A casual glance at the state of British broadcasting in 2005 might easily lead one to think that the efflorescence of new broadcasting forms seen at the end of the twentieth-century from satellite television, cable television, digital television, digital radio, the internet and so on have rendered monolithic public broadcasting organizations such as the BBC obsolete: that is, they are now dinosaurs left behind from the birth of broadcasting in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Proponents of this view Rupert Murdoch, other media magnates and several leading politicians being pre-eminent examples argue that the notion of ‘public broadcasting’ is financially and philosophically antiquated and must be replaced with capitalist principles that promote mass corporate competition and therefore greater choice for the public. In the opinion of these magnates and ministers, the existence of a single massive broadcasting structure like the BBC smothers invention and innovation and therefore damages the public’s choice of and access to free media. Moreover, because of their bulk and institutionalised methods, these public broadcasters cannot respond adequately to the greatest feature of broadcasting in the twenty-first century: the ceaseless march of technology.
Those who defend the idea of public broadcasting as well as its institutions argue that such broadcasting is the finest model that has yet been devised in any country: providing the public with impartial, apolitical, culturally balanced and educative television and radio that is free from corporate and commercial pressure. Moreover, the defenders of public broadcasting point to the success of the funding mechanism of organizations like the BBC (revenue from licence fees), its humanitarian charter and its political independence. They argue that once the obligation to promote public interest is removed from broadcasting as it is when private corporations run broadcasting that the floodgates are opened to every kind of manipulation, excess of advertising and corporate abuse that one can imagine. This essay examines the two sides of the argument about the obsolescence of public broadcasting, and looks at three questions or relationships in particular, those of: the State vs. public broadcasting institutions, independence vs. greater government control and finally choice vs. public broadcasting. Two works are of seminal importance for these investigations and these are either explicitly or implicitly referred to throughout, they are: Power Without Responsibility and Mass Media and Society.