- Commonwealth initiatives
Media and broadcasting in the Commonwealth
Many constitutions around the Commonwealth guarantee freedom of expression. Different forms of limitations such as criminal defamation laws and high licence fees, however, continue to restrict the free operation of the media. Commonwealth countries – according to a 2012 qualitative survey conducted by NGO Freedom House – have a relatively free media in comparison to the rest of the world. The study showed that 81% of Commonwealth countries have free or partly free media as opposed to a significantly lower 66% in the rest of world. In the 2010 Worldwide Press Freedom Index by international NGO Reporters Without Borders more than half of Commonwealth countries achieved a median score*.
Many Commonwealth countries have an independent or state-controlled public broadcaster, initially set up on the same model as the first public broadcaster in the world, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). A typical public broadcaster will often have, at the very least, a radio station and/or a TV station that includes English programming and a significant provision for local or indigenous languages. The BBC, which happens to be the largest broadcaster in the world today, broadcasts in 27 languages, in most Commonwealth countries and the rest of the world via the BBC World Service and its other channels. In 1927 the UK adopted a compulsory public subscription model for anyone owning a radio (and later a TV) with licence fee money going to the BBC. This model has been copied around the world, including other Commonwealth countries. For those countries that have since abolished the licence fee, funding now comes from central government and advertisements.
Driven by reformed constitutions, liberalisation laws and democratic governments, private media and broadcasting organisations in the Commonwealth have flourished in the last 20 years, with an increase in the number of newspapers, radio stations, TV channels and the introduction of internet news sites. There also has been a marked increase in private satellite and digital broadcasting, in addition to terrestrial services, which has seen the emergence of regional transnational players, operating mainly in Commonwealth countries such as DStv in Africa and DIRECTV Caribbean.
*Both indices although used widely, have their fair share of critics because of the qualitative nature in which the studies are carried out. The indices are used here only for informative and educational purposes.