Building the Digital Commons: Public Broadcasting in the Age of the Internet (2004)

From its earliest years there have been two competing visions of broadcasting’s core role. Public broadcasters have sought to address their audiences as citizens with rights to the cultural resources required by active participation in communal life. Commercial broadcasters have regarded them as individuals making choices in the marketplace.

Over the last two decades, the balance between these visions has moved strongly in favour of market models of organisation and thinking, putting increasing pressure on public broadcasters. The same period has also seen an accelerated movement toward the digitalisation of broadcasting. Pessimists see this as further undermining the historical rationale for public broadcasting through the expansion of commercialism, the fragmentation of audiences, and the construction of new inequalities rooted in differential access to emerging digital services.

Against this, the growth of the Internet offers public broadcasting an unprecedented opportunity to renew its core project of constructing an open cultural commons that enhances and deepens citizenship. In this conception, public service is defined as much by what is available on line as what appears on screen. Programming ceases to be a unique bounded experience and becomes a point of entry to a wide range of other sources, activities and interactions. Public service broadcasters are no longer isolated, embattled institutions but key hubs within a network of public cultural provision. This lecture explores some examples of this emerging digital commons in action and examines its possible future development.

Transcript: Building the Digital Commons: Public Broadcasting in the Age of the Internet (2004)