Public Service Media Narratives

THE ROUTLEDGE HANDBOOK OF MEDIA LAW, Monroe E. Price & Stephaan Verhulst, eds., 2012

23 Pages Posted: 29 Nov 2012

Date Written: November 28, 2012


The emergence of public service media in the mid-twentieth century on both sides of the Atlantic was a response to particular technological realities and market structures. Public media systems manifested theories about the function of media in a democracy, the sources of cultural authority and innovation, the limitations of the market, and the values of social cohesion and inclusion.

In the early twenty-first century, the underlying theories and justifications for public service media are now in flux. Those who defend continued public funding of legacy and new non-commercial media services, and work to reform their operations, have struggled to untangle the contingencies of twentieth-century organizational structures from the enduring values that spawned their creation. In other words, policymakers and commentators have recognized that legacy public broadcasting systems must be updated for a post-broadcasting world, or wither away. But the values and purposes of a new, multi-platform, multi-actor public media system are not yet clearly articulated.

This chapter argues that the American system of public service media -- long the poor cousin of the world's better-funded systems -- in fact may model new forms of service for the digital age. This evolving model includes diverse funding sources, distributed ownership and citizen engagement. And it is grounded in narratives of community service, innovation and democratic participation, as well as in those of market failure and canonical excellence. The chapter traces these distinct and sometimes conflicting narratives through the history of American public service media, with comparisons to the UK and European contexts. It concludes that a strong version of the innovation narrative is best suited to shape the future functions and structures for public service media in 21st century, media-rich democracies.

Keywords: media policy, public media, public service media, public broadcasting, market failure, innovation, social media, communications, democratic discourse, Habermas

JEL Classification: D62, H41, K23

Suggested Citation

Goodman, Ellen P., Public Service Media Narratives (November 28, 2012). THE ROUTLEDGE HANDBOOK OF MEDIA LAW, Monroe E. Price & Stephaan Verhulst, eds., 2012, Available at SSRN:

Ellen P. Goodman (Contact Author)

Rutgers Law ( email )

217 N. 5th Street
Camden, NJ 08102
United States
856-225-6393 (Phone)
856-225-6516 (Fax)

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