Public Media at Crossroads: Launch of a Lecture Series

Good News

CMDS Launches the Public Media Speakers Series with RIPE@GLOBAL



Public service media (PSM) institutions around the world exist in challenging conditions: not only do the commercial counterparts claim that PSM is distorting the market, governments are increasingly meddling with content and tightening financing for these institutions. This is an alarming trend in times of viral misinformation, filter bubbles, distrust of media, and global political and economic turbulence.

PSM should be the institutional harbingers of universality and public interest media: principles that bring people together.

But do they play that role anymore? Can public service media institutions survive these tumultuous times?

Shrinking platforms for public debate and diminishing support for media as a public good are challenges that CMDS is currently addressing. ThePublic Media Speakers Series launched in March 2017 is part of these efforts. The goal of this series is to go beyond conventional academic analyses of public broadcasting and showcase visions, as well as concrete strategies and tactics, of the roles public service media should play. The series addresses issues that include management and governance, policy, and journalism in public service media, as well as strategies to advocate for the protection of public service media from political pressures.

CMDS is running this series in cooperation with RIPE@GLOBAL, an influential global network of academic researchers and strategic managers with expertise in every relevant dimension of public service media. RIPE was established in 2000 in Finland and is a worldwide community today. One of RIPE’s core projects is the development of a Global PSM Experts Network, featuring an open access expert roster and active social media community of academic and applied researchers of public media.

“RIPE is committed to collaboration in curating these important conversations about the present, and ultimately the future, of PSM,” said Gregory Ferrell Lowe, Professor of Media Management at the University of Tampere (Finland) and RIPE’s Continuity Director. “We need multi-stakeholder views and involvement to build better understandings of the challenges and their different manifestations around the world. That is a firm foundation for collaboration.”

The series kicks off on March 2, 2017 with Jawhar Sircar’s public lecture: Public Broadcasting in India: Success and Failures. The lecture is organized in cooperation with the CEU South Asia Research Group.

Trumping Public Media


Originally published in MediaPowerMonitor.

Executive Orders, staffing choices, unusual foreign policy moves, interesting “facts”, and numerous related tweets have dominated recent news about the new U.S. president and his administration. Perhaps that is why little attention has been given to the signs that the Trump administration will most likely cut funding for Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR).

A few stories emerged mid-January, prompted by this article in The Hill, referring to the budget suggestions by the Heritage Foundation. It is rumoured that Trump will follow these closely. This is what the Foundation’s so called Budget Book says about the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the umbrella organization channelling funds for PBS ad NPR:

“Privatize public broadcasting. Save taxpayers US $4.5bn.

The CPB made up only US$ 444m, or 16%, of this amount. Without federal funding for the CPB, services such as PBS and NPR, which receive funding from the CPB, could make up the lost money by increasing revenues from corporate sponsors, foundations and members.  The goal of CPB is also increasingly met by other media sources.”

The Republicans have traditionally used public broadcasting as fuel for political debates. Unsurprisingly, Republican and pro-Trump news outlets have celebrated the idea of budget savings and invoked the claim about the enormous diversity of content choices on cable TV. Also, some throw in arguments that the federal government is currently funding biased news coverage by NPR — and this must stop.

Bias is a difficult question to verify. But, as Salon reports, 95% of the U.S. population can access public broadcasting’s over-the-air signal as part of its universal service mandate. This includes rural communities and economically disadvantaged viewers who cannot afford to pay for cable TV. In addition, NPR has been at the forefront of digital innovation — and it shows in audience ratings: NPR stations have outperformed many of their commercial news counterparts. It also remains the number one Podcast publisher in America. To put the proposed savings in context: the share of CPB of the federal budget is reportedly 0.01%.

Regardless, the plans of trumping public media are now moving forward. At the end of January 2017, Republican congressman Doug Lamborn introduced two bills: firstly to defund the CPB; and, secondly, to prohibit NPR from receiving funds from CPB, or public radio stations from using federal funds to purchase programming from and/or pay dues to NPR.

Photo: Ted Eyton

#PMA16 Take-aways

Research, Teaching

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.


  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?



  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



  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”



  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



  • 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]

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.