Another Social Medium? Reconfiguring “Public” in Public Broadcasting in the Age of Media Affluence

TitleAnother Social Medium? Reconfiguring “Public” in Public Broadcasting in the Age of Media Affluence
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Tang, S. - C.
Affiliation (1st Author)Nation Chung Cheng University
Section or WGMediated Communication, Public Opinion and Society Section
DateFri 28 June
Slot CodeMCPF3a
Slot Code (Keyword)MCPF3a
Time of Session14:00-15:30
Session TitleMedia and Civic Engagement
Submission ID6117

The article is attempted as a re-justification of the meaning of “public” in public television against the backdrop of a muti-channel, multi-platform media landscape. Since the 1980s, public broadcasters in various parts of the world are in crisis. The overriding neo-liberal globalization, with its dominant ethos of marketization which values ‘consumers’ choice’ above ‘public participation,’ has generated a crisis of public broadcasting as a justifiable social force. Yet what particularly leaves public broadcasting vulnerable to attack is the tidal waves of digitalization, which brings about the multiplication of media interfaces and easily challenges the ontology of mass reception on which the paradigm of public broadcasting has been based upon. Yet questioning the legitimacy of public broadcasting has failed to come to term with the opportunities that come along with the shifting media geometry. While mass reception is on the shaky ground due to the diffused and fragmented media use, a new “space of possibility” for redefining the role of public broadcaster and reimagining the public has indeed been opened up despite the disappearing mediated center. Such properties of internet-based communication as peer-to-peer sharing, the viral spread of information dissemination, and the greater freedom of the users to be both producers and consumers represent new ways of engaging public participation. In this regard, as mediated practices they do not necessarily preclude the possible contribution of the traditional broadcasting. What remains at issue, however, is how to reinvent the role of the traditional public broadcasting in the public domain in the context of digital fragmentation. The article argues that public broadcasting still holds as a viable centralizing force of public engagement, yet as a social institution it needs to readjust its role between the State and the civil society. My analysis starts with a review of works by Raymond Williams, Paddy Scannell, Henry Jenkins, and Graham Murdock, with particular attention paid to their discussion of the broadcasting TV’s socio-cultural undertaking. From the heyday of TV network to today’s media affluence brought about by digitalization, they at different points in time have addressed the communal implication of public broadcasting. In different ways, they have reflected on the wider political, social and cultural implications in which broadcasting television plays a part. From reviewing their works, I will point out two attributes by which the electronic media fulfill its public mandate,, vicarious connectivity and spontaneous mobilization. The discussion is then followed by a case study of Taiwan’s public broadcaster PBS’s launching of a citizen journalism website. With this instance, I will discuss the dilemma of public broadcasting in balancing its role between the two attributes, and in seeking to relocate its social engagement in the digital era. Rather than justifying itself as the stand-alone organization of programming service, public broadcasting is at the turning point of redefining its role as a new social medium, serving as the principal “node” in an emerging network of public and civil initiatives.

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