Former RTS president Sir Peter Bazalgette has called for the importance of Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) in the digital age.
“PSB is more important today than it’s ever been…Important to our democracy, to our culture and to our economy," argued Sir Peter Bazalgette in his speech at The Voice of the Listener and Viewer Autumn Conference on 29 November.
“PSB channels are still watched by more than 80% of the [UK] population every week," he stated. “Independent news is the lifeblood of democracy. What public service television news has brought to this is a gold-standard of impartial news.”
“Can there be any better evidence of a genuine democracy?” he asked.
He compared the internet to “a latter day Tower of Babel - the home of rumour, gossip and paranoia.”
“We’re facing nothing less than a crisis [of] trust in the public sphere," he said. “Peddling pervasive lies is cheap. Verifying and reporting facts is expensive”
In a world where people can voice their prejudices at the click of a button, Bazalgette warned, “all too often narrowcasting leads to narrow minds.”
Conversely, he argued, public service broadcast broadens minds through “genuine investigation, honest reporting, and impartial presentation.”
He referenced Ofcom’s most recent research that revealed the public’s support of PSB - in which people cited its most important purpose as “informing our understanding of the world.”
“More than three quarters of those who watched any of the PSB channels also regarded the news as ‘trustworthy’”, which Bazalgette stated as the “gold reserve of our democracy.”
He called for public service news to “stay true to its philosophy but find a new audience.”
Bazalgette argued that original content “made by us, for us and about us” is the defining cultural purpose of PSB, with drama at the forefront. He cited TV series such as Broadchurch and Liar, which have approached vital and sensitive subjects and have both brought in around 10m viewers.
He claimed that British originations are more important today than they were in the past, but suggested more can be done to reflect “modern Britain”.
Just over 11% of ITV staff who identify their ethnicity are now BAME. “A great improvement,” he said on the past, “but still some way to go to perfectly mirror the national picture.”
The UK accounts for around half the international trade in entertainment formats; "For our number of people, we have more channels demanding more original ideas than anywhere else."
“Sky make a very serious contribution to this ecology,” he said. “But at its heart lie the public service broadcasters.”
He suggested the creative industries sector, that is growing around three times faster than the economy in general, will have created a million jobs by 2030, compared to the large amount of jobs losses other sectors will experience with the increased use of artificial intelligence.
With a multitude of new platforms to view programming, he argued that viewers need access to PSB channels and video-on-demand services.
"DTT [Digital Terrestrial Television] and Freeview are still very important to ensuring the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and 5 remain free, unmediated, universal services."
"We need long term certainty for the DTT platform...which guarantees access to precious public service content," Bazalgette stated. "PSB prominence has been steadily eroded in the past decade and now needs to be reinforced."
Turning to on demand services, he highlighted the need to "co-operate around a common data currency for all online audience, ensuring commercial TV continues to be an effective competitor in the global market."
He concluded by stressing that "public service is as important today as it ever was...more important perhaps."
"The trusted news which informs our democracy in an era of widespread fakery, the original programmes which help define our national culture and the demonstrable economic growth and international influence that flow from our creative excellence."
However, he acknowledged that for PSB to move forward, "new ideas, fresh regulations and novel alliances" need to be enforced.
He challenged those who would call PSB old-fashioned by referencing a band called "Public Service Broadcasting".
"Their first album was called 'Inform - Educate - Entertain'", he said. "You can't get much cooler than that."
Sir Peter Bazalgette delivered his speech at The Voice of the Listener and Viewer Autumn Conference on 29 November.