Date of this Version
Throughout the world, the future of public service broadcasting is in doubt. Partly this is a crisis of technology and its challenges to the prior order. Partly this is a crisis of definition and role. And partly, this is a crisis of economic organization: the capacity of a sector, because of its culture or its tradition of management, to respond to the needs and opportunities of the moment. There is widely available literature on the relationship between responsiveness and the structure of for-profit corporations, but precious little on the application of governance arguments to the public and non-profit foundation sector. The argument of this Essay, however, is that for public broadcasting to flourish, for new technologies to provide opportunities for substantial growth in impact, it may be necessary to transform public broadcasters. Institutions and entities of the industry have to change in ways that do not seem likely to occur without substantial outside impetus. Indeed, the entire structure of public broadcasting, its history and relationship to government, renders it relatively impervious to change. In antitrust policy, laws or decisions are often criticized because they protect competitors not competition. Something similar is being argued here: the machinery and system in place, as we know it, is designed to protect the existing players rather than the function that is to be performed in American society. This Essay seeks to explain this and to recommend a dramatic way to alter the nature of the debate over public broadcasting's future.
Date Posted: 28 April 2008