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Beyond Ratings or Quality. Surpassing the Dilemma of Entertainment in Public Broadcasting
Unformatted Document Text:  3 According to the Council of Europe, Europe’s public broadcasting organizations are expected to realize broad and varied programming that is informative, invites public debate, and caters to all segments of the population. Furthermore, public networks are expected to concentrate on other genres than those seen on commercial networks (Brants & De Bens, 2000). It is safe to assume that the Council of Europe is aiming its arrows on entertainment programming on public TV, rather than, for instance, public TV’s news programming, even though in many European countries – including the Netherlands – commercial stations supply news in a decent and responsible manner as well. The Council’s view seems based on the assumption that the tax-funded public broadcasting organizations ought to spend their money on information, art, culture, and education, because the commercial companies already offer entertainment for free. Some critics have even suggested that it would be false competition if public stations offer the same kind of programs (Volkskrant, 2002). On account of the rise of commercial stations in the 1980s and 1990s in Europe, the public mission of providing a broad spectrum of programs (entertainment included) has gradually lost some of its significance (Commissie Ververs, 1996; ITC, 1991; Raad van Bestuur, 1998). In the past years the emphasis shifted towards narrower, meaning ‘complementary’ programming (cf. Landelijke Publieke Omroep, 2000; Meerjarenplan landelijke publieke omroep 2000-2003, 1999; Meerjarenbegroting landelijke publieke omroep 2001-2005,2000; Murdock, 1999). In the words of a Board member of the Dutch public broadcasting organization: Once the [television] market generates better profits, specific broadcasting organizations will also be established for semi-public subjects and semi-public areas. Public broadcasting will have to shift its completely generalist focus somewhat and become more public. (personal communication, August 2001) 4 This implicit turn in public television from a self-evident emphasis on broadcasting to the looming reality of ‘narrow’casting appears based on five assumptions. None of them holds (completely) though. The first assumption is that entertainment can be safely left to the commercial networks because it is their core business. But the concept of a complementary task for public broadcasting does not truly apply for small countries like the Netherlands, because only in countries that have large populations each particular niche may be exploited commercially. As one independent drama producer explained: In a country like the USA pluralism may well be left to commercial companies, because in addition to the three large networks, which are obviously very mainstream, you have HBO that is quite willing to do other things; for instance, it ultimately decides to broadcast a series like Queer as Folk . . . But Sex in the City is not on any of the main channels. It suggests that the commercial system in the USA

Authors: Meijer, Irene.
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3
According to the Council of Europe, Europe’s public broadcasting organizations are
expected to realize broad and varied programming that is informative, invites public
debate, and caters to all segments of the population. Furthermore, public networks
are expected to concentrate on other genres than those seen on commercial
networks (Brants & De Bens, 2000). It is safe to assume that the Council of Europe is
aiming its arrows on entertainment programming on public TV, rather than, for
instance, public TV’s news programming, even though in many European countries –
including the Netherlands – commercial stations supply news in a decent and
responsible manner as well. The Council’s view seems based on the assumption that
the tax-funded public broadcasting organizations ought to spend their money on
information, art, culture, and education, because the commercial companies already
offer entertainment for free. Some critics have even suggested that it would be false
competition if public stations offer the same kind of programs (Volkskrant, 2002).
On account of the rise of commercial stations in the 1980s and 1990s in
Europe, the public mission of providing a broad spectrum of programs (entertainment
included) has gradually lost some of its significance (Commissie Ververs, 1996; ITC,
1991; Raad van Bestuur, 1998). In the past years the emphasis shifted towards
narrower, meaning ‘complementary’ programming (cf. Landelijke Publieke Omroep,
2000; Meerjarenplan landelijke publieke omroep 2000-2003, 1999;
Meerjarenbegroting landelijke publieke omroep 2001-2005,2000; Murdock, 1999). In
the words of a Board member of the Dutch public broadcasting organization:
Once the [television] market generates better profits, specific
broadcasting organizations will also be established for semi-public
subjects and semi-public areas. Public broadcasting will have to
shift its completely generalist focus somewhat and become more
public. (personal communication, August 2001)
4
This implicit turn in public television from a self-evident emphasis on broadcasting to
the looming reality of ‘narrow’casting appears based on five assumptions. None of
them holds (completely) though. The first assumption is that entertainment can be
safely left to the commercial networks because it is their core business. But the
concept of a complementary task for public broadcasting does not truly apply for
small countries like the Netherlands, because only in countries that have large
populations each particular niche may be exploited commercially. As one
independent drama producer explained:
In a country like the USA pluralism may well be left to commercial
companies, because in addition to the three large networks, which
are obviously very mainstream, you have HBO that is quite willing to
do other things; for instance, it ultimately decides to broadcast a
series like Queer as Folk . . . But Sex in the City is not on any of the
main channels. It suggests that the commercial system in the USA


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