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2011/03/06 / Horace

(In English): Would Chongqing TV be a Real Public Broadcaster?

NOTE: I did not polish this article, and there would definitely some grammatical or vocabulary mistakes. Sorry for that.

WHAT I WANT TO SAY: A public broadcaster is more than a broadcaster. It is public. A public broadcaster must serve its people 24/7, must connect with its people 24/7 and must contribute to public benefits 24/7. Frankly speaking, there is still a long way to go for Chongqing to become a real public broadcaster.

A huge reform is sweeping Chongqing TV, a municipal TV station in South-western China. The reform aims at transforming Chongqing TV from a business TV station to a public TV station like the BBC. In this blog, I would like to share my opinion.

Chongqing TV has made its first steps, eliminating all advertisements and fully relying on government budgets, cutting down many TV dramas and replacing them with its own programs. Notably, echoed with recent policies of Bo Xilai, the local party chief, some programs like ‘Red Songs Everyday’ would also take on screen. It seems that Chongqing TV is determined to become a public broadcaster, however, would it really be a real one?

A public broadcaster must stay away from the involvement of business interests. A broadcaster living on advertisement revenue would not be a ‘public broadcaster’ since it would not stay away from business interests. Also, short-sighted advertisers may not want broadcasters to invest huge amounts of money in interactions with audience out of charity or spending years making a documentary because these activities do not necessarily bump profits. A real public broadcaster must rely on public funding or government budget since it is the premise of staying neutral, of sustainable efforts in public projects and of sustainably performing its educational and other public functions.

In this aspect, Chongqing TV has become a real public broadcaster since it has made its step away from advertisements.

However, being a real public broadcaster does not merely mean being away from advertisements. Political impartiality, which guarantees balanced, objective and uncensored reports, is also crucial to a public broadcaster. Considering the media environment of China, it seems not very possible. 100% impartiality is even not possible in public broadcasters like the BBC and the PBS. There are reports that the PBS censored its own reports concerning ‘sensitive issues’. The BBC, though seems to be much better, is also sometimes blamed for its loss of objectivity.

Despite all these, a media could still show, or at least pretend that it is public by being close to public.

A public broadcaster, definitely, has to provide what the public like. The BBC has 10 national radio channels, about 60 local stations and 10 TV channels, offering programs of a surprising variety. BBC World Service and BBC World News have gone beyond the British Isles, offering various, updated and human interest reports to a global audience. The prosperity of British public broadcasting even make the United States, the long perceived media giant, look like a dwarf. Then would Chongqing TV design its programs, if not completely, mostly based on audience demands. Would it show what people want to show? Would it show chick flicks or soap operas because there are huge numbers of viewers even though such programs represent ‘low culture’? Would it cancel what people do not like very much? Would it offer programs about the real life of people there, show their joys and pains as the stories unfold? Being a public broadcaster does not mean that it would ignore people’s needs. It means to meet people’s demands better.

A public broadcaster also has to go beyond the station itself. The BBC has established many charitable projects not only in the UK but also around the world. In the UK, there are even buses called the BBC Buses in which children could read, play and surf the Internet. There are also projects like BBC Experience and sites like BBC School of Journalism where people who are interested in journalism can be educated and trained. Outside the UK, it functions as a good agent of public diplomacy. In co-operation with the British Council, the BBC World Service helps the UK promote its culture and policy. The BBC has become more than a broadcaster. Then would Chongqing TV go out of its office building and into communities, listening to what they want, telling them what they want or need to know? Would Chongqing TV work also as a charity organization and serve public benefits? Would Chongqing TV try to get ordinary people truly involved?

Moreover, a public broadcaster must work as an educational agency, bringing people knowledge about science, history, philosophy and even daily improvements. If you search the BBC website carefully, you could find pages on how to be a better gardener, how to speak basic sounds of several languages and even how to protect yourself from STD. BBC’s famous documentaries are also educating people while providing feasts for the eyes. I firmly believe that educational function is the most important function of a public broadcaster since every one could get something from this function. If a public broadcaster keeps offering new knowledge, broadening audience’s vision and enlightening them, it would definitely become successful. Then would Chongqing TV air lectures of famous professors about the latest government policies? Would Chongqing TV offer educational programs for children who abandon themselves to computer games? Would Chongqing TV be able to bring something new not only to people’s eyes but also people’s minds?

A public broadcaster is more than a broadcaster. It is public. A public broadcaster must serve its people 24/7, must connect with its people 24/7 and must contribute to public benefits 24/7. Frankly speaking, there is still a long way to go for Chongqing to become a real public broadcaster. Anyway, since Chongqing has made its first steps, we should encourage the newly-born public broadcaster to explore this unknown territory and give it consistent focus and support.

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