We know facts matter. We know accountability matters. We know identity matters. We believe that how these values are transmitted, matters.
We are lucky in the UK. We have a public service broadcasting framework that is the envy of the world, comprising the publicly-owned BBC, Channel 4 and S4C, with agreed content commitments from ITV, Channel 5, Scottish Television and Ulster Television as well as obligations on all licensed broadcasters.
This ecosystem works to ensure fairness and impartiality; through its uniquely British construction, it covers commitments to children’s content, arts and religion, original drama and entertainment, and guaranteed access for all to our biggest sports events. It ensures both the portrayal of our nations and regions to themselves and to each other, but also projects British values internationally. Our intellectual property framework has made the UK home to some of the world’s biggest production companies and high-end drama productions.
Our PSB framework underpins a thriving UK creative industry sector, estimated to have contributed £118 billion in gross added value to UKPLC in 2018. Moreover, the PSBs’ spending commitments to the nations and regions of the UK boost local employment and economies.
But in a fast-changing media landscape our unique ecosystem is under threat: from under-funding, from the proliferation of unregulated broadcasters online, from the exponential growth of social media platforms, from US-based streaming services shorn of any PSB obligations (including paying taxes), from changes driven by ideology over evidence and even from benign neglect.
That is why we have created The British Broadcasting Challenge.
We are a small group of media academics, writers and producers aware of the challenges facing the PSBs that underpin our system. We are extremely concerned by the Government’s setting up an advisory panel to investigate the future of Public Service Broadcasting, which will hear evidence in private and give advice to the Secretary of State without releasing it. The panel’s conclusions will not be published but could significantly influence the final decisions about the future shape and size of our PSB ecosystem.
The British Broadcasting Challenge has two simple goals. First, to promote a wide-ranging discussion about UK PSB – its potential for good, its ability to transmit truth, its institutional place at the heart of the UK, and how it can be improved for the digital age. Second, we want the debate about PSB – our PSB – to be in public and accountable, rather than behind closed doors.
Our open letter to Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, with over 120 signatories, supports these two clear objectives, and asks for his panel to make their deliberations public so that we can all be part of a national conversation about our future.
To enable this debate to begin, in public and across the country, we launched a campaign for openness about our own public broadcasting, online on Thursday 20th May. The outcomes of all our discussions and deliberations will be sent to the Secretary of State and to his panel, as well as being available on our website.