{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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s