The future of public service media is of special concern in the United Kingdom, where, following the 2015 election, the Conservatives have made a series of cuts to the BBC and set in motion reviews about its future funding and governance. Likewise, the future status of Channel Four, the United Kingdom’s commercially funded public service broadcaster, is also being reconsidered. The threat to the public service remits of both organisations is a particular worry when the large majority of print media are owned by Conservative-supporting owners. However, as the chapters in part I will reveal, public service media is now struggling to survive in many nations, and several offer insights into what a future British media landscape might look like.
In chapter 2, Toril Aalberg compares public and private media systems across a range of nations. Aalberg, who has worked on a number of international, comparative projects, finds that public service media do more than commercial outlets to inform citizens in democracies. Sifting through the conclusions of multiple studies, she finds that public service media systems offer more depth and hard news coverage on balance, and consequently their citizens are more informed about current affairs.
Next, Aristotelis Nikolaidis (chapter 3) investigates what has happened to Greek public media since the financial crisis hit and harsh austerity measures were imposed on the country. As he explains, Greek private media was already overly linked with big business before the crisis. Since the crisis, public news media have been significantly cut back, leaving private media in a dominant position to set reporting agendas and frames. In consequence, mainstream media coverage heavily favours corporate interests and right-wing politics. Thus such coverage has continued to argue for austerity measures and strongly supported acceptance of recent EU bailout agreements.
In chapter 4, Wayne Hope recounts the recent history of news and current affairs media in New Zealand. The lurch towards neoliberalism was quicker in New Zealand in the 1980s, as what was then the Labour Government embraced market reforms with greater zeal than the United States or the United Kingdom. As this chapter explains, the consequence is that a thriving public media has been decimated, leaving foreign multinationals—often investment banks and private equity firms—largely in control. Thus, the New Zealand experience offers a stark warning about how neoliberal communication policies can lead to a financialized public sphere.
The BBC is generally seen as a publicly funded broadcaster, independent of advertising and kept fairly autonomous from government. However, as Kate Wright shows in chapter 5, large, post-2010 cuts have encouraged the BBC to seek additional advertising from its international-facing online component. Over a relatively short period, this has meant changes to editorial parameters and to the way the BBC presents itself. For example, consider how popular features are currently displacing hard news on the home screen. Wright’s chapter demonstrates the nature of the shift through her study of NGO coverage in Africa.
In chapter 6, Rodney Benson concludes part I with a look at the evolving, digitalised news media environment in the hyper-commercialised US system. Here, the combination of the Internet, under-supported public media and financial crises has hit traditional news operations hard but failed to spawn a set of independent, financially viable online alternatives. The choice is stark: either elite news subscriptions or entirely commercialised news operations in which Pulitzer prizes mean lower share prices.