#PMA16 Take-aways

Public Media Alliance just held its 2016 conference, #PMA16, in Montreal today 14 September.

Below some of my take-aways:

  1. Key Note #1

Craig Hammer, Media Development, World Bank. He reiterated the often heard comments about the declining trust in media, and the weakening freedoms of expression, and safety of journalists: right now, perhaps more than ever, we need public media.

In addition, he noted that non-Western countries are leapfrogging and bypassing their mature PSM counterparts in rethinking the collaborative, participatory and curatorial, multiplatform models of PSM (e.g.,Kenya & India).

Q&A: CH notes that developing stronger media systems in the Global South, and public media, is challenging as many funders seem not to understand the importance of media (systems, funding models). He’s calling for customizable models. One part of this equation is awareness raising among audiences about the importance of PM.

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  1.  Changing Perspectives on PSB: The Commercial, Technical and Political

Chair: CEO Lauri Kivinen of Yleisradio, Finland; Sonia Gill of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union;  Waithaka Waihenya of KBC Kenya; Rita Freire, EBC Brazik; Simon Marks of Feature Story News, USA.

  1. How do the panelists see the possibilities for transitions from state to true public service media?

WW: KBC used to be a feared entity, government’s loudspeaker -> “punishing” public media -> now the government much more sympathetic. But: let’s stop lamenting the funding issue, let’s accept and solve it.

RF: Political crisis: the gov’t withdrew autonomy of EBC but multistakeholder support to protect media.

LK: In the last 3 months Croatia, Hungary, Poland — these countries can’t overcome the paradox of PS financed by the people but governed by the state. This paradox needs to be overcome to have a functioning PSM organization. “We must bite the hand that feeds us”. It’s scary to hear about Brazil, a big country.

SG: We are seeing concerns about the arrest of reporters in the Caribbean. HIghly commercialized media sector because govts couldn’t  Telecoms (Caribbean & foreign) are now becoming major media owners. How can we secure indigenous content? We continue to have the problem with CEOs of media houses with their political affiliations. Cybersecurity legislation has recently been used to regulate legacy media/journalism. Technology continues to be a challenge – how to guarantee universal access? E-waste a problem.

SM: One would think the US wouldn’t a fragile state but I have begun to think so… The current election (coverage) is the tragic result of the lack public media. The Economist: The Post-Truth Environment”. Technical: not an obstacle but a huge opportunity. E.g.: 1) Overhaul of culture in PSB: Content now specifically produced for different platforms. 2) Radio NZ Checkpoint: Multiplatform simulcast – redefining the “broadcasting”. Decoding unit allows access to studios to deliver HDTV footage for multiplatform audiences = Major cost reductions.

  1. How can we make sure that PSB/PSM remains relevant?

 

SG: Involvement of civil society. The case of Brazil shows this clearly.

WW: Craig talked about trust as a rare community these days. News pushed through social networks, etc. Trust and journalistic quality are our commodity.

Q: To WW: What’s the status of KBC’s switchover? To Rita: Possibility of license fees as a funding model? SG: Jamaican funding model is a success. Direct user fees won’t work. LK: public support helps to build political support. WW: Kenya fully digital. But as a result of a fierce war with comm broadcaster that wanted a piece of the pie. Decision: Digitalization = a public project.
SM: On social media — you HAVE to go where the audiences are. Use the tech to build your brand of trust. How to modernize but maintain the quality?

 

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  1. Intervention: PMA Research Project

Sally-Ann Wilson, PMA: What do we need to know what we don’t from academic research and other sources? How do people who run PM organizations see their organizations? Key questions that keep them awake at night?

PSM pyramid: Role -> Characteristics -> Content

20 responses so far; very consistent regardless of the context!

Role: independency, inclusivity and diversity, building and reflecting national identity (providing media plurality in a globalizing world wasn’t considered very important)

Characteristics: Independence, impartiality, trust (being popular wasn’t that important)

Content: Impartial news, international news (environmental coverage not so important)

PMA — we don’t merely talk, we act. The BBC model needs revision for other countries, but the changes in that model will shape other models.

Promotion of public media? How do we promote ourselves (and not only “preaching to the choir” — We need to leave the church and involve partners, and measure impact to increase credibility, metrix). We hope PMA can create an index of key performance indicators so we can learn

 

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  1. Keynote #2 – Representing Citizens

Keynote: Fran Unsworth, BBC World Service

Moderator: Paul Thompson of Radio New Zealand

What should be the proper balance between politics and the media? If journalists are too powerful we can do damage, too weak where’s the role?

Brexit — what to report? Should one report claims of both sides?

Even in the midst of the most heated debates, the BBC was applauded as the most balanced.

Threats to journalism and human rights are constant (e.g., Kashmir, Turkey, Kenya, Malaysia, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Uganda, China – exodus from newspapers&foreign journalists, Hungary, Vietnam, Iran…)

Too often govts trying to control. No total control — foreign investors a vary of that — so selective censorship.

Total free speech impossible. Who is the regulator, sets the rules?

Amartya Sen: No famines in countries with free press.

EBU research: public media contributing to democracy (less extremism, more political participation).

The collapse of authoritarian regime doesn’t automatically mean press freedom; it may take a long time. Many regimes unwilling, perhaps fearful. That’s why our job is even more important.

Q: Is the trend now more than ever that when journalistic freedom is being threatened in legacy media they can push the stories in social media?

  • Growth in authoritarianism
  • State broadcasters parroting those in power
  • Intermediaries are controlled as well, and filter bubbles that are created…

Changes of the governance structure of the BBC… Profound implications re: the independence of the BBC.

  1. Truth and Trust: Investigative Journalism in the Digital Age

Moderator: Sonia Gill, Ahmer Shaheen of GEO Pakistan, Mark Bassant of CCN Trinidad & Tobago, Will Fitzgibbon of Intl Consortium of Investigative Journalists

MB: Investigative journalism in a digital age is characterized by:

  • Deadlines don’t exist
  • Mobile news consumption
  • Display for info, for  easy access (visualizations, timelines?) is key

WF: Truth, Trust and the Digital Era — the Panama Papers — immense data leak — not possible without digital era. Trust can be seen in several ways: trust between journalists feeds into trust in journalism. Trust in data — collaborative verification. Trust in the public — make structured data available, open access. The RISKS to trust increase with digital era.

AS: Financial feasibility — longer, more resources, can get media shut down… So very expensive — invisible costs —  in fragile states. “Pakistan a paradise for investigative journalism – organized corruption is rampant”

 

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  1. Engaging the Digital Public

Tim Fenton, International Election Advisor:

  • Journalism is the biz of making the significant interesting
  • Journalists should either genuinely be thrive impartiality or admit bias
  • The best-served audiences have both

Divide political reporters — parliament, politics, and elections.

 

 

A 3-minute summary

 

Back to the future and different but oh so similar.

From both keynotes to this panel throughout the panels:

  • Politics — external influence
  • Technology — reach
  • Trust — relationship with audience
  • Core mission — to provide access and to provide value, basic components diversity whether in political coverage as Namibian example… but also unity, as mentioned by the CEOS in the PMA study. And bring forth under-reported issues, such as John Mohmoh highlighted, and certainly trustworthy coverage in the cases of crises, as Marion Warnica highlighted. Perhaps, as proven by the EBU research, support democratic practices. And tell great, engaging stories.

MDM: Mapping Digital Media 56 countries

Global PSM Experts Network: over 90 countries

We tackle with these challenges, just in new reiterations. And it seems that we are more alike than ever.

WW: let’s move on! Let’s thrive to be integral part of their lives — NBC

New:

 

  • Possibilities of collaboration – geographical, global (Graig Hammer – models, examples;),
  • Institutional – PMA research shows common concerns
  • Non-PSB partners: Simon Marks’ efforts… First Draft
  • Amongst journalists, for trust, for security. Or, amongst organizational leaders — The case of Brazil.
  • With the public — branding, marketing, more collaboration.

And so back to the our first keynote that mentioned the new roles, or functions of PSBs, beyond broadcasting toward  collaborative, participatory and curatorial, multiplatform  existence… Perhaps we add to the list: a mobilizing agent of all these kinds of collaborations.

 

 

Public Service Media: Exit Through the Back Door?

[Originally posted at mediapowermonitor.com]

Recent turbulence at the Polish public broadcaster was seen by some observers as another political football game. Public broadcasting will survive any market or policy changes, however tumultuous they are, they say. But public TV has fallen out of political favor in many countries now. Even well-established broadcasters in western countries are likely to be dramatically downsized.


The real test: finding the back door

Poland has been featured in global news in the past weeks. A controversial law was passed that allowed the replacement of the directors of Polish public TV and radio with political appointees.

The Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) notes that this may well be the first step by the Polish government in curbing all free media and commercial outlets. CIMA also reminds us that just a few years before Poland, Hungarians witnessed a severe media crackdown.

Many might indeed disregard events in Poland as symptomatic to relatively young public media countries. Most experts have contended that that public service broadcasting (PSB) has existed as a principle, as well as as an institution, for almost a century in many Western European countries. It has been an essential tool in building nation-states and European democracies. This is why, it has been argued, PSB and its version including digital platforms, public service media (PSM), will survive even tumultuous changes in media markets and in government policies.

Or perhaps not: One of the first countries to disregard public service ideal of independence and plurality was Italy, a PSB country by long tradition. During Silvio Berlusconi’s regime of four governments, the Prime Minister had the power over both his commercial media conglomerate as well as the public service broadcaster RAI.

Lately it seems that public service media have truly fallen out of political favor in many European nations. It may have seemed shocking when the original Greek public broadcaster ERT was abolished in 2013 following a government decision (ERT did reopen in mid 2015). But now we have heard the news from Poland, and also Iceland. The centre-right Independence Party of that Nordic country proposes “selling certain State assets”, including the State’s share in Iceland’s national television and radio broadcaster, RUV.

Serious re-envisioning of the possible future of public service media is happening in mature public service countries such as Finland. While a parliamentary working group will announce their vision around mid 2016, a ministerial working group on media markets has recently suggested that the Finnish public broadcaster YLE should drastically reduce its own operations and act as a distributor and purchaser of Finnish productions.

This so-called public service producer model has been proposed in the U.K. a few years back. But now things in Britain may just resemble the situation in another country. The columnist Peter Preston noted in The Guardian about the most revered public broadcaster in the world, the BBC, and its ongoing charter renewal process:

“Would anything very much about the recent history of BBC governance – or now, amid the churn of change – pass muster in Warsaw? Freedom can turn to sausagemeat anywhere you look.”

Indeed, CIMA reports that according to the watchdog organization Freedom House, already six EU countries – Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Romania, and Slovakia – rank as merely “partly free” in terms of press freedom. Is it that, while proponents of independent media and scholars of democracy happily continue to believe in the sanctity and eternal life of PSB, conservative political and other powers-that-be have no nostalgic love to spare to those ideals? The worst scenario is that not only public broadcasting but broader communication rights are slowly making a quiet exit through the back door.

 

{research} Re-Framing Public Media as a Global Project: New Models

{This is my part of a paper to be presented at the IAMCR 2015 conference, Montreal, in the Panel: Globalization, International Development, and the Public Service Media Debates. My co-author Susan Abbott will add to this her own original research — stay tuned for the full paper to be published later this year.}

  1. Introduction

Media and communication development have been part of the international agenda for decades. Notably, after the fall of the Berlin Wall media development, that is efforts to promote, support, and nurture an independent, democratic media as part of wider efforts to improve governance, the state of a society, and economic development, media, journalism, and communications program became more mainstream. The efforts of civic groups working on media reform, media development, and Internet rights, have continued the advocacy efforts of previous generations, notably the MacBride Commission and its successors, by calling for global standards and policies aimed at improving the democratic quality of media and the ability for all citizens of the world to access information.

In this regard, efforts by global civil society advocating for the inclusion of free expression, access to information, and access to key technologies, in the new United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, stands out. In this context, the continued advocacy of public service broadcasting has for some international players been paramount to their larger efforts, i.e. UNESCO has endorsed public service broadcasting and supports it as a cornerstone of democracy and inclusive knowledge society in non-Western contexts (UNESCO 2014).

Yet, as noted by Voltmer (2013), public service media (PSM) all around the world are threatened by commercial competitors and governmental pressures: They need to find new ways to ensure their independence and inclusivity. The urgency of finding new strategies is relevant to (1) ‘mature’ PSM organizations in globalizing marketplaces, as well as (2) contexts where state media are being transformed into public service media (e.g., former Eastern Europe, some Asian countries, many Latin American countries), or (3) where public interest media (including PSB, community, and local media) face severe commercial competition and/or need to be revitalized.

Given the above challenges, it is essential for those advocating the existence of PSM, to rethink how build a model of PSM that is accessible and inclusive, contextually sensitive, technologically and financially viable, institutionally independent — and globally meaningful. In this paper we will outline why PSM needs to be a global project:

  • We will first discuss the need for new models, based on existing country-based analyses (Abbott 2015, Clark & Aufderheide 2009, Tambini 2015), as well as on a survey conducted with 162 public service media researchers around the world.
  • We will then discuss examples and models that in the light of some core proposed revisionist PSM models (e.g., Bajomi-Lazar et al. 2012; Boev & Bukovska 2011).
  • Finally, we will summarize these discussions as a matrix of new models that can be used to frame PSM as a global project.
  1. Need for new models: Some insights

Mapping Digital Media Project

A global look at challenges of public service (and state-administered media) comes from the so-called Mapping Digital Media (MDM) research project of the Open Society Foundations (2009-2014). Comprising 56 countries, the purpose of the project was to assess the global opportunities and risks that are created for media by the following developments: the switch-over from analogue broadcasting to digital broadcasting; growth of new media platforms as sources of news; convergence of traditional broadcasting with telecommunications.  MDM has addressed broad PSM-relevant issues—from spectrum allocation to other legislative approaches, audience structures, and financial aspects of national media markets around the world, but it has also dedicated both special reports, as well as a designated section, in each report to the role of publicly owned media in the country in question.

Tambini (2015) has examined the country reports and assesses the state of public service media around the world as varied and complex. The unifying challenges everywhere seem to be that digitalization has fundamentally changed the existing role (or establishing a new) institutional public broadcaster/media organization. Similarly, audiences for state-administered and public service media are in decline everywhere. This crisis has resulted both in innovation and reinvention of public service mission and programming, as well as its decline. Tambini (2015, 1420) highlights some regional differences:

Only in Europe are the institutions of independent PSM in a strong position. There, the norm of the mixed broadcasting system may be becoming more prevalent with the incorporation of state-administered broadcasters from Central and Eastern Europe into the conventional PSM model, and regulatory changes such as the Communication on the Application of State Aid Rules to Public Service Broadcasting (2009). In the Middle East and North Africa, PSB independence faces numerous challenges. The absence of the model in the rising powers of Brazil, Russia, and China makes the question of PSB in India and South Africa of great importance in global terms.

Yet, the third common global challenge Tambini identifies is the lack of “open and transparent debate” (op cit., 1421) and policy-making regarding public service media and its evolution.

Survey: Public service media researchers

The MDM results are echoed by scholars who study public service media around the world. Between January and mid June 2015, 162 scholars answered a questionnaire, the main purpose of which is to establish a roster of PSM scholars.[1] In addition to their contact information, the participants also responded to a few questions about the field and its research needs. Given the prominence of public service broadcasting/media in the media landscapes in Australia, Canada, Western Europe, and New Zealand, it is no surprising that the majority of the respondents come from, and focus these countries/regions[2] — and that naturally affects the kinds of challenges and opportunities identified in the answers.

Similarly, it should thus be noted that these answers have not originally been gathered for formal research purposes  — but for the purpose of establishing a network. Therefore they are not pre-designed to be categorized and quantified. Presented here are just crude, preliminary thematizations and summaries of responses to two survey questions around challenges and new PSM models. That said, some themes and issues seem to emerge from these observations and insights. In addition, the respondents are scholars who have looked at different aspects of PSB/PSM in great detail.

One of the questions in the survey asked the respondents to list the three most significant issues for the development of public service media in their country. 142 out of 162 respondents answered this question – some with one issue, some with two, three or more.

  • The two most often mentioned issues, practically equally important, were the funding of PSM and the independence of PSM from government pressures – both issues were each highlighted by over 40% of the respondents.
  • The urgent need to re-define and clarify the remit, mission, values and visions of what public service really means was almost equally important.
  • 25% of those who answered the question considered a relationship with audiences, a social contract of sorts, a significant issue for public service.
  • The same goes with digitalization in terms multi-platform, cross-media presence.
  • Other notable themes (appr. 10% each) were: supporting talent, innovation, professionals of PSM; and re-thinking management and organizational structures of PSM.
  • PSM in the international media landscape, PSM and other media (competitors) in general, PSM and diversity/pluralism, and PSM and journalism were mentioned surprisingly seldom, ten or so times each.

Another question, relevant to the focus of this paper, pertained to examples of successful public media in one’s country or elsewhere. The respondents were asked to identify one example, and explain why it exemplifies a good public media experience. Only about half of the survey respondents answered this question.

  • Interestingly, the largest amount of answers, almost 30%, highlighted a public service institution, mostly the BBC (UK) or ABC (Australia).
  • One-sixth of the answers highlighted an online service, a digital portal, many of which were not institutional public service but rather projects that served the public outside of a formal PSM remit.
  • Institutional public service niche programming for ethnic minorities, for children, or regarding art and culture were also mentioned fairly often. (Educational or political programming was mentioned in only a couple of answers.)
  • Community media (not related to institutional PSB) was mentioned in some 10% of the answers.

The essence of “what works”, by researchers, seems to highlight the sense of the strength of certain institutional arrangements for PSM, as exemplified by the ABC and the BBC. (It should be noted that the respondents might in their work mainly focus on institutions rather than alternative models.)

Summary of the challenges from the above described research efforts indicates that any model, let alone a framework that might have a global scope, needs to address the following:

  • Digitalization has changed the playfield. That is the fundamental issue to consider. This means that the values of public service media need to be carefully crafted.
  • Fragmented audiences need to be gathered together. The relationship between public service media and the rest of the society needs to be reinforced or reinvented.
  • Institutional public media  — when it has the resources — seems to still fare well in serving the public. Funding is clearly the key concern here.
  • Independence of public service media needs to be safeguarded – whether the threat comes from government budgets or political pressures regarding content.
  • Policy discussions around PSM need to opened up and reinstituted.
  1. Suggested models – an overview

Any new models of public service media clearly need to respond to some main concerns and challenges outlined above.

When envisioning models for the increasingly global media landscape, it is good to remember that historical developments have shaped models for public service media – and will continue to do so. Jakubowicz (2014, 213-214), offers a genealogical societal perspective by depicting three main models of the creation of PSB or the transformation of state broadcasting to PSM, as applying to different country contexts. The paternalistic model is based on the idea of public enlightenment, giving PSM a normative role (as in the classic BBC model of public broadcasting); the democratic and emancipatory model emerged when state broadcasting organizations were transformed into PSB in the 1970s and 1980s, when state broadcasting became obsolete as state monopoly (a development in some European as well as non-European countries); and finally, the systemic approach where PSB has been considered a part and parcel of a political change, transition to democracy (as in many former Eastern European countries). These models are now those that need revision, whether in their countries of origins or as models for emerging PSMs.

Bajomi-Lazar et al. (2012, 374-375) offer three Institutional revisionist frames to the way PSM should be redesigned in the drastically changed media landscape. The Liberal Approach believes that the role of PSM is to correct market imperfections, i.e., to fill in the gaps in content and services that the free market – the commercial competitors – do not find profitable to offer. This approach is very much synonymous to the Market Failure Perspective (e.g., Berg et al. 2014) on PSM: The role of demand is emphasized and the purpose of PSM is to serve those underserved by the free market. The Radical Democratic Approach, in contrast, focuses on the distinctiveness of PSM in its mission to serve the public interest. This means that PSM should to (continue to) offer news and journalism, music and culture, drama, children’s programming, as well as events that bring the nation together. As a new alternative, Bajomi-Lazar et al. (op cit.) propose an ecological mission for PSM in which public interest media could be reinterpreted, and serve as an ambassador for, ecological, sustainable lifestyles.

Very much in line with the ecological mission is the idea that PSM should be based on human rights treaties and legislation, and that it should in particular guard issues related to human rights, both in its content and as an organization (Boev & Bukovska 2011). The treaties would function as legal benchmarks for assessing the core qualities of PSM that, in this model are: a high degree of participation of all interested parties; non-discrimination (including equality and inclusiveness); and the role of PSM as empowering rights holders to claim and exercise their rights. They also include an institutional component, namely accountability (the state should be accountable for its policy in support of PSM while PSM institutions should be fully accountable for their actions). A special feature of the model is that it includes a number of new stakeholders in the work of the PSM: Not only the institution, the national government and regulator, but also audiences play a crucial role in creating and monitoring of PSM. In addition, international human rights bodies as well as communities of human rights activists/advocates are stakeholders here.

Perhaps the most radical, networked model of public service media has been offered by Aufderheide & Clark (2009). They note that ‘Public Media 2.0’ (Aufderheide & Clark 2009) will not be tied to an institution but can be both de jure and de facto: a commercial TV channel or a social media group may function as public media equally well as an official institution. Public media, thus, should be citizen-, or user-centric. Consequently, public media can differ for citizens depending on specific issues, and/or, local, national or international contexts.

  1. Matrix of possible models?

How do the challenges, and proposed models, meet? Can there be one or more models that could address public service media as a global project? The following matrix sums up the identified challenges of PSM – and how they are reflected by alternatives.

Figure 2. Matrix of selected alternative models of PSM

Liberal approach Democratic approach Sustainable approach Human rights approach Networked approach
Digitalization – new remit Old remit of the mixed markets. The original remit. Yes. Yes. Not one remit but many
Digitalization – technology Challenged (‘distorts the market’) Must be present in all platforms Possibly – not explicitly mentioned. Possibly: could also support new communication rights, including access. Founded on new tech.
Audiences – relationship to society Serves the underserved. Serves everyone. Focuses on the ecosystem, holistic. Focused on the individual = rights-based. Multi-stakeholderism; international Citizen-user –focused.
Institutional arrangement – financing Public – no solutions beyond that. Public – no solutions beyond that. Public – no solutions beyond that. Public – implicit possibility of the model: international contributions? Mixed – each “node” of the network with its own model.
Governance –

independence

Independent but “filing the gap” mandate might be limited due to political agendas. Independent (in theory). Independent. Independent – multi-stakeholder approach would spread power over governance. Independent – a network is harder to control.

These models, alternative as they may be, still very much rely on the core institutional model established in the West. This is not surprising: The idea of public broadcasting/media has been very much founded in the Western idea of the public sphere, related to deliberative democracy (as in civil, reasoned, inclusive debate) — and this “imposes a normative standard that is inappropriate or irrelevant for much of the globe” (Benson 2015, 275).

Aufderheide & Clark (2009), with their Public Media 2.0 model, provide a true alternative to the institutional model. As Benson (2015) also notes, a Castellsian “network society” model offers flexibility in (understanding) different contexts. At the same time, empirically a functioning networked public service media model requires ways of fast (and cheap) access to sources, competence to navigate (and to create) content, as well as a robust media ecosystem — and doesn’t address sustainability of its nodes. The social media platform you use for acquiring regional news and participating in related debates shuts down – what then? Alternative non-profit and crowdsourced news outlets may inspire thinking of how funding of public service media might be diversified in certain contexts.

More models from outside of the West, or with a global scope, need to be researched as they may provide insights, especially in terms of audience engagement and co-production (that the institutional model has not necessary embraced or been able to cultivate, due to political and resource constraints). For instance, the non-profit organization Witness with its YouTube channel and now an online Lab has both reported on human rights, and trained citizen reporters to do so all around the world. Similarly, the citizen journalism site Global Voices[3] is a truly global hub for alternative news around the world, with regional and topical (politics, culture, human rights, digital activism) segments. It gathers information from vetted, committed sources and also entails activist networking / grant-making and advocacy arms. One of the respondents of the researcher survey highlighted yet another different model: China’s Worker Generated Content that resists the constrained communication environment of the country:

WGC is an empirical subcategory of user-generated content, but it transcends UGC’s parameters where they are set by logics of capitalist and state surveillance. WGC highlights issues of social class, collectivity, and needs-based communication; it is a harbinger of new class-making processes that are based on bottom-up and horizontal communication.[4]

In conclusion, as another surveyed PSM scholar noted, having researched media development and public service: We know little and it seems that challenges related to PSB/PSM and media development are not documented or made public:

The most pressing issue is a need for more knowledge sharing about challenges in media development projects associated with public broadcasters or transitions to public broadcasters from state broadcasters.

  1. Conclusion

What could next steps be in envisioning more appropriate public media models for ever globalizing media landscapes? The least we, as scholars, can do is to react and respond to Tambini’s (2015) observation that globally, debates about public media are not open. We need to make them more so. One constructive framework on how to think about new, more global public media models, and enrich the debates, could be taken from Waisboard’s (2015, 187-193) three strategies of how to pursue “de-Westernization” of media studies:

  • Analyze neglected issues.  — In this paper, we have established that we know quite little about existing alternatives, public media de facto, whether in the global North or South. Similarly (albeit not discussed in this paper), drawing from non-Western theorization of globalization and the media might help in reframing of public service media of the future. These are just two of the issues that have not so far been much researched within the public media researcher community.
  • Conduct comparative research. — The MDM project gave an overview of 56 countries — but the section on public service media was one of many. Clearly more regional and global comparisons can shed light on new models and the needs of different contexts.
  • Analyze trans-border, global questions. The MDM research as well as the network questionnaire depicted in this paper has given some indication of possible trans-border issues for public media. This needs to be systematically researched further.

References:

Aufderheide, P & Clark, J. (2009) Public Media 2.0. Dynamic, Engaged Publics. Center for Social Media. Washington, D.C.: American University.

Bajomi-Lazar, P., Steka, V. & Sukosd, M. (2012) Public service television in the European Union countries: Old issues, new challenges in the ‘East’ and the ‘West’.  In Just, N. & Puppis, M. (eds.) Trends in Communication Policy Research: New Theories, Methods, and Subjects. Bristol: IntellectBooks, pp. 355-380.

Benson, R. (2015). Public Spheres, Fields, Networks. Western Concepts for a De-Westernizing World? In Lee, C-C. (ed.) Internationalizing “International Communication”. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Pp. 258-280

Berg, C.E., Lowe, G.F., & Lund, A.B. (2014). A Market Failure Perspective on Public Service Media. In Lowe, G.F. & Martin, F. (eds.). The Value of Public Service Media. RIPE/Nordicom. Pp. 105-126.

Boev & Bukovska (2011) = Public Service and Human Rights. Council of Europe Issue Discussion Paper. CommDH(2011)41. 6 December 2011. Available at: https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?id=1881537

Jakubowicz, K. (2014). Public Service Broadcasting: Product (and Victim?) of Public Policy. In Mansell R. & Raboy, M. (eds.). The Handbook of Global Communication and Media Policy. Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 210-229.

Tambini, D. (2015). Five Theses on Public Media and Digitization: From a 56-Country Study. International Journal of Communication 9(2015), pp. 1400–1424.

UNESCO (2014) = Free, Independent And Pluralistic Media. The Post-2015 Development Agenda. A Discussion Brief. March 15, 2014.

Voltmer, K. (2013) The Media in Transitional Democracies. Cambridge, UK & Malden, MA: Polity Press.

Waisboard, S. (2015). De-Westernization and Cosmopolitan Media Studies. In Lee, C-C. (ed.) Internationalizing “International Communication”. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Pp. 178-200.

[1] The project, by the RIPE network and funded by the Open Society Foundations, is still ongoing. Please see the questionnaire here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/19muPteWnSWxf3zPOAxfRrjng_IrZshFmNLjFEkash50/viewform?usp=send_form

[2] The respondents do not form a representative sample. The participants have been approached via numerous existing research and media development networks, and they have in turn recommended others. There has been a special effort to find and reach out to non-Western researchers.

[3]  http://globalvoicesonline.org/

[4] From Worker-Generated Content in China to Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution: http://snurb.info/node/1943

{research} PSM in the service of communication rights?

{This is a segment of an upcoming book chapter. Very interested in any comments!}

Commercial interest have since been coupled with many other challenges of digitalization to public service broadcasting – and much has been said about the current crises of public service ideal and practice. As Voltmer (2013: 160) sums it up: We are now at a historical moment where different realizations, mature and new, of public service broadcasting worldwide are under threat because of digital convergence, audience fragmentation, and deregulated markets – and we may just need to come up with new ways to ensure the values of independency, impartiality, and integration via media. Might one way to ensure those classic values to embrace human and communication rights as an explicit PSM mission? More specifically, in terms of Europe: If we take seriously the normative engagement of welfare societies about informed citizenship and communication rights, and if we try to learn from the critique of paternalism, centralization, elitism, the copying of commercial channels, what can we suggest for public service media in services of communication rights in the digital era? To find answers, one has to tackle at least one conceptual and one empirical challenge.

The first issue is a fundamental one. Today, the European institution of PSB can be said to embody many of the rights relating to information and communication, especially in relation to citizens’ access to and availability of relevant information. At the same time, a certain conceptual riff between PSB and communication rights does exist. Public service in the media sector has in most related literature been linked to democracy theories and, on practice, democratic societies. And while rights-based approaches “share a commitment to the ideal of equal political dignity for all”, and while realization of human rights requires democratic government, the ideals of democracy and rights point to different directions (Donelly 2013: 222). The former ideal is about collective empowerment – the latter ideal is about individuals. Related to this is the traditional practice of PSB: The paternalistic, one-way flow of communication from one center that disseminates information to anybody within its reach.

And yet, in practical, empirical terms, we have established that PSBs have been used as vehicles in realizing certain communication rights, not least the one of access to information/content. To find out whether PSM could serve communication rights of the digital era, one needs to operationalize those rights. One scheme to understand today’s communication rights is to map under these five distinct operational categories: (see Nieminen 2010, 14-15; Splichal 2002, 168-69):

Access is about citizens’ equal access to information, orientation, entertainment and other contents serving their rights. Availability indicates that relevant contents (of information, orientation, entertainment and other) should be equally available for citizens. Competence means that citizens should be educated with the skills and abilities to use the means and information available according to their own needs and desires. Dialogical rights means availability of public spaces available that allow citizens to publicly share information, experiences, views, and opinions on common matters. Finally, privacy indicates two different things: first, everybody’s private life has to be protected from unwanted publicity, unless its exposure is in the public interest or the person decides to expose it to public; and second, protection of personal data means that all information gathered by authorities or businesses must be protected as confidential.

In the current media landscape, PSM is not alone serving the public. Given the multi-platform environment, many propose that public service functions can also be performed what could be called public media de facto, ranging form community media to networked projects and events (e.g., Bajomi-Lazar et al. 2012; Horowitz & Clark 2014). A commercial TV channel may have a particularly important and engaging political debate program or news website; a community radio station may address issues of a region in more depth than national media outlets; and citizens may inform each other (and the world) on social media about the Arab Spring, or the Ferguson riots, more effectively than any legacy media news outlet.

Yet, if we take an overall outlook of responsiveness of different media outlets to communication rights, how would PSM fare in terms of communication rights vis-à-vis its de facto counterparts? Table 1 presents a simple sketch of PSM and selected other forms of media outlets, with the assumption that they all have a potential in serving in the public interest.

Table 1. Communication rights, public service media, and selected other media institutions: A comparison

  PSM Commercial broadcaster/media outlet Community/ alternative media Short term issue and other “projects” and spontaneous citizen journalism
Access Good Weakening (e.g., pay-TV and streaming pay walls) Weak: doesn’t reach everyone (filter bubble)[1] Often weak: doesn’t reach everyone
Availability Good, weakening if narrowed or if competing with commercial outlets with similar content Weak (more of the same and recycling similar content for audiences, eyeballs, and likes) Good, as filling in the gap; but not diverse Good, as filling in the gap; but exists only for a short time
Competence Traditionally good (education) Traditionally weak Improving with the help of social media (free tools) Improving with the help of social media (free tools)
Dialogicality Improving with the help of social media Improving, but for commercial purposes Improving with the help of social media (free tools) Often based on dialogicality, with the help of social media (free tools)
Privacy

(a)    Private life

(b)    data

(a)    usually good

(b)    can be good

Weak (usually exploited for commercial purposes) Can be weak if no resources to guard privacy Can be weak if spontaneous and no resources to guard privacy

The above scheme would indicate that PSM could fare well in the service of communication rights. It is a simplified view that does not account for several core issues. For instance, audiences of public media can be global, regional, national, local and/or issue-driven (Aufderheide & Clark 2009). In addition, PSM exists in the same platforms as its commercial competitors. That may result in compromises in terms of intermediary liability, especially regarding privacy and freedom of expression that can be (e.g., MacKinnon 2010) In practical terms: national PSB companies are regulated under national legislation, but their activities in social media are ruled (mostly) by US jurisdiction. And, conversely, s Ziccardi (2013: 39) observes, digital communication and its platforms may have the potential to enhance international human rights, but this process is continuously being interrupted by nation-states and their interests. How would PSM organizations react to those challenges? Still, the original (even if implicit) role of PSM in guarding communication rights is clearly present and can be enhanced. No other media outlet has had that kind of on-going, sustainable commitment and obligation.

{book project} Public Media: The 4th Estate in 4 Sectors

The first step of the book project: How to conceptualize the dimensions of  “Public Media” for Social Change?

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 11.12.10 AMInitial Thought: Public Media as the 4th Estate?

The “Fourth Estate” describes the journalists’ role in representing the interests of “the people” in relation to the business and political elites who claim to be doing things in our names.

The idea of the news media as the Fourth Estate has a chequered history. It began life as a term of abuse for the scurillous and ill-principled scribes of the press gallery at the Palace of Westminister. Conservative Anglo-Irish MP Edmund Burke coined the phrase as a way of mocking the gentlemen of the press.

However, in the intervening centuries, the Fourth Estate has come to mean taking a principled position (…)

The intellectuals of the 18th and 19th centuries who gave us the conception of the Fourth Estate as a civil watchdog to keep an eye on those in power also provided the philosophical argument for defining the public citizenry and the nation-state as two separate entities with differing interests.

Today, governments that claim to act in the “public interest” must face daily scrutiny of their actions. They must be called to account when overstepping the bounds of what citizens will support, or when taking actions that are clearly not in our interests. We rely on journalists and the news media to do this job on our behalf.

– Martin Hirst

Public media, in its very essence, should represent the people, and various segments of the people, in a variety of way — right? So  the ideal and ideal of the 4th estate, the representative of people vis-a-vis decision makers and power elites seems like a fit for a core dimension or characteristics for what might define public media. Supply of information on common issues, and scrutiny of power, it seems to me, are some of the essential factors of social change: what needs to change, how can change happen, by whom?

Admittedly, the 4th estate or the watchdog function (in its many forms) is just a part of what public media is, can, should or could be. For example: public service broadcasting, in the Western European tradition, entails the Reithian Trinity of information, education, and entertainment (sometimes referred to as ‘full service’). But (as the above quote highlights) the 4th Estate is an evolving concept. In these times where much of content is a mixture of what used to “news-like” or “entertainment” in content as well as in production and form (just read a few blog posts about gamification of news and education) it seems very limiting to think about the concept of 4th Estate simply as professional, traditional news content.

At the same token, the power of the popular culture and entertainment, and the relationship between communication and education, in relation to social change, have been discussed for decades.

Whatever the content, at the core of public (interest/service) media seem to be empowerment by access, content — and increasingly, participation and co-creation.

Following Thought: Public Media in its Various Formations

Social change, social justice, democracy… Big concepts that, in real life, will need plenty of support, much scrutiny. Add Appadurian global flows that permeate culture and the media, finance, people, technology and ideas. Public media seems like more of an ideal than ever.

On thing seems certain: Public service broadcasting (PSB) can’t handle all this alone. Its legitimacy continuously being challenged, by governments and commercial competitors alike (and there’s a vast amount of research on this, especially in the RIPE@ collection by NORDICOM). The main arguments relate to the role of public organizations distorting the market place as “subsidized” legacy and digital competitors.

Different kinds of alternative models have been proposed, many of them focusing on public media de jure, i.e., institutional public service organizations. For instance, Bajomi-Lazar et al. (2012)  offer three revisionist frames to the way PSM should be redesigned in the drastically changed media landscape. The Liberal Approach believes that the role of PSM is to correct market imperfections, i.e., to fill in the gaps in content and services that the free market – the commercial competitors – do not find profitable to offer. This approach is very much synonymous to the Market Failure Perspective  on PSM: The role of demand is emphasized and the purpose of PSM is to serve those underserved by the free market. The Radical Democratic Approach, in contrast, focuses on the distinctiveness of PSM in its mission to serve the public interest. This means that PSM should to (continue to) offer news and journalism, music and culture, drama, children’s programming, as well as events that bring the nation together. As a new alternative, Bajomi-Lazar et al. propose an ecological mission for PSM in which public interest media could be reinterpreted, and serve as an ambassador for, ecological, sustainable life styles. A related frame to the ecological mission is that of public service organizations as human rights proponents. (More examples, here.)

The big unresolved issue is: What, in fact, could public service media be? Aufderheide & Clark have tacked this afresh, from the perspective of an individual, with his/her many needs of media. They expand the idea of full service to what I’d like to call abundant service. All of this, available as the figure indicates, in many devices and platforms, seems like an enormous task for any one organization:

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 1.00.49 PM

They also note that the individual may belong to many different kinds of publics. Again – a tough task for one organization:

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 1.01.11 PM

In the light of above, it is perhaps symptomatic that public media de jure has been often offered a specific, limited role, whether from the market failure or the distinction perspective.  But how to define that distinction, from the perspective of serving as a support mechanism for democracy and social change? In that regard, how to move from the individual focus (of the above model) to mechanisms that support collective publics of many kinds? A fair assumption would be that different publics may need different content and form/platforms to function as their 4th Estates. They must depend on contextual matters — or issues, location, access… We need public media de facto that can be manifested in many ways.

Since we exist in the landscape of existing institutions as well as platforms, and ever globalizing media landscape, I then came up with this simple matrix that combines the geographical dimension with the functional-organizational dimension of a media outlet. The reason I title the latter with the dual meaning is that the function of the organization is very much connected to the form, content, and strategies the organization takes.

The Matrix also gives a few examples. They are just that: The matrix would require tons of related research to have empirical backing. Also, some of the examples are deliberately (seemingly) anti-public service. This is in purpose, to highlight the existing landscape and to identify needs and opportunities for new forms of public media de facto. At this point, the matrix is simply a note, a stepping stone.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 1.37.30 PM

Final Thought: From a Matrix to an Ecosystem

When I look at the above matrix it’s clear to me that many of the its sections are in-between organizational or geographic borders (or fit in several slots). In addition, most of them share same social media platforms. And, as I have already advocated, there’s more room for collaboration.

It thus follows that eventually, I want to suggest a public media ecosystem: actors that all serve “the public”, actors that (I propose) are interconnected, and that also could collaborate.

In everyday parlance, or at least in the circles of marketing and advertising, the concept of social media ecosystem seems to be commonplace. Here the focus is on how that system captures consumers.

As C.W. Anderson has argued, in discussing the buzzword “media ecosystem in relation to journalism research:

The ultimate understanding of the news consumer in the more environmental approaches to news ecosystems is of an organism at the center of a webbed environment of overlapping influences—but a citizen who is sick due to a lack of proper nutritional sustenance.

While critiquing the focus on citizens, and calling for understanding of the many processes embedded in journalism to understand its challenges; he also gives a somewhat skeptical description of media ecology‘s focus on technology as the center of the media ecosystem. His argumentation is valid for news production research — but the ultimate challenge for me will be to determine, what the basic parameters are for a lively, diverse and dynamic, organic and healthy model for a public media ecosystem.

It will be a fascinating project to find examples of if and how different  segments of the media matrix can be merged into an ecosystem, and what roles different actors can play. We know already that in some countries, commercial players have public service obligations, and that many thinkers have positioned PSB  at the center of the abundance -=- as public service commissioner/programmer or navigator of public-service-oriented content. One could also argue that the cases of Wikileaks, and Ed Snowden  — as controversial as they may be — already point to that direction of projects by semi-structured groups and individuals meeting legacy media nationally and globally.