In 1983, political economist NICHOLAS GARNHAM analyzed “Public Service versus the Market” for Screen, a British journal. He proposed two ways of organizing television. one in apparent decline, the other gaining currency at the hands of deregulation, conservative governments and the illusion of “choice” of commercial channels in the UK and cable satellite services. Graham defended the democratic value of PSB. Despite the paternalistic and elitist origins of the BBC and its “brute force monopoly”. Still, state owned institutions like this, funded with license fees, not advertising, represented a gain over commercial tv and the commodification of life represented. He advocated for the preservation of the public model since it was catered to social and cultural goals over profits, fostered a non-commercial “public sphere” accessible to everyone regardless the socio-economic status as it addressed people as rational beings rather than consumers.

Garnham’s article of 1983 appeared when free-marketeers were challenging the European public service monopolies in the name of technological process, market liberalization and “consumer sovereignty”. For this, T should be treated as a commercial business, a stance epitomized in the us by the FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISION (FCC). A competitive multichannel marketplace serving the public interest by giving the people “what they wanted” assisted by a big repertoire of options to watch. Scholars studying political economical approaches rejected the claims, raising questions about the fate of universal service and attention to social minorities, debunking the thought of commercial television was giving people what they wanted. British political Graham Murdock said public service is indispensable to the development of full citizenship in complex societies.

In the 80s, state involvement in broadcasting was called into question with new technologies for regulating the airwaves and a deregulatory mindset erased rules about “fairness” and cross-ownership. With this, scholars were inspired from the discussion in Europe to reassess the PBS, the marginalized equal to BBC aiming to “create a healthy public sphere”.

On the other hand, Hoynes critiqued PBS for failing to serve this role as quasi commercialism and reliance on corporate sponsors by looking into the fading European public service tradition of an idealistic model of TV that could transit the kinds of imagery and information that prepare the public for tis role in a democracy.  Many potent arguments made in the name of democracy have not entirely shed the patronizing logic upon institutions like BBC and PBS were built. Many scholars have criticized the BBC in the 50s to rethink and attend public tastes. Richard Collins took issue with Garnham’s essay from a more conservative wing, adopting the same language as free marketeers to question public service rationales. For him, the BBC history demonstrates that non-commercial tv isn’t crucial or even democratic. Cultural studies scholars have challenged the hierarchy between public and private more radically, by emphasizing TV’S relationship with audiences and everyday life.

Willard Rowland and Michael Tracey draw historical parallels between the BBC’S “abandonment of purity” in the 50s and its attempt to remain competitive in the new TV environment. They worry about institutions kicking cultural content in favor of popular programmes in prime time, which wouldn’t be rational for a public service, condemning commercialization within PSB. ANG sees the problem differently. The turn towards commercial content was not entirely imposed by private broadcasters, it was also a product of uncooperative viewers who proved “unwilling to submit to such goals when alternatives became available.

Cultural studies said very little about PSB, largely because it occupies a nominal role in the daily lives of most TV viewers, whereas the BBC must remain relevant to the public to justify their license fees. US public tv was created in the late 60s to be prestigious but poorly rated regarding information, education and culture.

The tension between public television and the market is complicated since PSB was created as a corrective to the popular tv claimed by private broadcasters. Its reason was to combat the cultural shortcomings of the pre-cable wasteland with a mix of public, corporate and viewer funding. Supposed to be a “better” television, its claim to public funding has been challenged by conservatives who claim PBS is elitist and unnecessary in tames with a lot of channels air similar shows. Despite the time of debate, the EU has announced to preserve PSB and the values it represents (pluralism, universal service, national and cultural production and informed citizenship. The lines between public and private have become increasingly blurred.


Newton Minow, Federal Communications Commission chairman addressed commercial TV (ABC NBC AND CBS) a “vast wasteland”. He wanted to raise the “level” of programming. Minnow singled the most popular genres of the 60s (sitcoms, quizzes, soap operas) as something bad. When he said he wanted a wider range of choices, more diversity and alternatives, he meant worthier programmes favoring intelligentsia, like panel discussions.  He also insisted that private broadcasters serve the public good, its not enough attending to the people’s whims, but also the needs. For Minow, people need maturation and uplift (a paternalistic premise that as them as flawed in their constitution as a mass audience).

The people’s tendency to choose wants over needs was conceived as a discipline problem that could be managed by regulators and broadcasters. Class and gender were implicit to this portrait. The audience was filled with stereotypical characters like “Joe Six Pack” and housewives in curlers.  While Minow’s plea for upgrades within the commercial system, the wasteland propelled the appearance of PBS, which set the canon for the do’s and don’ts. a patch of excellence in a sea of mediocrity. US public television poses virtually no threat to private broadcasters and continues to relieve them from public duties and burdens. 

Instead of always trying to outshine the cable and satellite venues who now focus on upscale programming, PBS should give the commercial broadcasters who enjoy a lucrative monopoly on popular cultural production a run for their money. Freed from advertising constraints and market pressures, PBS might infuse situation comedies, music videos, reality shows… in so doing, it might bridge the public interest and popular culture by treating the people with more respect than the infantilizing regime John Hartley ascribes as commercial TV, which doesn’t seem very likely.