Public Service Announcements and the Public Sphere

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Galina Sinekopova
Eastern Washington University

Public service announcements (PSAs), by definition, should be an integral part of the public sphere as the ideal communication situation.(Habermas, 1989). However, in many cases, PSAs appear to be ineffective; in fact, they are sometimes considered "worse than useless" and are labeled "public disservice announcements".


PSAs are analyzed in the context of the public sphere discourse, with the focus on their (in)effectiveness. Real PSAs, used by the KSPS and KXLY TV stations in Spokane, WA, are used as empirical data.


Recently, the very feasibility of the public sphere has been questioned. It has been claimed that the unitary public sphere is weak, riddled with anxiety and self-doubt. These claims are discussed based on the results of studying a number of PSAs, and against the backdrop of the diffusion of interactive technology.


It is shown that, in most cases, PSAs are, indeed, ineffective when their target audience is the ideal public sphere, as a whole. More effective PSAs require precise audience analysis and targeting specific groups. These findings seem to be consistent with the emerging move from the public sphere to a number of sphericules (Gitlin, 1998).

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