Why we need a new remit for the public service broadcasters

Portrait of Gareth Benest
Gareth Benest Director of Advocacy, IBT 31st October 2022

The Chronicles of Nadiya on BBC1 is an example of the international coverage PSBs can offer outside of their news remit.

As Parliament debates the future of public service broadcasting, our Director of Advocacy, Gareth Benest, calls for a new remit that emphasises the importance of international content.

Later this week, the House of Lords will debate the future of public service broadcasting in the UK. Whilst IBT has campaigned for changes to the public service media over many years, the challenges facing broadcasters are greater (and more topical) than ever before and the stakes could not be higher.

There is a real danger that post-Brexit Britain will further shorten its gaze, becoming even more insular and parochial in its interests. In this context, the country needs an outward facing media more than ever. We need to see and hear people from all corners of the globe if we are to rebuild a healthy democracy and revive our engagement with the wider world.

Our Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs) play a vital role in bringing international stories to mainstream audiences. Their coverage informs us about urgent global issues and connects us with people, places, events and concerns far beyond our borders. We want to see the government move forward with its plans to revise the current public service remit, albeit with one important proviso: we want obligations for PSBs to give greater prominence to global stories and outside perspectives.

Nurturing support for development causes

At IBT, we believe audiences informed about global issues are more likely to engage with, and support the work of, our members. We are concerned that audiences deprived of this exposure – to the issues and experiences of people around the world – are less likely to support the government’s international development spending and objectives. Seeing and hearing from others helps nurture our engagement with international development causes and raises awareness of our transnational interconnection and interdependence.

As Dr Adam Rutherford said on Radio 4 recently, “In these particularly turbulent times, and in an ultra-interconnected world, we need new histories and new voices that tell stories from a global perspective.”

A new remit for a changing media landscape

We welcome the government’s intention to establish a new ‘public service remit’ for PSBs, as part of its planned Media Bill. This is a key opportunity to underline the importance of international content – delivered via linear and on-demand platforms – across a wide range of genres, beyond just news and current affairs.

We are calling on the UK government to enshrine an obligation to international coverage for all PSBs with the inclusion of the following text:

Public Service Media should provide access to news, current affairs, factual and non-factual programmes from across the globe. International coverage should be prominent, high quality, and reach mainstream audiences. It should have a significant impact by helping UK audiences to understand and engage with the wider world.

The latest incarnation of government in Westminster must not waste any more time in making much needed reforms to public service media. It needs to scrap its ludicrous plan to privatise Channel 4 – a policy that mercifully appears to have fallen from favour in recent months – and move ahead quickly to establish a new remit that ensures UK audiences receive the international content we so desperately need.

Gareth Benest is IBT’s Director of Advocacy

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