Public Service Broadcasting: An accountable media culture for people | Sunday Observer

Public Service Broadcasting: An accountable media culture for people

In my opinion to establish the PSB model in Sri Lanka,  Rupavahini and SLBC perhaps could be easily converted, as it already has  all the sophisticated equipment and technology. The fundamental rule to  establish a PSB is that it has to be detached from commercial  capital

A recent conference held at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute - ‘An accountable media industry for people’, emphasized the vital role played by Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) in many parts of the world.

“We should consider media as a social entity that is not merely driven by commercial purposes. It’s equally important to know how we can improve the efficiency of this social entity for the well-being of society,” Dr. Sunil Wijesiriwardena, told a conference at the Sri Lanka Foundation Istitute recently.

PSB could be the most sensible alternative model for mainstream media in our country as it is a well-established, successful media alternative that operates in many other countries in the world.

The recent protest on ‘black media’ by a group of artistes and social activists set the stage for a new discourse to re-think the importance of responsible media practice for a progressive society. Most of the time, protests such as these grab the limelight. However, the cause for such protest are soon forgotten. It is every citizen’s responsibility to take action until sufficient reforms are implemented by the relevant authorities without letting these progressive approaches vanish into thin air.

Undoubtedly any sensible citizen cannot agree with present mainstream media practices not only because of the political bias of their reporting, but also because the principles of responsible reporting, accuracy of news and fact-checking seem to have been pushed aside. Sadly, although there are relatively responsible citizens who are smart enough to judge the extreme sensationalism of media reports, there are also people who always want to be entertained by media rather than be informed.

The classic example was the tragic incident of a young boy killing another in Matara, vividly shown in most of the media without considering the graphical impact it will have on many viewers. At the same time the CCTV footage went viral and became the most viewed video of the week.

Certainly, some reporting does not respect the identity of individuals such as children, women, the LGBTQI+ community and victims of crime. However, for journalists and media institutes that stand for responsible journalism and the people’s right to know the truth, this is a nightmare. News and commentary devolve into a baseless cacophony where anyone can say anything and whatever is shared most wins. The truth will become what the most, or the loudest people want it to be.

Yet, for all the chaos and uncertainty in the mainstream media, isn’t it high time to re-think of establishing a responsible industry that is accountable to its stakeholders?

“We are facing nothing less than a crisis of trust in the public sphere. Peddling pervasive lies is cheap. Verifying and reporting facts is expensive. In a world where people can voice their prejudices at the click of a button, all too often narrow casting leads to narrow minds. However, in our discussion it’s very important to have a clear idea about the targeted result that we looked to when placing the criticism on mainstream media.

“It’s really progressive to protest and demand our right to know the truth from media, but we also must have understood that in this present system there’s a huge possibility that our voices may not be heard by the owners of the mainstream media institutes. Therefore, at this point, we should have a constructive agenda of what we really expect from media and how we can achieve same for the betterment of society.

“First of all, we should consider media as a social entity that is not merely driven by commercial purposes. It’s equally important to know how we can improve the efficiency of this social entity for the well-being of society,” said Dr. Wijesiriwardena.

Dr. Wijesiriwardena also said that people countries with public service broadcasting are better informed about the government and politics, are more trusting of other people, and have more positive civic attitudes. “They also have greater confidence in democratic institutions and are more likely to engage in democratic politics. It was found that social trust is higher in countries with a significant public service element in their media systems”.

Conversely, he argued, public service broadcasting broadens minds through genuine investigation, honest reporting and impartial presentation. “For example, countries like Japan, Australia, the Scandinavian countries and many European countries have successful PSB systems and the communities are well-informed.”

In Sri Lanka watching TV news is still the main way in which most people keep up with current affairs and public channels are still more highly trusted than commercial channels for the accuracy, reliability, and impartiality of their news coverage. In countries where PSB is available watching and listening to PSB channels are associated with a broad array of public attitudes and behavior that underpin democratic politics.

It’s a known fact that the public has very limited convincing power for private media as it is driven totally by commercial capital and could also be supported for a political agenda. “Although in the present context state media also is partly driven by commercial capital and political bias is also quite visible, however, in many parts of the world state media is the ideal space for public service broadcasting and it has proved its capability in many countries.

The classic example is NHK channel in Japan. It is 100% driven by public funds, zero commercial advertisements, no political agendas, every peron has direct access to question and make suggestions, high quality maintained in almost every program and it is the benchmark for almost every other channel in Japan as well as in the world,” Dr. Wijesiriwardena said.

“In my opinion to establish PSB model in Sri Lanka, Rupavahini and SLBC perhaps could be easily converted, as it already has all the sophisticated equipment and technology. The fundamental rule to establish a PSB is that; it has to be detached from commercial capital. That means this has to be purely run by public funds. To collect funds, it could be through government tax (like most of the Scandinavian countries do), license fee (BBC, Rupavahini and SLBC till 1994), budget allocation through parliament (Australian Broadcasting Service) or via subscription fees (NHK Japan).

We did a feasibility study for this kind of initiative and it is not something impossible. For example in Sri Lanka there are 50million families; if one family subscribes Rs. 50 per month and if 50 percent of the population of families contribute, PSB is possible in Sri Lanka. We are continuing the feasibility study on this and hope to present it to the relevant authorities in near future,” he said.

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