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Public Broadcasting and Public Affairs_2008

Public Broadcasting and Public Affairs_2008



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Published by Youssef Rahoui

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Categories:Types, School Work
Published by: Youssef Rahoui on Dec 27, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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public broadcasting & public affairs:
o  h   ’   v h  wh w   
Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University 
By Pat Aufderheide & Jessica Clark, witheditorial participation by Jake Shapiro
p 2008
at Harvard University
media re:public
s p | p b  p a | 2008 / 2
eXecutiVe summarY
U.S. public broadcasting aces proound challenges as amass media service entering a disintermediated digital era. Itapproaches those challenges with both chronic strengths andweaknesses. Its strengths include a clutch o highly visibleand trusted brand names (PBS, NPR,
Sesame Street
), acreative and ar-ung talent network, and a highly balkanizedstructure, which invests unders and audiences in the survivalo individual entities, especially local stations. Its weaknessesinclude an audience that skews old and is getting older,particularly or television; a reputation or elitist programming;and that same highly balkanized structure, which inhibitsdecision making to respond to the changing environment.In an increasingly segmented media marketplace,public broadcasters still aim to educate and inorm thebroadest possible swath o Americans. Radio in particular hassucceeded in attracting new listeners in the past decade. Butprogrammers and stations struggle to both maintain currentaudiences and engage new ones across a quick-shiting arrayo new platorms and devices.Public radio and television operate in very dierentways, and their record o providing public aairs and newsis also very dierent. Public radio has consistently since1969 provided high-quality, innovative, daily news programs,which are the backbone o the service and attract the largestproportion o listeners. Competition among public radioprogram services has helped to increase the diversity o voicesand ormats. Meanwhile, public television—in part becauseit has been under much tighter scrutiny politically—hasstruggled with news provision. Its one daily news program, anhour long, is in a traditionalist ormat and is produced by anindependent production house. Public aairs documentariesand series struggle or placement in a service better recognizedand appreciated or its children’s and cultural programming.News and public aairs provision is a core unctiono public broadcasting, and garners enormous trust ratings—aeature that is in short supply in participatory news media.However, uture news and public aairs programming willrequire genuine interactivity and listener/viewer choice andparticipation to remain relevant. This has been a major obstacleor a service that has been rewarded or its eudalistic stability.Eorts to develop nationwide public aairs programmingor the emerging digital TV channels have been stymiedby a lack o unds and the complications o implementingshared solutions in sharply dierent local contexts. Publicbroadcasters have conducted isolated experiments ininteractive and participatory media, with mixed results. Toolsand unds or reliably measuring the impact o such projectshave not materialized, and commercial yardsticks do not trackthe public benefts o such media. Public broadcasters havealso proposed a variety o common digital platorms, withoutconsensus or resolution. Although several organizations arehelping stations to coordinate around solutions, no singleorganization is positioned to lead the ull range o publicbroadcasting entities through digital and online transitions.Public broadcasting’s resources and assets arevaluable today and hold great potential value or tomorrow’snonproft online media sector. The sector will have to transormto ulfll that potential—the question is how. Scenarios includegoing local, going national, partnering up, or fghting it out,each o which oers opportunities to those who care aboutpreserving the public service media.
U.S. public broadcasting is a rare animal internationally;compared to the majority o state or public broadcastersaround the world, the government unding it gets is tiny andits role in defning the national news agenda intermittent. Yetit is actively scrutinized as a potential source o liberal bias byconservative legislators and watchdogs, who loudly criticizeit as a waste o taxpayer money. U.S. public broadcastingdeveloped in a prooundly biurcated way, with radio andtelevision evolving separately into highly distinct services.Both, however, were created and exist within the U.S. massmedia regulatory regime. Both operate on spectrum reservedby the FCC specifcally or noncommercial (
“public”)broadcasting. Both play signifcant, though dierent, roles inshaping the American news and public aairs diet, and bothprovide news and public aairs programming that are rarelymatched in the commercial environment.
Public broadcasting has always been a small, niche service inthe United States. In act, it was created as an aterthought.Legislators, helped along by corporate lobbyists, between
public broadcasting & public affairs:
o  h   ’   v h  wh w   
Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University 
media re:public
s p | p b  p a | 2008 / 3
1927 and 1934 decided the shape o U.S. electronic media.Commercial enterprises were given permission, throughlicenses, to use designated parts o the spectrum or proft,by selling advertising time. Other interests—labor unions,religious organizations, educators, private oundations—hadwarned that such commercial use would eliminate communityand educational use o the spectrum. Such warnings provedcorrect and in 1938, a small part o the FM spectrum—thenpioneer territory, and generally regarded as worthless—wasreserved or educational broadcasters, as a sop to the mostwell-organized o the losers. Later, in 1952, educational TVgot a similar deal—reserved spectrum, mostly in the UHFband, not through any public petitioning or protest but largelyas a result o the concern o one FCC commissioner. The UHFband was then regarded as vastly inerior spectrum, becauseit was much harder to tune into than VHF.Spectrum without resources was not much o anopportunity. Many o the available channels stayed dark, andthose that attempted to broadcast—usually through a schoolor university—oten carried dull, cheap programs, perhapstalking heads in a classroom.Ater World War II and the advent o television, theFord Foundation became newly aware o the power o media.Ater ailed investments in commercial television, Ford undeda campaign to push or more ederal unding or the non-commercial television space that had opened up in 1952.These eorts triggered the interest o other unders and wereinstrumental in establishing the Carnegie Commission onPublic Broadcasting, which in 1966 unveiled an ambitious pro-posal or a service that could enrich the nation inormationallyand culturally.The Commission’s report became the platorm onwhich legislation or a public television service—this wasthe frst use o the phrase “public television”—was thennegotiated. The White House took an active role, recruitingleading members o the deense establishment as well ascultural leaders to present the proposal. The proposal wasramed within the goals o President Lyndon Johnson’s GreatSociety, where government programs penetrated deeply intothe culture and society. Pres. Johnson’s then-aide, Bill Moyers,who was instrumental in negotiating the legislation, laterbecame a leading public aairs producer on public television.The legislation was written, until the last moment, abouttelevision and not radio; only the active and urtive interventiono a public radio lobbyist succeeded in including radio in thenew legislation at all, and even then radio was only allocateda quarter o the ederal monies.The Public Broadcasting Act o 1967 was verydierent rom the Carnegie Commission’s recommendations.Driven by ears o a politically liberal broadcasting service(here the Ford Foundation’s reputation loomed large) andthe concerns o commercial rivals, Congress deliberatelycreated a decentralized national service that was anythingbut a “system.” Congress provided only a small minorityo what public broadcasters would need through ederalunds, and that through a regular appropriations process.The choice o appropriations, rather than an endowment,guaranteed that public broadcasting’s content would beperpetually under political scrutiny. Congress also banned theagency that handled those unds—the Corporation or PublicBroadcasting—rom providing “interconnection” (allowing thestations to share programming, in order to provide high-qualitynational programs). This guaranteed that stations wouldindividually have to struggle to raise the bulk o their ownunds to support themselves, and urthermore would have toorganize themselves to develop cooperative arrangements toacquire programs and/or co-produce them.Current policies and assumptions about publicbroadcasting were shaped by the broadcast realities o the time,and have been slow to change as new transmission technologieshave evolved. Legislators, programmers, and advocates haveregularly ramed ree, over-the-air public radio and television asa public good, but there are no guarantees o universal access.Satellite transmission in the 1980s transormed the importanceo cable, which was turned rom a welter o local services toa national phenomenon. It made possible low-cost transmis-sion o programming, and thereore enabled the rise o nationalprogram services. (It also transormed the economics o publicbroadcasting by dramatically lowering costs o transmission orthem as well.) “Must-carry” provisions enacted by Congressin 1992 guaranteed that cable companies would continueto carry local public TV stations—a decision upheld by theSupreme Court. Now, the transition to digital TV presentsnew questions about whether cable and satellite carriers arerequired to carry the multiple local broadcasts made possibleby new spectrum allocations.Public broadcasting organizations are not poised toprotect their long-term interests. I high-speed broadbandbecame the primary distribution mode, then what kinds oinvestments and agreements would they need to negotiate to
Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University 

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