Australian’s watch ABC news. The News style in particular is presented in a serious manner using a broadsheet style rather than tabloid. The news presented is based of importance rather than interest and is thoroughly considered and checked before being aired. However, this style has been criticized by some, saying that the ABC’s news style is boring, elitist, of limited interest, poorly presented and out of touch. on the subject of criticism, public media also faces several challenges, hindering their popularity. Many viewers think ABC is liberial due to the majority of their programs leaning that way and public media in general is always under threat of going commercial due to limited funding.
For public media to continue being successful it has to continue to produce quality, despite tight budgets. Public media also need to make themselves relevant by producing programs that mass audiences want to watch. They have to engage with the democratic process and provide programs that give voice and access to the political processes. They have to continue to inform the public and remain independent.