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Perspective

Need for broadcast content regulation

Radio and television broadcasting were subject from the beginning to high levels of restrictions, sometimes involving public control approaching a condition of censorship. The general concept of social responsibility and public interest lies at the core of the broadcasting model, although there are several variants as well as weaker stronger forms. The main difference is between systems that are within public ownership and control and those that operate commercially but subject to licensing conditions and public scrutiny.

Type of broadcast system

The broadcasting model covers two main types of system. One is the public-service variant, the other consists of privately owned and financed system. The distinction is not always absolute, since some commercial broadcasters may also have public-service duties as a licensing condition. Public-service broadcasting is expected to serve the needs of significant social institutions. Detailed regulation inevitably limits the freedom of public broadcasters, and it is inconsistent with running services in a fully commercial manner. In fact, one of the values of public broadcasting is its non-commercialism and non-profit character. The regulation of public broadcasting makes it accountable to the public and to society rather than to owners or the market.

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Commercial broadcasting systems, in contrast, are free to choose their own objectives, in the sense of whichever consumer audience or advertising market they want to serve. They are primarily accountable to owners, investors, and clients. Regulation in this case is essentially restrictive and proscriptive and is designed to establish the ground rules and set limits within which the systems operate. These ground rules mainly concern the following matters: permitted amount and content of advertising; control of other means of finance (e.g., sponsorship); content potentially harmful to the young or causing offence to some value or group (e.g., in matters of racism, or religion), procedures for complaints, and rights of reply.

Commercial broadcasting systems often have to meet certain minimum standards as a condition of receiving a license or operating concession. These conditions vary a good deal from one system to another, but often relate to such matters as provision for education, news and information, local language or culture, political or other access opportunities, and minority needs.

The forms of regulation are diverse, but there is a certain standard pattern. Generally, we find a media or broadcasting law governing the structure of the system as a whole. Such laws state broadly the goals of the system and who or what bodies are eligible to operate as broadcasters and under what conditions.

Governing matters
Government and society are also covered by such regulations. More detailed terms and conditions may also be set down in license and franchise agreements, which have to be periodically renewed and can be revoked. Broadcasting and cable laws often contain content-related regulations.

Quite often, there are additional advisory or supervisory bodies that play a part in the regulatory framework with varying aims and degrees of competence. Most public broadcasting organizations will have their own Boards of control, which are separate from day-to-day management, and are the equivalent of the Boards of commercial companies, which run private broadcasting systems. These bodies decide on overall policy and have final responsibility. In general, we can observe a chain of control from the political to the legal, to the administrative, to the managerial. There may also be a few additional bodies (both statutory and voluntary)

The main forms of regulation of telecommunications are likely to consist of the following four main elements a basic telecommunications law relating to the structure of ownership and control; a supervisory role for some arm of government, with particular reference to technical aspects; a set of conditions attached to operating licenses and concessions, with some form of official public regulator to look after the public interest; and a body (or more than one) which integrates national telecommunication systems into supranational administrative-technical patterns.

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