Asian Media Information
and Communication Centre (1999). Public Service Broadcasting in Asia: Surviving
in the New Information Age.
Singapore: Asian Media Information & Communication Centre. 168 pages. ISBN 9971-905-74-4.
Reviewed by Pieter Wessels,
independent broadcast journalist, Sydney, Australia
Every broadcaster in the
world wants to know where new technology is taking them. This book comprises 20
articles written two years ago by broadcasters from Japan to Indonesia and from
Pakistan to the Philippines on this subject. There is an emphasis on Southeast
Asia, but overviews from the UK and Canada are included as well. All are on public
service broadcasting, which is defined by ABU head Hugh Leonard in his paper as
"programming transmitted in the interests of the public… programming that provides
some sort of service to the public." Each paper gives some idea of the history
of such broadcasting in Pakistan, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia,
Philippines, Japan, and Korea and goes on to the present situation and concerns.
Overall the biggest concern
is the inevitable conflict and comparison with commercial broadcasting, followed
closely by where public service broadcasting can or must go in the digital and
new media age. These changes are the major impetus behind the book, according
to AMIC Secretary General Vijay Menon. He ends the introduction by saying that
the developing rural economies of Asia still need public service broadcasting,
and because of this it is not likely to become extinct. Marc Raboy of the University
of Montreal agrees in his long, well written, and carefully referenced paper "The
World Situation of Public Service Broadcasting." This article alone makes the
book worth the money. Hugh Leonard narrows the view to an Asian focus with a paper
"The Challenge of Public Service Broadcasting." His plea for new programming,
entertaining programs, and for the role of radio even in the face of the new technology
Part 2 of the book is
Issues in Public Service Programming, and divides the issues into Audience Programming,
Deregulation and Commercialization, Quality, Competition, and Technology. The
Audience Programming section reaches no conclusions but talks of the diversity
demanded in India, the challenge of a very strong commercial sector in the Philippines,
and a Korean example of a public service broadcaster taking on the commercial
broadcasters head on. The Deregulation and Commercialization section acknowledges
that these processes are well advanced in Asia and its effect is looked at in
Indonesia, Korea, Pakistan, and Singapore. William Crawley, the former head of
the BBC's eastern service, argues that autonomy is the best means to achieving
the aims of public service broadcasting. He cites BBC and NHK but does not make
his case for smaller broadcasters.
Elizabeth Smith of the
Commonwealth Broadcasting Association turns the book on its head by making a case
for regulating quality from the commercial sector. She makes her case briefly
but includes funding proposals. Santokh Singh Gill of RTM Malaysia and Ramy S.
Diez of PTV Philippines carry this through into the Competition section, where
they talk of a level playing field between the public and private sectors. Their
conclusion is that level playing fields cost money--public money.
The technical side of
surviving in the new information age comes in just two papers at the end of the
book, with both looking at television. They agree that public service broadcasters
have to jump on the digital bandwagon, and need to take their public service standards
with them. But they don't say how. Leafing back through the book, as one does
when finished reading it, my conclusion was that it does contain some interesting
information on the current status of public service broadcasting in parts of Asia,
but it does not give any pointers to survival that aren't available elsewhere.