‘Public media’ are media institutions that act in the public interest, rather than the interests of politicians and governments, billionaire owners or powerful corporations. In the UK today, public media are the best of public broadcasting, as well as independent media cooperatives and democratically-run community media.
Public media are:
- Independent – able to hold powerful interests to account —————–>
- Accountable – facing consequences when they cause harm —————–>
- Democratic – participatory and representative of diverse lives —————–>
- For everyone – serving everybody’s needs and accessible to all —————–>
These are similar to the founding principles of our public broadcasters, the BBC and Channel 4, but we believe these institutions need updating and reimagining for a digital, cross-platform age. As part of our campaign, ‘The BBC and Beyond’, we will be making a Manifesto for a People’s Media that will capture your ideas for what public media should look like in the future.
Q: Do we have public media today?
The idea of public media is in some ways an aspiration – it’s a concept that we need to create and imagine together. Although there are lots of media institutions that live out some of the principles of public media, there are also constraints that make it hard to meet them all at the same time.
At the national level, the closest institutions are the BBC and Channel 4, which are both publicly owned and have ‘public service obligations’ to inform, educate and entertain (ITV and Channel 5 have these as well in a more limited way). Their obligations are underpinned by principles of being independent of vested interests (particularly the government), being universal, cultivating citizenship, and being high quality. You will probably have your own opinions about whether these channels really do fulfil these obligations. We believe these institutions need transforming to properly live them, and that they also need new obligations to involve the public in making decisions.
There are a number of independent media institutions who are experimenting with more participatory ways of producing media, such as the Bristol Cable and The Ferret, the community journalism of Bureau Local, and community radio station such as Bradford Community Broadcasting. These are probably the kinds of institutions that are closest to our definition of public media, but they face different challenges, particularly around sustainable funding and making their content universally accessible.
Q: Why do we need public media?
It’s clear that the UK in 2021 is facing many deepseated problems, including the deep divisions caused by Brexit, the current pandemic, and the climate crisis. All too often our media are often part of the problem rather than part of the solution – leaving people uninformed about the things that affect them, and fearful of each other.
Our public broadcasters do play a positive role in helping us meet these challenges, such as the huge popularity of the BBC website for news about Covid-19 over the past year. But all too often the combination of commercial pressures and government interference limits their ability to act in the public interest – and more fundamentally, they haven’t yet caught up with digital technologies. And meanwhile the smaller independent organisations – who are really figuring out what ‘public media’ means in the digital age – face economic uncertainty and need support to create sustainable funding models.