Public Reason: Vol. 3, No. 2, December 2011
Political Philosophy and Public Service Broadcasting
Russell Keat


This paper examines possible justifications for public service broadcasting (PSB) by considering the different kinds of programmes provided by PSB organisations such as the British Broadcasting Corporation. In Section I it is argued that if PSB News is to be justified via its contribution to democracy, the claim that markets fail to provide adequate News must conceptualise such failure quite differently from neo-classical welfare economics, and the judgments people make as citizens must be distinguished from the preferences they express as consumers. In Section II it is argued that unlike News provision, which is compatible with a neutralist liberal view of the permissible grounds for state action, the justification for Arts provision requires at least a weak version of liberal perfectionism, allowing policies aimed promoting individual autonomy, and quite possibly a stronger version, permitting judgments about the value of specific goods that should be available for individuals. In Section III it is argued that PSB provision of Soap Opera may be justified on the basis of a weaker version of liberal perfectionism, by showing how it contributes to reflection by viewers on the problems and possibilities presented by their own and other lives’, and with market failure being understood in terms of problems concerning the intra-organisational independence of creative workers. In the final section the mutually supportive relationship between neutralist liberalism and neo-classical economics is explored, and it is suggested that public policy from a liberal perfectionist perspective requires some form of institutional, rather than neo-classical, economics.

Key words: broadcasting, public service, democracy, neutrality, perfectionism, neo-classical economics, institutions.



Keat, Russell. 2011. Political Philosophy and Public Service Broadcasting. Public Reason 3 (2): 61-79.