Silver Voices – Universal Broadcasting Report

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The report “Safeguarding Universality: The Future of Broadcast TV and Radio” is a significant contribution to media research here in the UK, and is a timely intervention in the debate about the future of broadcast media as the Media Bill makes its way through parliament. The report gives a well-rounded and metacontextual analysis of public opinion on the future of broadcast services, challenging the idea that these could be readily replaced by digital and online-only options.

The report looks at broadcast media platforms – television and radio – and asks who are the people dependent on these services today, and what should we do if significant numbers of people remain reliant on them in the future? The report counters the myth that media services are easily transitioning online, while identifying important social and economic factors that maintain these legacy platforms as a priority for the people who continue to choose to use them.

The report underlines highlights several issues, including:

  1. Importance of Broadcast Beyond 2034: The report underscores the necessity of broadcast services beyond the provisional date of the 2034 switch off, suggesting that it will be necessary to guarantee that both television and radio broadcasting will be around for the foreseeable future, extending potentially until 2067 or even 2079 according to public opinion.
  2. Challenges to Online-Only Services: The report highlights that the shift to online-only media services is fraught with structural barriers, like affordability and poor broadband connectivity, particularly affecting older generations and those in areas with poor internet service.
  3. Legal Protection: The report highlights that a substantial majority (81%) believe that universal access to public service content should be protected by law, and that this content should be guaranteed on existing broadcast platforms as well as digital only services.
  4. Public Sentiment: The report identifies that most people are passionate defenders of the universality of broadcast TV and radio, who believe that a failure to protect these services would be unfair and exclusionary, particularly for certain groups of people, such as those on low-incomes, pensioners, and people living in rural areas where digital services are limited.
  5. Government’s Role: The report calls for urgent government action to guarantee the provision of these platforms into the future, with a significant majority agreeing that the issue should be a priority for the guaranteed provision of information and education.

The report used both surveys and focus groups to offer a detailed look at public views, and asked respondents to what they value about broadcast radio and television as part of British heritage. Respondents were concerned that access to educational and informational content would be lost, which would damage the health of our democracy by limiting sources of information.

Radio emerged as a crucial part of the respondents’ media experience, with sixty-seven percent saying radio is important to them. Those who mainly access radio in their cars were concerned that online radio services are not a priority because upgrades would require the replacement of a whole vehicle, so sticking with DAB and AM and FM is preferable.

The findings of the report call into question the UK Government’s Levelling-Up agenda, particularly the capacity and investment that is needed to address the digital divide, to ensure equitable access to media. These points make the report’s policy suggestions timely and socially relevant.

The report’s recommendations are:

  • Long-term Commitment: The government should commit to the protection of broadcast services for the long term.
  • Legal Safeguards: Ongoing and future legislation should protect the broad range of services delivered through broadcast TV and radio.
  • International Agreements: The spectrum used for broadcasting should be protected at international conferences like WRC23.
  • Role of PSBs: Public Service Broadcasters should continue to support universal services and rich public content.
  • Public Engagement: Policymakers should listen to their constituents, particularly groups most reliant on broadcast services.

The report makes a compelling case for the long-term preservation of broadcast services, challenging the narrative that online streaming can wholly replace traditional media. It also advocates for a multi-stakeholder approach, involving both government and public service broadcasters, to ensure that the principle of universality in broadcasting is upheld. This report is a noteworthy addition to recent media research. Its insights into public sentiment and policy implications make it deserving of a wider readership among policymakers and academics. It offers a practical roadmap for those interested in securing the future of universal access to broadcast media.