No. 6, Spring/Summer 2001
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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 is passionate.

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. TBS

Copyright 2001 Transnational Broadcasting Studies
TBS is published by the Adham Center for Television Journalism, the American University in Cairo
E-mail: TBS@aucegypt.edu