Broadcasting: Access to the Airwaves

Broadcasting is by far the most important source of information, as well as of entertainment, for most people in countries around the world. High levels of illiteracy along with the difficulty of distributing newspapers mean that broadcasting is the only media which is accessible for many people. For the poor, newspapers may be prohibitively expensive, and some people simply find it easier and more enjoyable to watch or listen to the news than to read it. Furthermore, broadcasting plays a very important role as a cheap, accessible form of entertainment.

As a result of its centrality as a source of information and news, and its growing profitability, governments and dominant commercial interests have historically sought to control broadcasting. All too frequently, the public broadcaster operates largely as a mouthpiece of government rather than serving the public interest. In many countries, broadcasting was until recently a State monopoly, a situation which still pertains in some States. In other countries, private broadcasting is becoming increasingly important and a variety of mechanisms have been used to try to control it.

Governments have exerted control through the licensing process while commercial interests have sought to monopolise the broadcasting sector and to focus on low quality but profitable programming.

These Principles elaborate a set of standards on how to promote and protect independent broadcasting and yet ensure that broadcasting serves the interests of the public. They address the complex issue of how to regulate in the public interest and yet prevent that regulation from becoming a means of government control. They also address the need for regulators to prevent commercial interests from becoming excessively dominant and to ensure that broadcasting serves the interests of the public as a whole.

These Principles are part of ARTICLE 19’s International Standards Series, an ongoing effort to elaborate in greater detail the implications of freedom of expression in different thematic areas. They are intended to be used by campaigners, broadcasters, lawyers, judges, elected representatives and public officials in their efforts to promote a vibrant, independent broadcasting sector that serves all regions and groups in society.