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Why does cultural diversity in broadcasting matter?
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Why does cultural diversity in broadcasting
matter?
Why cultural diversity matters to public service broadcasters
Section 264(4)(i) of the Communications Act (2003) requires that public service
broadcasters “reflect the lives and concerns of different communities and cultural
interests and traditions within the UK”. The broadcasting and communications
regulator Ofcom has recently been conducting a review of public service
broadcasting and has sought to define it more closely. It has identified one of the
four purposes of public service broadcasting as being:
To support a tolerant and inclusive society, through programmes
which reflect the lives of different people and communities within the
UK, encourage a better understanding of different cultures and, on
occasion, bring the nation together for shared experiences.
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Although all the terrestrial broadcasters have some public service obligations, it is
the BBC and Channel 4 that were established fundamentally as national public
service broadcasters. 
The Agreement accompanying the current BBC Charter (due to expire in 2006)
refers to the need for programmes which reflect the lives and concerns of both
local and national audiences. The Channel 4 licence is even more specific,
requiring it to produce output that, as well as being innovative and distinctive,
appeals to the tastes and interests of a culturally diverse society. Under its
Charter or license, each broadcaster also has employment obligations: 
To promote equality of opportunity between men and women;
between persons of different racial groups and the equalisation of
opportunities for disabled persons.
It is not my intention to make a detailed comparison between BBC and Channel 4
but it is worth noting that they have a very different profile in the minds of the
programme-makers I interviewed. The BBC, funded by a universal licence fee,
currently has approximately 27,000 staff and makes most of its programmes in-
house for a wide range of television and radio channels. It was seen as
paternalistic and conservative, in keeping with a recent report of public
perceptions of the BBC:
When likened to an individual, the BBC was characterised in a
consistent fashion: very definitely a man, probably aged in his 50s,
wearing a suit, well-groomed and comfortably off… considered
reserved, correct and polite, and, for detractors, rather stuffy, po-
faced and perhaps a little inhibited.
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There is a general expectation from audiences
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and other broadcasters that the
BBC (because of its sheer size, the variety and reach of its output and the nature
of its funding) should be “setting the gold standard” for reflecting diversity in
programmes and in employment. 
Channel 4, a not-for-profit broadcaster funded mainly through the sale of
advertising, has a small core staff and commissions most of its output from
independent production companies. At present it only makes television, not radio,
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