As publicly funded organizations operating in a sector characterized by ever-greater private-sector provision, public service broadcasters need to build a robust case for their continuing legitimacy. This article examines the discursive strategies of the BBC in the United Kingdom in the context of the last three Royal Charter reviews. It shows that since the early 2000s, and particularly during the most recent Charter review, the BBC has deployed influential policy ideas on the creative economy to build a case that in keeping with the times emphasizes its economic contribution as well as its more traditional role in fostering political and cultural citizenship.
Making a persuasive case for their legitimacy has become over time a more pressing and challenging task for public service broadcasting (PSB) organizations seeking to protect their position.1 The end of “spectrum scarcity” has long undermined the technological case for PSB. Since the 1990s, new communications technologies and neoliberal policies have brought about a new market-driven era of digital plenty. Against this backdrop, free-market advocates and private-sector competitors have argued that there is no need for large PSB institutions funded through taxation. For their part, PSBs have had to reconsider their role in light of evolving political, social, market, and technological realities, and make a case in terms that are relevant for contemporary conditions and discourses. Arguably, at its core, the story of PSB around the world in the last 30 years has revolved around a battle for legitimization and, ultimately, survival. As publicly funded organizations operating in a sector characterized by disruptive technological change and ever greater commercial provision, and in an age dominated by a political ideology that accords primacy to the market, PSBs have had to work hard to spell out their contribution to society in order to try to secure their future.