The problem is that the default charset is undefined, which means on pages with an unspecified charset there are subtle cross-site-scripting bugs where the server thinks it has properly escaped HTML but the client doesn’t. (Think UTF-16, where < has a different representation than the single byte UTF-8 uses.)
So Debian’s Apache is configured by default to add that Content-Type header. And that has the final effect that my (UTF-8, in theory) pages aren’t being served with the right charset.
(Credit: All of this is from this LJ post, which I found through Google.)