Public broadcasting includes radio, television and other electronic media outlets that receive some or all of their funding from the public. Public broadcasters may receive their funding from individuals through voluntary donations, a specific tax such as a television licence fee, or as direct funding by the state.
The extent to which public broadcasters can be considered "non-commercial" varies from country to country. In the United States, most public radio and television stations are licensed as non-commercial broadcasters, yet many stations air underwriting spots (resembling advertisements on commercial broadcasting but with some content limitations) in exchange for corporate contributions. In some other countries, public broadcasters are permitted to air commercials.
Public broadcasting may be nationally and/or locally operated, depending on the country and the station. In some countries, public broadcasting is dominated by a single organization (such as the BBC in the UK and the ABC in Australia) and its radio and television services broadcast throughout the country. However, some countries have multiple public broadcasting organizations operating regionally (such as in Germany) or in different languages. In the United States, public broadcasting stations are always locally licensed, but range from stations that mostly broadcast programming from national networks (such as the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR)) to stations that broadcast only locally produced content.
Historically, in many countries (with the notable exception of the US), public broadcasting was once the only form or the dominant form of broadcasting. However, commercial broadcasting now also exists in most of these countries; the number of countries with only public broadcasting has declined substantially during the latter part of the 20th century. In some countries, commercial broadcasting and the emergence of a wider variety of broadcast media have created competition that makes it more difficult for public broadcasters to retain their audiences and survive.
There is no standard definition for public broadcasting, although a number of official bodies have attempted to identify key characteristics. Public-service broadcasters generally transmit programming that aims to improve society by informing viewers. In contrast, the aim of commercial outlets is to provide popular content that attracts a large audience, maximizing revenue from advertising and sponsorship. For this reason, the ideals of public broadcasting are often hard to reconcile with commercial goals.
The Broadcasting Research Unit lists the following as possible goals or characteristics of a public broadcaster.
Some of these definition points may not be acceptable everywhere. For example in the US, public broadcasting may see part of its mission to bring in foreign content, such as from the CBC/Radio-Canada and the BBC, since such content is not commonly aired by American commercial broadcasters.
An alternative model for implementing public-service media exists, known as Citizen Media. As it relates to broadcasting, this generally means a radio or television outlet which has some sort of public access, that is, most or much of the programming is created by members of the public which receives the programming. This can be in the form of community radio, campus radio, and public access television, although the latter is not a form of over-the-air broadcasting, as it is only available on cable television systems.
Public broadcasters may receive all or a substantial part of their funding from government sources, either from the general tax revenues or from licence fees. Public broadcasters do not rely on advertising as a source of revenue to the same degree as commercial broadcasters; this allows public broadcasters to air programs that are less saleable to the mass market, such as public affairs shows, radio and television documentaries, and educational programs. That public broadcasters do not chase ratings in the same way as commercial broadcasters can lead to the criticism that they are unresponsive to what their viewers want, but also to the positive claim that they can explore issues in greater depth and with more complexity than is possible in commercial media, and that they can present cultural fare that has social value but would not be supported by markets. It may also be pointed out commercial broadcasters program not for audiences but for those audiences which will buy their products.
Critics of public broadcasting systems argue that this implementation of cultural policy imposes the values of the public broadcaster on the populace. However, it can also be argued that commercial broadcasting has a bias for certain values or cultural forms, such as pop culture, militarism, culture bias, and consumerism.
Public broadcasting, and also some pirate broadcasting, provides a counterweight to the commercial media. Advocates of deliberative democracy argue that public broadcasting helps to maintain modern democracies, since public broadcasters can engage in journalism for its own sake. In wealthier countries public broadcasters tend to not be beholden to political parties or the government of the day. This is especially true where the broadcaster is funded by licensing fees and so, theoretically, not dependent on the government for any of its funding.
An economic rationale for public broadcasting is that it exists to provide coverage of interests for which there are missing markets. Public broadcasting can supply those topics which have social benefit that would otherwise not be broadcast due to believed unprofitability. Society is willing to pay for such programming, but markets fail to provide it. Typically, such underprovision exists when the benefits to viewers are relatively high in comparison to the benefits to advertisers from contacting viewers . This frequently is the case in undeveloped countries that normally have low benefits to advertising, which helps explain their tendency to have public broadcasting . However, concern exists that public broadcasting can crowd out potential private broadcasting. One study compared classical and jazz music programming provided by private radio to that provided by public radio. It found that in large markets, public broadcasting appears to displace private entry  . Additionally, publicly funded broadcasting does not necessarily mean that the optimal level will be produced. A government failure can arise in which the cost of public funding exceeds its benefits
In the United States, public broadcasting amounts to a coalition effort. On average, professionally staffed stations receive substantial sums, between 26 percent and 16 percent, from four major sources: audience members ("subscribers" or "members"), the federal government, state governments, and businesses ("underwriters"). Individual stations and programs carried on them rely on highly varied proportions of funding. Program-by-program funding creates the potential for conflict-of-interest situations, which must be weighed program by program under standards such as the guidelines established by PBS.  Donations are widely dispersed to stations and producers, giving the system a resilience and broad base of support but diffusing authority and impeding decisive change and priority-setting.
The American structure also diffuses responsibility. A minority of viewers and listeners makes donations, creating a "free-rider" situation for most of the audience, though this is the nature of philanthropy. But with no single supporter, such as a parliament, taking responsibility for adequacy of service, the American public broadcasting system is weak in comparison with those of other countries.
Public broadcasting has been a pioneer in introduced many new categories of programming. The market place was not willing to introduce new types of programming due to the cost of taking risks in these areas. Commercial media uses programs that are typically well tested and proven by consumers. When looking at the programs that came out of PBS, it is evident that categories such as cooking, science, home improvement, business, history and children shows all started at PBS many years and decades before the cable networks launched.PBS invested in these untested categories because the organization believed consumers could benefit from these programs. PBS believed there were missing markets (show categories) that consumers would value and enrich their daily lives (giving higher utility). The commercial media industry was not willing to invest in unproven shows and without an organization such as PBS these categories might not exist in the market place. Public broadcasting has helped to introduce quality categories into the market place to benefit consumers. Without such an organization to test new quality programming, consumers would fail to receive the benefits. Consumers would have less choices and innovation would occur significantly slower.
The model, established in the 1920s, of the British Broadcasting Corporation – an organization widely trusted, even by citizens of the Axis Powers during World War II – was widely emulated throughout Europe, the British Empire, and later the Commonwealth. The public broadcasters in a number of countries are basically an application of the model used in Britain.
Modern public broadcasting is often a mixed commercial model. For example, the CBC has always relied on a subsidy from general revenues of the government, in addition to advertising revenue, to support its television service. This means they must compete with commercial broadcasting. Some argue that this dilutes their mandate as truly public broadcasters, who have no commercial bias to distort their presentation.
The rest of this section looks at some specific implementations of public broadcasting around the world.
In Pakistan, the public broadcaster is the state owned PBC which is short for "Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation." It consists of PTV (Pakistan Television) and Radio Pakistan. In the past PBC was funded publicly through money obtained from television, radio and VCR licensing. Pakistan entered into Television Broadcasting age with a small pilot TV Station established at Lahore from where transmission was first beamed in Black & White with effect from 26 November 1964. Television centres were established in Dhaka, Karachi and Rawalpindi/Islamabad in 1967 and in Peshawar and Quetta in 1974. PTV has various channels trasmitting throughout the world including PTV National, PTV World, PTV 2, PTV Global, PTV Bolan etc. Radio Pakistan has stations covering all the major cities, it covers 80% of the country serving 95.5 Million listeners. It has world service in 07 languages daily.
In Hong Kong, the Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) is the sole public service broadcaster. Although a government department under administrative hierarchy, it enjoys editorial independence, and its director is promoted from within the department. It operates seven radio channels, and produces television programmes and broadcast on commercial television channels, as these channels are required by law to provide time slot for RTHK television programmes.
In Japan, the main public broadcaster is the national NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), sometimes informally referred to as Radio Tokyo by English speakers. The broadcaster was set up in 1926 and was modelled on the British Broadcasting Company, the precursor to the British Broadcasting Corporation created in 1927. Much like the BBC, NHK is funded by a "receiving fee" by every Japanese household, with no commercial advertising and the maintenance of a position of strict political impartiality. NHK runs two national terrestrial TV stations (NHK General and NHK Educational) and three satellite only services (NHK BS-1, BS-2 and the hi-definition NHK Hi-Vision services). NHK also runs 3 national radio services and a number of international radio and television services, akin to the BBC World Service. NHK has also been an innovator in television, developing the world's first high definition television technology in 1964 and launching high definition services in Japan in 1981.
In Malaysia, the public broadcaster is the state owned RTM which is short for "Radio Televisyen Malaysia" (Malaysian Radio and Television).RTM was previously funded publicly through money obtained from television licensing, however it is currently state subsidised as television licences have been abolished.
At present, RTM operates 8 national, 16 state and 7 district radio stations as well as 2 national terrestrial television channels called RTM1 and RTM2. RTM is also currently doing tests on a new digital television channel called RTMi. Tests involving 2000 residential homes in the Klang Valley began in September 2006 and is expected to be completed by March 2007.
In most countries in Europe, state broadcasters are funded through a mix of advertising and public money, either through a licence fee or directly from the government.
Following World War II, when regional broadcasters had been merged into one national network by the Nazis to create a powerful means of propaganda, the Allies insisted on a de-centralized, independent structure for German public broadcasting and created regional public broadcasting agencies that, by and large, still exist today. In addition to these nine regional radio and TV broadcasters, which cooperate within ARD, a second national television service (ZDF) was later created in 1961 and a national radio service with two networks (Deutschlandradio) emerged from the remains of Cold War propaganda stations in 1994. All services are mainly financed through license fees paid by everybody who keeps a radio or TV set "ready for use", and are governed by councils of representatives of the "societally relevant groups". Public TV and radio stations spend about 60 % of the ~10 Bil. € spent altogether for broadcasting in Germany per year.
In Ireland a system of tv licencing and advertising to fund public services operates. RTÉ the incumbent offers a range of free to air services on TV and Radio. Recently, there has also been a portion of revenue from the licence fee used to assist other broadcasters to produce home grown programming such as TV3 on television and Today FM on the radio. An off-shot of RTÉ, TG4 is an independent Irish language broadcaster that is funded by the government through subsidy, and through advertising revenue.
Italian national broadcasting company is the RAI - Radiotelevisione Italiana, born as URI in 1924. RAI transmits on analogical television on three channels, named Rai Uno, Rai Due and Rai Tre, but also works via satellite, in radiophonic sector, book and cinema. It is considered the biggest and one of the most authoritative television companies in Europe. With 54% of share, RAI also is the most viewed public television of the continent. Proceeds derive from a periodical standing charge and from advertising.The main competitors of RAI are Mediaset, the biggest national private television, divided in three channels, and La7, owned by Telecom Italia.
See main article: Public-service broadcasting in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands a different system is used to most other countries. Public-broadcasting associations are allocated money and time to broadcast their programmes on the publicly owned television and radio channels. The time and money is allocated in proportion to their membership numbers. The system is intended to reflect the diversity of all the groups composing the nation.
See main article: Public service broadcasting in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has a strong tradition of public service broadcasting. In addition to the BBC, established in 1922, there is also Channel 4, a state-owned commercial public service broadcaster, and S4C, a Welsh language broadcaster in Wales. Furthermore, the two commercial analogue broadcasters ITV and Five also have significant public service obligations imposed as part of their licence to broadcast.
National public broadcasters in the Scandinavian countries were modelled after the BBC and established only a few years later: Radioordningen (now DR) in Denmark, Kringkastingselskapet (now NRK) in Norway, and Radiotjänst (now Sveriges Radio) in Sweden (all in 1925), and YLE in Finland in 1926. All four are funded from television licence fees costing (in 2007) around 230 EUR (300 USD) per household per year.
In Canada, the main public broadcaster is the national Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (the CBC), which operates two television networks (CBC Television and Télévision de Radio-Canada), four radio networks (CBC Radio One, CBC Radio Two, Première Chaîne and Espace musique) and two 24-hour news channels (CBC Newsworld and RDI) in both of Canada's official languages. CBC's television operations are funded in part by advertisements, in addition to tax dollars from the federal government (Newsworld and RDI are funded entirely by commercials). CBC's radio operations are commercial-free. In recent years, the CBC was frequently battered by budget cuts and labour disputes.
In addition, several provinces operate public broadcasters; these are not CBC subentities, but distinct networks in their own right. These include the English-language TVOntario and the French-language TFO in Ontario, Télé-Québec in Quebec, SCN in Saskatchewan, public radio station CKUA in Alberta, and Knowledge in British Columbia. Some of the provincial broadcasters operate through conventional transmitters, while others are cable-only channels.
Alberta also has a semi-public television network, Access, which is licensed to provide some public service programming but is owned and operated by a commercial broadcaster. The network, formerly a public broadcaster operated by the provincial government, was sold to CHUM Limited in 1995. CJRT-FM in Toronto also operated as a public government-owned radio station for many years; while no longer funded by the provincial government, it still solicits most of its budget from listener and corporate donations and is permitted to air only a very small amount of commercial advertising. One television station, CFTU in Montreal, operates as an educational station owned by the Université de Montréal. Some other universities have dedicated cable channels to broadcast educational programming, but no other university in Canada operates a conventional broadcast television station.
Some local community stations also operate non-commercially with funding from corporate and individual donors. In addition, cable companies are required to produce a local community channel in each licensed market. Such channels have traditionally aired community talk shows, city council meetings and other locally oriented programming, although it is becoming increasingly common for them to adopt the format and branding of a local news channel.
Public broadcasting in the United States is as old as broadcasting itself. Most early public stations were operated by state colleges and universities, and were often run as part of the schools' cooperative extension services. Stations in this era were internally funded, and did not rely on listener contributions to operate; some accepted advertising. Networks such as Iowa, South Dakota, and Wisconsin Public Radio began in this way.
The concept of a "non-commercial, educational" station per se does not show up in U.S. law until the 1940s, when the FM band was moved to its present location; the part of the band between 88.1 and 91.9 MHz is reserved for such stations, though they are not limited to those frequencies. For example, WBAA-West Lafayette, Ind. has its FM frequency at 101.3 MHz. Houston's KUHT was the nation's first public television station, and signed on the air in 25 May 1953 from the campus of the University of Houston. This phenomenon continued in other big cities in the 1950s; in rural areas, it was not uncommon for colleges to operate commercial stations instead (e.g., the University of Missouri's KOMU-TV, an NBC affiliate).
In the United States, public broadcasting is decentralized and is not government operated, but does receive some government support. The majority of funding comes from community support to hundreds of public radio and public television stations, each of which is an individual entity licensed to one of several different non-profit organizations, municipal or state governments, or universities. Sources of funding also include on-air fund drives (see below) and - on public radio stations - the sale of underwriting "spots" (typically 15-30 seconds) to sponsors. Public radio and television organizations often produce their own programs, but purchase or receive most of their programming from national producers and program distributors such as National Public Radio (NPR), Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), Public Radio International (PRI), American Public Television (APT), and American Public Media. U.S. Federal government support for public radio and television is filtered through a separate organization, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).
In the United States the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) (formerly National Educational Television) television network operates on a largely viewer-supported basis (see telethon), with commercial sponsors of specific programs. Over time, sponsorship announcements ("underwriting") have slowly transformed into something resembling regular TV advertisements, though they are usually shorter and have a more muted tone than what normally appears on commercial and cable TV, and many organizations still only receive a short thanks for their contributions. Underwriting may only issue declarative statements (including slogans) and may not include "calls to action". Most communities also have public access services on local cable television stations, which are sometimes supported in part through donations.
US public broadcasting for television has, from the late 1960s onward, dealt with severe criticism from conservative politicians and think-tanks, which allege that its programming has a leftist bias. In contrast to European public broadcasting systems, which tend to dominate their national marketplaces, US public broadcasting is, and has always been, a niche service that provides programming not found elsewhere on the system, such as cultural programs, documentaries, and public affairs shows.
A public radio network, National Public Radio (NPR), was created in 1970, following the passage of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 which established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This network (generally exclusive of Pacifica) is colloquially though inaccurately referred to as Public Radio. Independent local public radio stations buy their programming from distributors such as NPR; Public Radio International (PRI); American Public Media (APM); The Public Radio Exchange (PRX); and Pacifica, most often distributed through the Public Radio Satellite System (PRSS). Around these distributed programs, stations fill varying amounts of local programming.
Public radio stations in the U.S. tend to broadcast a mixture of news and talk radio programming along with some music. Some of the larger operations split off these formats into separate stations or networks. Public music stations are probably best known for playing classical music, although other formats have been used, including the time-honored "eclectic" music format that is rather freeform in nature common among college radio stations; jazz is another public radio programming staple, dominating the airwaves in the major markets L.A. and New Jersey, KJZZ 88.1 FM and WBGO 88.3 FM. Also, XM Satellite Radio provides a station of public radio programs licensed from all three content providers.
Local stations derive most of the funding for their operations through regular pledge drives and corporate sponsorship (euphemistically termed "underwriting" on-air). The local stations then contract with program distributors and also provide some programming themselves. NPR produces some of its own programming such as Morning Edition; Weekend Edition; and All Things Considered. PBS, by contrast, does not create its own content. NPR also receives some direct funding from private donors, foundations, and from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Some other public networks, such as Pacifica, are almost entirely member-funded and do not receive significant sponsorship from corporations or governmental sources.
In Australia, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is funded entirely through an Australian Government grant-in-aid. The multicultural Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), another public broadcaster, now accepts limited sponsorship and advertising. Imparja is an Aboriginal community broadcaster in Australia that receives funding from the Federal Government. Most of its programs are bought from Australia's commercial broadcasters, and it only airs a small amount of local content.
In addition, there is a large Australian community broadcasting sector, funded in part by Federal grants via the Community Broadcasting Foundation, but largely sustained via subscriptions, donations and business sponsorship. As of June 2005, there were 442 fully-licensed community radio stations (including remote Indigenous services) and a number of community television stations (most operating as Channel 31 despite being unrelated across different states). They are organised similarly to PBS and NPR stations in the US, and take on the role that public access stations have in the US.
In New Zealand, the former public broadcaster BCNZ (formerly NZBC) was broken up into separate state-owned corporations, Television New Zealand (TVNZ) and Radio New Zealand (RNZ). While RNZ remains commercial-free, about 90% of funding for TVNZ comes from selling advertising during programmes on their two stations. TVNZ continues to be a public broadcaster; however like CBC Television in Canada it is essentially a fully commercial network in continuous ratings battles with other stations.
Programmes offered on TVNZ include popular shows like Desperate Housewives, ER, Lost, Cold Case, and Dancing with the Stars. TVNZ operates five stations: TV ONE, TV2, TVNZ 6, TVNZ 7 and TVNZ Sport Extra and hold majority ratings in the country. Because of its high ratings some of the most expensive advertising slots in the country are on TV ONE and TV2. TVNZ 6 and 7 are fully-funded and advertisement-free.
The Government owns a network of reserved channels for non-commercial regional access broadcasting, and some of them have been awarded to local community trusts to provide public service and access television. Examples are Triangle TV in Auckland and Wellington; and Channel 7 in Taranaki.
Despite a moderate state presence in television media since the 1970s, Latin America has never had a strong history of European style public service radio or television. The closest model to the British BBC is that of Chile's Televisión Nacional, an open channel which serves the entire country (including Easter Island and Antarctica bases). Televisión Nacional, popularly known as channel 7 because of its Santiago frequency, is governed by a seven-member board appointed by the Chilean Senate. It is meant to be independent of political pressures, although accusations of bias have been made, especially during election campaigns.
In most Latin American countries, the private sector has taken the leading role in the development of television networks. In opposition, state broadcasters tend to be either very weak and under-funded (as the Argentinian Canal 7, formerly known as ATC or the Brazilian TV Brasil), or to be clearly under the control of the party in power (like Cuban Cubavisión and Venezuelan VTV, among others). Starting from these singularities, commercial broadcasting quickly and effectively conquered its audiences, leaving public and state broadcasting a token role. In some countries, such as Ecuador, where broadcasting was originally legally defined as a commercial venture, a public broadcaster was never born until 2008 (when Rafael Correa´s government decided to set up Ecuador TV).
Recently, under the initiative of the Venezuelan government of president Hugo Chávez, and with the sponsorship of the the governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua, the news and documentary network teleSUR was created with the intended to be an instrument toward the "concretizing of the Bolivarian idea" through the integration of Latin America, and as a counterweight to what the governments that funds it consider a "distorted view of Latin American reality by privately run networks that broadcast to the region".  There is an ongoing debate on whether teleSUR will be able become a neutral and fair news channel able to counter the huge influence of global media outlets, or whether it will end up as a propaganda tool of the Venezuelan government, which owns a 51 percent share of said channel. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4620411.stm