You are a key player in a hopeful, global democratic experiment: public service broadcasting. It is the dominant form of broadcasting around the world.
There’s virtually no difference between how we define public broadcasting in the United States with how UNESCO defines it internationally:
Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) is broadcasting made, financed and controlled by the public, for the public. It is neither commercial nor state-owned; it is free from political interference and pressure from commercial forces. Through PSB, citizens are informed, educated and also entertained. When guaranteed with pluralism, programming diversity, editorial independence, appropriate funding, accountability and transparency, public service broadcasting can serve as a cornerstone of democracy.
These are high ideals. Unfortunately they are not always met — here or abroad. Political influence, pressure from commercial forces, lack of diversity, violation of editorial independence, lack of transparency — all have plagued our cornerstone. Of course, underfunding remains, as always, a chronic concern. And the digital future of the service is uncertain.
Still, public broadcasting has strong credibility among the American people. Despite staggering commercial competition, it serves a combined radio-television-online audience of almost 100 million each week. And it amasses roughly $2.5 billion in annual funding.
It may be a rather small star in the greater media universe, but often it shines the brightest — and exerts a disproportionate pull on those who seek educational, cultural and informational programming.
Go to a meeting of public broadcasting managers and you’re likely to hear them talk about “the system.” They’re talking about the government-chartered system that was established in 1967 with passage of the Public Broadcasting Act.
The public broadcast system governs itself through a variety of institutions — most of which are organized on a membership-model. Through them, system participants amplify their needs and exercise influence over the management and direction of public broadcasting.
The U.S. public broadcasting system has strong national “brands” in PBS and NPR, but it remains anchored by the local stations. The stations are more than technical facilities for local production and transmission; they represent the authentic link between the national system and the tax-paying public.