The role of television in bridging the public and the private spheres highlights questions of sexual citizenship. This concept overcomes the relegation of sexuality to a private sphere whose eruption into the public sphere is perceived as an aberration or a threat. It also draws attention to the legitimate ‘public interest’ in regulating sexual behaviour and representations – that people do have rights and responsibilities that, in my view, a laissez-faire market cannot guarantee. For instance, what cultural rights do minority sexual cultures have to be represented, to have a voice in the factual and fictional output of television? How much control should they have over precisely how they are represented in a culture where historically they have been subject to stigmatization? Can this lead to a stultifying ‘political correctness’? How should tele­vision institutions negotiate their responsibilities to these groups in a context where large segments of the audience object strongly to seeing homosexual or other ‘deviant’ sexual practices portrayed in a positive light? And what right should people have to keep their sexual lives private when public exposure threatens their reputation and livelihood? Should privacy laws protect celebrity and ordinary citizens from the prying gaze of the television cameras or is this a threat to the democratic freedoms of the media to investigate corruption and criminal behaviour?

All these questions arise from an application of the concept of citizenship to a sphere of intimate behaviour that in historical terms was excluded from the public sphere of political debate. As citizens of modern nation states we have certain rights and obligations that in liberal democracies are meant to guarantee equality, justice and freedom. To defend the citizen from subjugation by a powerful state, an ideal model of a ‘public sphere’ has developed in which the actions of the state are subject to critical debate and reform (Habermas 1991). Television is an important component of this public sphere and, as a consequence, in both the USA and the UK is largely free from direct state control. But television companies, in the USA especially, are often part of much larger global media organizations whose power is feared to be a potential threat to the hard-won rights of citizenship. The power of the state is considered by many to be a necessary counter-balance and the source of protection for the public sphere through the financing and regulation of public service broadcasting (Curran 1996). This institutionalized middle-class paternalism has been the subject of much sub­sequent critical commentary but has remained surprisingly robust as a measure of ‘quality’ television (Brunsdon 1990; Mulgan 1990; Curren and Seaton 1997).

However, recognizing and valuing diversity challenges the hierarchy of values embedded in the established ideals of a ‘rational’ public sphere. The new social move­ments have criticized the way in which this concept has worked to promote the unequal power relations of patriarchy. This works in contradictory ways. First, the public/ private boundary excludes certain sexual and emotional issues to a private realm of intimacy beyond the reach of ‘rational’ political debate. Then this public/private split is subject to a hierarchy in which the issues and people that are associated with the private sphere are regarded as less important than the issues and people associated with the public sphere. In the past, this has legitimized the denial of full citizenship rights for women and sexual minorities, thereby denying them equality in a democratic society. It has also worked against their having an equal access to the public sphere where these decisions are debated and so are denied justice. Conversely, there is con­cern over the ways in which the private lives of these powerless groups are exposed to public scrutiny in ways that the powerful can resist (Fraser 1995). The concept of ‘sexual citizenship’ counteracts the inequalities that this liberal conception of citizen­ship maintained. This denial of rights and these exclusions and invasions of privacy all have a bearing on the politics of television representation, as I hope this book will demonstrate.

In traditional formulations, citizenship is about our political rights as conventionally understood, while identity is about our personal sense of self. The identity politics of

the new social movements has linked these two spheres of experience, to insist on the political significance of the personal sphere. Jim McGuigan explains the relevance this has to questions of cultural citizenship:

citizenship is the key concept for connecting politics with a small ‘p’, the micro­politics of the self and social interaction, to politics with a large ‘P’, the official terrain upon which rights are, or are not, recognised in ways that frequently seem very remote from day to day existence yet, none the less, have determinate consequences for the lives of individuals and groups. The relationship between identity and citizenship, then, is at the heart of the matter whether we are talking about the cultural constructions of the self or the rights to cultural resources that contribute to the politics of changing material conditions. Cultural rights should also, however, and much less instrumentally, be about our sense of human dignity, or meaning, the pleasures and knowledges that make life tolerable.

(McGuigan 1996: 147)

This approach to cultural citizenship also challenges the liberal conception of indi­vidual rights and instead bases political demands on collective identities – as women or gays or ethnic minority groups, for example.

The emergence of programmes addressed to gay and lesbian audiences on Channel 4 in the UK can be understood as the product of the changing political discourses instituted by the new social movements. Channel 4 was a hybrid institution in terms of the discursive practices that produced it, combining free market economics with left­wing cultural ideals. What emerged was a very different conception of public service broadcasting from the original Reithian ideal. Channel 4’s public service remit was to cater for tastes and concerns not dealt with by mainstream channels, to have a suitable proportion of educational programmes, to encourage innovation and experimentation and to allow wider access to programme making for underrepresented groups. There was a conscious policy to commission from people who had never made programmes before. This helped to break the stranglehold of middle-aged, middle-class men who had entered the television industry in the big expansion years of the 1960s and enabled access by groups of gay and lesbian film makers who were determined to find new ways to represent their communities on television. Television’s family address had limited the representation of homosexuality in particular. It was considered unsuitable for family viewing except in the occasional sitcom as an object of ridicule, or in a serious current affairs programme discussing changes in government legislation. Channel 4 enabled a shift in the democratic ideal of representation to one based on speaking ‘from’ a community instead of being spoken for. An early example was a documentary made in 1983 by a gay and lesbian youth group called Framed Youth: Revenge of the Teenage Perverts, shown on Channel 4 in 1986 in the Eleventh Hour slot, which showcased work made in the independent workshop sector.

Since their rise in the 1970s and 1980s, citizenship demands for equality and justice have themselves, in the 1990s, been subject to challenge from a resurgent individualism from a variety of directions, which has been linked by political theorists to the increasing power of global capitalism. One effect, it has been argued, has been to weaken the link between citizen rights and the state in a context where national cultures are fragmenting and the influence of transnational economic forces in the shape of global conglomerates is increasing. Attempts to rethink ‘cosmopolitan citizenship’ in global terms, based on internationally agreed ‘human rights’, are not yet anywhere near to being realized. At the same time, market fragmentation has diminished television’s democratic role in national politics.

The proliferation of channels, the fragmentation of audiences and the increased orientation towards fiction and entertainment in total output and viewer’s diets have reduced the role of television in that part of the public sphere we attach to democratic functions, such as participation in public debate.

(Siune and Hulten 1998: 31)

It is feared that the public sphere is lost as a place for compromise and consensus building as we split into multiple audiences pursuing our idiosyncratic desires. For example, John Caughie (2000) points to the way that in the UK the Wednesday Play in the 1960s and 1970s was a significant exploration of ‘the permissive society’ that spoke to the whole nation, whereas now, controversial ‘quality’ dramas are marginalized to subscription or minority channels or schedule slots to be seen by self-selecting audiences, thus reducing their political impact (see Chapter 7). Programming policies based on emancipatory demand for citizenship that brought, for example, the guarantee of an address to minority audiences on Channel 4 are vulnerable to destruc­tion in the face of global competition, to be replaced by consumer versions of identity based on marketing categories. These trends are summarized in Table 2.1.

Table 2.1 Trends in media structure

Old Media Structure

New Media Structure

Broadcasting

Monopoly

Competition

Goals

Democracy

Survival, success, profit

Means

Programme production,

Selection of material,

selection of material

programme mix

Logic

Responsibility

Market, economic

Criteria for selection

Political relevance

Sale

Reference group

Citizens

Consumers

Focus on

Decisions taken, power

Processes of policy-making, new

structures

conflict dimension

Perspective

Nation, system

Individual and global

Source: Siune and Hulten (1998: 36).