If the media are in private hands, they will necessarily defend the interests only of those powerful enough to acquire them. But if to avoid the danger, the media are placed under the control of the state, this is like treating an illness with a cure that kills the patient.
- Mario Vargas Llosa, 2010 Nobel Laureate for Literature
IN "The Cultural Battle," Vargas Llosa referred to the dangers of media commercialism and state control. A response proposed by UNESCO to the inherent weaknesses of the commercial and the state-controlled models is that of public service broadcasting (PSB).
Those of us who have had some involvement with PTV 4 in the past, welcome its revitalization - the signing of a law which would infuse a P5 billion capitalization (R3 billion from General Appropriations, and the rest from advertising sales) that would improve programming and its capacity to "keep abreast of the latest technology such as digital TV and transmission upgrade that would improve signal quality." According to Secretary Sonny Coloma, this would allow the development of programs focusing on education, history, propagation of Philippine culture, and quality entertainment. It will be participative as various sectors will be invited to give concrete suggestions on programs beneficial to community and society. Too, an advisory council will be established that will "advise the network on relevant programming that will bolster the character of PTV as a public broadcasting network and the shifting of focus towards a 'new global best practice of public service broadcasting', so that it would become an active instrument in promoting the public welfare."
There is no question about the acceptance today of a government-run TV station that would eventually evolve into a PSB. This is primarily due to the credibility that the present administration enjoys. But the question raised by some, is: What, if future leaders do not follow through with the vision of evolving into a PSB? As I wrote in an earlier column, the Thai Public Broadcasting Service (TPBS) (and some other models) operated on a charter that guaranteed independence from the state. Ownership structure was designed in such a way that its top policy level of governance is exercised by representatives of vital sectors - people's organizations, women, youth, business, academe who had control on personnel, programs, and other decision areas. It derived its funding from excise taxes on liquor and tobacco, institutional advertising, foundations, and social investors.
In my column (MB, August 24, 2011), I cited a definition of PSB - that it is "financed and controlled by the public and for the public, is neither commercial nor state-owned, and free from political interference and pressures from commercial forces" (UNESCO). Funding must therefore be guaranteed. It operates on the principles of universality (accessible to all), diversity, independence, distinctiveness. Its management is characterized by editorial independence, a separation between the governing body with responsibility for the broadcast organizations, and managers and editors who have responsibility for day-to-day and editorial decision-making."
The general acceptance of PBS is due to lack of public trust in the capacity of market mechanisms to fulfill certain goals as well as that of the State's ability to achieve the objectives of informing, educating, and entertaining. UNESCO further notes that because it is not driven by market forces, it can afford to experiment with innovation, and original productions. It can complement commercial channels, take creative risks, challenge viewers, and become a voice of the nation."
But PSB today finds itself on the defense because of "government interference, a crisis of public confidence, a dwindling fund base, an aggressive commercial broadcasting sector, and a neo-liberal environment of hostility to things public." Nonetheless, specialists who monitor performance of PSB along with state-owned and commercial systems, point out that despite setbacks, they are much more relevant than ever before, The challenge is that of strengthening their capacity so that they are able to safeguard the integrity and interests of the citizens.