Mark Thompson: Broadcasters can still offer a public service

Taken from a speech by the chief executive of Channel 4 at a media convention held in Oxford

Share
Related Topics

It's easy to define public-service broadcasting narrowly, as a kind of comfort zone full of safe middle-class totems: Daniel Deronda, Blue Peter; opera, yes; pop music, well, only if it's not too popular.

Any modern argument for public intervention in the broadcasting and communications markets (the public status of Channel 4, the licence fee) has to be grounded in the notion of market failure – the case that there are certain goods that society believes the public should have, even if the market does not provide them.

One justification for these so-called "merit goods" might be a belief that someone – the Government, Ofcom, the broadcasters – has more information about what's good for consumers than the consumers. But a second, more powerful, potential quality of merit goods is their externalities, their positive secondary benefits over and above the immediate benefit they confer on consumers.

It's obvious how certain traditional public-service genres might come into the category of merit goods – news programmes that lead to a better informed society and a stronger democracy, and educational programmes that lead to a better-skilled and more competitive workforce.

But the concept of merit goods has a wider relevance for public-service broadcasting. Buried, Tony Garnet's new prison drama, is gripping; but we believe it could also change minds about life in Britain's jails in a way that we couldn't do in a news or current affairs programme. This is a point where public service's original cultural project and modern economic theory come together.

To me, public-service broadcasters can be seen as engines to create as many merit goods as possible across as wide a range of genres as possible. I think that this approach is preferable to one that restricts "true" public service to a handful of traditional genres or that conjures with concepts such as "quality" and "distinctiveness".

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A police officer carries a casualty to safety  

Tunisia attack proves that we cannot stop terrorists carrying out operations against Britons in Muslim countries

Robert Verkaik
Alan Titchmarsh MP?  

Alan Titchmarsh MP? His independent manifesto gets my vote

Jane Merrick
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue