These observations were made during an informal discussion among frontline TVO/TFO employees in early April in Toronto. While there is no shortage of passion and commitment about what TVOntario could contribute to both public education and programming, employees are worried that the lack of a clear and independent mandate and vision for the broadcaster undermine their best efforts.
According to Concordia media studies professor Charles Acland, who spoke at the gathering, TVOntario’s precariousness is not different from the experiences of other public broadcasters around the world.
Pointing to the neo-conservative revolution that has emerged victorious in governments around the world, Acland said that public broadcasters have had to learn to live with a sense of anxiety. Under the current regime, public broadcasting is seen as a throwback to the welfare state and its value as a free and universally accessible source of a broad range of cultural programming that helps form the very basis of citizenship has been questioned.
Public funding has been reduced virtually everywhere as the relationship of broadcasters to the commercial sector intensified, placing them in a paradoxical situation where they have to prove their success without being too successful and competing with private broadcasters.
Broadcasters of all stripes are also dealing with the frenetic pace of technological change that is transforming the way people produce and consume “culture.” The Internet, i-pods and cell phones have given way to narrowcasting, where the audience decides what they watch or listen to and where and when do it. Some of that “programming” is, in fact, self-created audio or visual clips that end up being seen or heard by millions of people via the web.
Acland proposed that broadcasters like TVO consider finding “a special way to organize that abundance” of cultural production, perhaps by acting as a public portal that organizes, archives and makes accessible the wealth of material. Employees pointed out that TVOntario would have to renew its efforts to create original programming to ensure material is available in the public domain.
Acland also encouraged public broadcasters to think beyond producing and distributing programming to consider how to “generate spaces for public life.” He argued for an event-oriented approach that invites new ways for citizens (and not simply consumers) to share ideas and debate.
Finally, Acland said that public broadcasters like TVOntario need to find ways to make themselves visible to the public in the face of media clutter. They need to be better at making sure people know why they exist, and what they can offer, as they continue “the vital role of expanding the public good.”