What do the academics say? The impact of public service broadcasting

Welcome to another in my occasional series on useful, interesting or controversial findings from academic studies. Today it is a study into the impact of public service broadcasting which looked at the US, the UK, Denmark and Finland.

These four countries were chosen because Denmark and Finland have a very strong TV public service approach, the US close to a pure-market based system and the UK is somewhere in-between.

TV news in Denmark and Finland was more likely to have hard news (“news reports about topics such as politics, public administration, the economy and science”), with the US and UK lower. Denmark and Finland also had a higher proportion of international news than the US, with this time the UK up at the Danish and Finnish end of the spectrum.

The full academic study does a detailed statistical analysis of the hard news and foreign news proportions, adding in survey data about levels of knowledge of current affairs issues amongst the public in all four countries. The conclusion is that,

Our results demonstrate that Americans are significantly less informed about public affairs than Europeans … [and] support the thesis that the American shortfall in knowledge is attributable in part to the distinctive information context in the United States [i.e. the lack of a public service broadcasting role comparable to that in the other countries]. American news media are driven to maximise audience share. Therefore, broadcast news programming is aimed at entertainment more than education. European media tend to cover hard news subjects more extensively and air news programming more frequently.

Source: Cross-National versus Individual-Level Differences in Political Information: A Media Systems Perspective by Shanto Iyengar, James Curran, Anker Brink Lund, Inka Salovaara-Mooring, Kyu S Hahn and Sharon Coen, Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties [£], Vol.20, No.3, 291-309, August 2010.

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7 Comments

  • It will only get worse for Britain when Murdoch aquires 100% BSkyB very shortly (doubt that Cable will have the courage to stand up to Murdoch – nobody else has in our government) God help our kids they will be fed constant sex, humiliation of others, scandal and private details (sometimes through illegal methods, or if not , they will probably fabricate it . Amongst all this will be subjected to the media barons’ political agendas through the many media outlets. Soon British kids will no longer be thinking for themselves.

  • Gosh, I can’t even begin to enumerate what’s wrong with the methodology of that survey! But here are the ones that jump out at me screaming and waving their arms for attention.

    * Sample size of four. Four.
    * Single representatives each of commercial-only broadcasting and of mixed broadcasting.
    * No attempt to factor in differences between the nations–in particular to factor in the different standings and ethoses in the four nations–physical size, geographical location, prominence in global market etc. etc. etc.

    You can probably learn a lot of interesting things about the four individual countries in question, but it’s going to be sod-all use for determining whether or not public broadcasting is a Good Thing.

  • Martin Le Jeune 13th Sep '10 - 3:21pm

    Hardly surprising that Finland &Denmark have far more international coverage given geography, history ans size. Nothing at all to with broadcasting

  • What Martin Le Jeune said. They should’ve done the survey in some more similarly-sized European countries, like Germany or France. This just says “not much happens in Denmark or Finland”.

  • Murdoch and co are perpetually knocking the BBC, which should tell us something.
    I used to travel regularly to the US, and my favourite radio and TV Stations were both Public Service Broadcasters – in fact, the radio station (WCPE Wake Forest) used to re-broadcast the BBC News, which should also tell us something!
    Regardless of this survey’s statistical significance, I think if we want even half-decent broadcasting in future we MUST preserve and defend the BBC.

  • Terry Gilbert 14th Sep '10 - 3:56pm

    Yes I agree – TV the US is woeful in my experience. All the more reason to defend the BBC from those in the Conservative Party (and extremists in our own) who would like to diminish or destroy it.

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