Creating Awareness: Role of Consumer Groups

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Rosemary McCulloch

What is PSB?

Broadcasting is a British success story. So much so that public service broad­casting (PSB) in the UK — by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), ITV and Channels 4 and 5 — is often taken for granted. Through the authority of the Independent Television Commission (ITC), the Radio Authority, The Broad­casting Standards Commission and the Charter of the BBC, citizens of the UK have enjoyed the many benefits that PSB brings to a nation; namely, to provide

  • impartial and independent news, information and comment
  • a forum for public discussion in which a broad spectrum of views and
  • opinions can be expressed
  • pluralistic, innovatory and varied programming that meets high ethical
  • and quality standards and which does not sacrifice the pursuit of quality to market forces
  • programme schedules and services of interest to a wide public, yet which are also attentive to the needs of minority groups
  • an extension of choice to viewers and listeners through the provision of
  • programme services not normally provided by commercial broadcasters.

To put it another way: PSB can focus on three specific areas — creativity, learning and citizenship.

The need for awareness

Nothing remains static. With the digital revolution, satellite and cable broad­casting, globalisation has arrived, bringing many opportunities — particu­larly for learning. But as with most inventions, there are dangers as well as benefits. It is these dangers that need to be brought to the attention of as many people as possible if an equitable solution is to be achieved.

Raising awareness means translating officcial jargon into simple, understandable language. It means bringing the issues raised by WTO/GATT negotiations into the everyday life of ordinary people.

For example, they know at one level about the problems and challenges that the new technology brings- commercial interests, gate keeper control, problem US dominance in a global market – but why it concern them?

Practical examples bring home the point. In a British school recently, chil­dren were asked what number they would dial to contact the emergency ser­vices through the telephone. Not one of them knew the UK emergency num­ber, but all of them could quote the American number! This is the kind of strategy needed to raise awareness. We all cherish the local customs and traditions and culture of our own individual country. What a monochrome world it would be if all these differences were ironed out.

From the very beginning, because of its system of public — rather than gov­ernment or commercial — funding, the BBC has been enabled to put the inter­ests of viewers and listeners above all else. The UK commercial channels are regulated by the ITC, which is an independent regulator, free from govern­ment control. (On occasion, this freedom has been of advantage to the gov­ernment, which has then been able to disclaim responsibility for potentially unpopular decisions).

In order to safeguard cultural autonomy and cultural diversity, there must be locally funded programmes. Channel 4 in the UK has a special remit as a public corporation: it has non-profit making shareholders and is therefore able to plough profits back into programme making.

How can we raise awareness?

I believe passionately that citizens in all countries can be helped to see that it is they who need to make their voices heard. We cannot leave things solely to government or in the hands of interested commercial organisations or powerful foreign powers. Perhaps the experience of my organisation can illus­trate how we can go about this.


Voice of the Listener and Viewer (VLV) is a consumer organisation. It is independent of politicians and broadcasters. It has no commercial funding. It is therefore a respected consumer group. In order to maintain this respect, it has been careful not to become a religious or moral censor group, but has welcomed membership from academics in 50 colleges and university depart­ments. Since its foundation 16 years ago, VLV has grown into an organisation that plays an important part in shaping the future policy for broadcasting.

Another vital aspect of the work of VLV is the conferences, seminars and lectures that are held, and which are open to the public at affordable prices.

These public events provide an independent forum where everyone with an interest in broadcasting can meet on equal terms. VLV maintains a panel of speakers, an information resource centre and publishes a quarterly news bul­letin in print and audio.

VLV has also strengthened its position as a powerful consumer association by forming alliances through EURALVA, which was formed to unite the concerns of our broadcasting partners in Europe and also by forming friendships with ABC in Australia and New Zealand.

It takes hard work, dedication and, above all, enthusiasm to maintain an organisation like Voice of the Listener and Viewer, but I believe that an organisation that supports public service broadcasting is worth all the effort it takes. We do have an effect, we are consulted and we are still enthusiastic.

As Emerson said, "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm".

Ms Rosemary McCulloch is on the Management Committee of Voice of the Listener and Viewer. She has also worked for BBC Radio.

"Being a pluralist society, we need a more balanced
media programming wherein private business would be
assured reasonable profits and the public, notably the
socially marginalized, also assured of adequate access to
basic broadcasting and telecommunications services. For
instance, a community—based programming can be
organized around communities of interest groups like
professionals, workers, women and children, cultural or
ethnic groups, enabling them to participate in public
affairs discussions. This would mean a rather
decentralized and more autonomous broadcasting system
that can tackle alternative issues like social justice,
employment, health and childcare, education, justice,
the economy and the peace process."

Rodolfo T. Reyes, Press Secretary,
Government of the Philippines