Challenges to Public Service Broadcasting

Room: 
Room 1.29, Law & Politics Building
Time Slot: 
Wednesday 28th March 09:00 - 10:30
Panel Chair: 
  • Dr Emily Harmer (University of Liverpool)
Panel Members: 
  • Dr Mike Berry (Cardiff University)
  • Dr Daniel Jackson (Bournemouth University)
  • Dr Einar Thorsen (Bournemouth University)
  • Professor Ivor Gaber (University of Sussex)

The BBC has been under threat throughout its life and this panel will explore some of the challenges the corporation faces from new potential ‘public service’ sources and from critics of its role in a new multi-media environment. The efficacy and impartiality of their coverage of the major political events in the UK during the last three years has received much criticism: because the public service broadcasters are a vital element in the UK public sphere these perceived failures represent a significant problem for British democracy. Our first paper argues that many of the current regulations about impartiality appear to be no longer fit for purpose, particularly when many of the long-standing assumptions about British politics seem less and less applicable. In particular, the BBC’s coverage of the EU has been long alleged to have been biased – usually against ‘Brexiteers’ - yet the second paper’s examination of BBC coverage from 2007 and 2012 finds that, contrary to received wisdom, broadcast coverage was dominated by elite and often Euro-sceptic sources. The paper asks whether the BBC offered a genuine alternative to the partisan offerings of the UK press and was operating in the public interest. Many argue that role has been taken by ‘citizen journalists’ with the ‘public’ are now acting as a ‘fifth estate’, holding the fourth estate of the ‘press’ to account.  Previous work has challenged the ‘myth’ of the fourth estate, and similar doubts may be expressed about the ‘fifth estate’. The third proposed paper will probe the claims made for the existence of such an independent watch dog. The final paper’s examination of mainstream news sites, including the BBC’s, identifies distinct sourcing practices and finds citizen voices are incorporated that are genre specific – broadly aligned with crisis news, politics and sports. Political news bears the hallmarks of traditional patterns of news sourcing: elite sources still dominate and citizen contributions are useful only as eyewitnesses or in reaction to events. The panel papers raise concerns, not only about the BBC’s continuing public service role, but also about the future role and ability of alternative journalistic sites to continue that role.