Public Service Broadcasting Some Expectations Of The People : Lal Deosa Rai

Though the government has been reiterating its commitment to merging the national radio and television broadcasting systems for quite a while now, it has yet to announce its definitive plan for introducing the new system of public service broadcasting in Nepal. The general public is keen to see the final stroke of national policy on the new broadcasting system.

Raison d'être

The public believes that the government is aware of the raison d'être of public broadcasting: the loktantrik service. Any public broadcasting will attempt to communicate with every citizen as its common denominator. It will seek to widen the access of citizens to public life and encourage their active participation in it. It will endeavour to broaden the cognitive horizons of the citizens and help them better understand their own location in the midst of many a global perspective. A desirable public broadcasting system, therefore, has to be daring and innovative to serve the citizenry, yet never driven by profit.

If broadcasting becomes an instrument of social democracy, it will obviously be an instrument of voicing public concerns. The question will then arise: How legitimate will it be for a public broadcasting service to mediate the public sphere with subsidies from government financing?

The commonly-accepted model of public service requires that public service broadcasting always act in the public interest. In Nepal’s case, the public interest has been defined by our 'on-the-anvil' constitution. But, we can be sure that the public interest does not occupy the same space with the market interests or state imperatives.

According to contemporary mass communication theories, public service broadcasting must be accessible and acceptable to every citizen in terms of the subjects discussed, audiences targeted and the types of programmes offered. It must be a diversified institution, aloof from political pressures and commercial interests. Last but not the least, the public must be able to identify the distinctiveness of public service broadcasting -- that is, its standard operating procedures should be different from the set patterns of commercial and state-owned modes of broadcasting.

There has never been a generally accepted theory of public broadcasting. BBC is one example of a national variant. There are other variants as well. However, the theory of common goals and structural conditions accounts for most of these variations. The common goals theory proposes that there are certain goals that recur irrespective of the system, and that there are certain structural conditions which must be met by a public service broadcasting organisation if its mission is to serve the public interest way above meeting other financial objectives.

Let us consider some of the common goals which the future public service broadcasting of Nepal must set before it really determines how to meet the expectations of serving the public interest of Nepali design. The proposed Nepali public service broadcasting must serve the needs of the political system by providing balanced and impartial information on issues of conflict; while showing concern for the national culture, language and identity.

It must also provide airtime for the special needs of the minorities. It must provide a platform for all the diverse tastes, interests and needs of the public, allowing for a full range of opinions and beliefs to play out on it.

To function as an effective system for serving the Nepali public interest, the new broadcasting structure must meet the following four conditions: it should have a clearly spelt out founding mission, be independent from the government, run under a public financing system and have a robust accountability mechanism.

Meeting goals

Theoretically, the public broadcasting system will be confronted with two sources of tension: one tension can arise from the necessity of meeting the goals by mitigating the conflicts of interest between independence and financial commitments; the other tension can arise when the necessity of achieving the goals set by the society in the public interest clashes with the necessity of meeting the demands of the audiences as a set of consumers.

In its media plan, therefore, the government should adequately look into how the new broadcasting system can pursue its mission and manage its sources of tension while fulfilling its mandates to inform, educate and entertain the public.

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