in response to Rebecca Kesby’s article on the BBC World Service: Is public service broadcasting in terminal decline?
There has been debate around the world regarding the continued funding of public broadcasters and whether news should be left for the private sector. Critics of government-funded media worry that commercial broadcasters cannot compete on the scale of BBC and its likes, and that such funding acts as a subsidy for these organisations.
However, the reason that public broadcasters are funded by governments is because there is a public interest in the news. People want to make informed decisions and know the truth. The BBC started with a mission to “inform, educate, and entertain.” In the early days, it disseminated news from the imperial capital to overseas colonies. There was a need to gain access to information—and it was a basic need. People recognised this idea in the past, and we should continue to do so today.
Like electricity and water, news is a commodity. The government subsidises power companies and telecoms because there is a believe that these services are essential to carrying out our daily lives. News is no different. It keeps citizens informed, scrutinises government data, and questions politicians when discrepancies arise. It is a foundational institution for a modern, civil society. This is precisely why governments cannot afford to stop funding public broadcasters. News are facts, and it should not be an area for competition. Critics who worry that public broadcasters will crowd out commercial broadcasters are missing the point. Gathering information is an exhaustive task and should indeed be left to public broadcasters with the resources and power. Commercial broadcasters should focus on providing analysis beyond the headlines and hard facts. They offer the voices and debates that take place after the information gathering is done.
For an additional perspective on why BBC matters, read Ramachandra Guha’s article on The Guardian: As an Indian fan of the BBC, I can tell you why it matters