openDemocracyUK

The Public Service Broadcasting Forum

Frank Field sets out the reasoning behind the launch of the Public Service Broadcasting Forum
Frank Field
29 March 2010

Thriving Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) distributed at times convenient for listeners and viewers is as vital to our democracy as it is to developing and strengthening our cultural inheritance. This is one of the basic assumptions underlying the Public Service Broadcasting Forum.

A second key assumption is that the BBC has failed to strike the right balance in its output between straightforward entertainment and (often entertaining) public service content. In order to justify the licence fee – Britain’s last remaining poll tax – the BBC feels it needs to slaughter its rivals in the ratings war. It does so at the cost of its PSB output.

The PSB Forum has been established by a group of individuals who welcome the publication of the BBC’s Strategy Review.  They have been supported in planning this Forum by a number of major broadcasting players who also wish to use the short period the BBC has set for open debate to discuss how we best nurture and extend the PSB remit across our broadcasting network.

Because we are arguing for a change – though the point of the debate is to decide what that change might be – we may be cast as being part of the anti-BBC lobby. We are not.

Here is a third assumption underpinning the Forum.  Without ever planning to be so, the BBC became one of the outstanding public successes of this country, gaining a loyalty and gratitude from citizens matched only by the National Health Service and the Monarch.  And it has gained this loyalty and affection very largely by its public service broadcast output.

The BBC is trusted – the most valuable of all assets.  And this trust is not limited to this country. The BBC has by virtue of its PSB output set the standards for broadcasters the world over.  But for the reason already set out – the need constantly to justify the licence fee – we believe that the BBC’s current scope and strategy is undermining its great success in defining for the world how PSB can underpin a thriving plural democracy.

The Strategy Review allows whoever wishes to debate the importance of public service broadcasting to the life and well-being of the nation to do so; the Forum’s role is to facilitate this goal.

I will outline in a future post how I personally would like to see public service broadcasting entrenched and nurtured in a diverse broadcasting system. We are launching the Forum today to ensure there is the widest possible debate on PSB before the BBC brings down the shutters after twelve weeks of debate.  Our interactive website is now in business, hosted by OurKingdom (the British blog of openDemocracy).

Towards the end of the period we will stage two symposia, one in Cardiff dealing with the concerns of the constituent nations of the UK in relation to PSB and one in London dealing with UK wide issues.

The BBC's public service broadcasting has made the search for truth and broadcasting synonymous. It has also enriched this country's culture and understanding while setting the standard for a media in which the free human spirit can grapple to understand better the world in which we live.

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