Public Service Media Renewal

Adaptation to Digital Network Challenges

by Michał Głowacki (Volume editor) Alicja Jaskiernia (Volume editor)
©2017 Edited Collection 252 Pages


This book analyses the adaptivity of public service media (PSM) to the digital network age. The authors use specific case studies and research initiatives, involving a variety of methodological and theoretical approaches, to argue that current changes in media and society offer a wide range of possibilities for PSM renewal. Changes in PSM are analysed through the lenses of shifts in users’ behavior and the growing importance of big data, machine mediation and developing partnership systems alongside other agents in the overall media ecology. The authors map the potential mental, regulatory, institutional and financial indicators which might restrict the ways in which PSM adapts. They argue that PSM renewal is possible as long as PSM policy-makers and managers both recognize and understand the drivers for, and obstacles to, change.
«What is the role of Public Service Media in the digital era? While pundits either call for its abolishment or fend off any criticism, the present volume avoids simplistic answers and offers valuable inputs for academic and policy debates.»
Manuel Puppis, University of Fribourg, Switzerland.
«This volume presents a multi-layered analytical prism through the lenses of which conditions for public service media future may be viewed. An excellent source for media studies with country cases and general evaluation.»
Andrei Richter, Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Vienna, Austria.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface: Facing criticism and a new reality – the need for a new public service media mindset (Roberto Suárez Candel)
  • Editors’ introduction (Michał Głowacki / Alicja Jaskiernia)
  • Public service media regulation in the new media environment: the role of the networks for accelerating reforms (Bissera Zankova)
  • Public service media and partnerships: analysis of policies and strategies in Flanders (Tim Raats / Karen Donders)
  • Public service media ecology: Tallinn, Estonia (Michał Głowacki)
  • Diverse society, diverse perception: a case study of public service media in Austria (Nicole Gonser / Markus Grammel / Johann Gründl / Gisela Reiter)
  • The participatory turn in public service media (Tiziano Bonini)
  • Intermediaries exercising influence through algorithms within public service media (Jonathon Hutchinson)
  • The potential of machine mediation in the maintenance of public service media (Lizzie Jackson)
  • Public service media in Croatia: virtues and flaws of media transformation (Anja Stević / Emil Čančar)
  • Public service media vs. sovereign national media: transition of public service media in Poland (Alicja Jaskiernia / Katarzyna Pokorna-Ignatowicz)
  • The blessing and curse of being public: managing change in public service media in Finland (Päivi Maijanen)
  • Conclusions: towards public service media renewal (Michał Głowacki / Alicja Jaskiernia)
  • List of figures
  • List of tables
  • Index
  • Notes on contributors
  • Series index

| 7 →

Preface: Facing criticism and a new reality – the need for a new public service media mindset

Driven by technological innovation and the deployment of broadband networks, the media are currently undergoing many different changes that are making it an increasingly complex sector. The entire value chain, from content production to distribution and consumption, is being altered by new processes and emerging players.

The boundaries of traditional media are gradually dissolving, giving rise to an environment in which the life cycles of content accelerate and multiply, abundance appears unlimited, and new platforms and providers appear (and disappear) sudden and unexpectedly. Frontiers between sectors and countries are also becoming blurred, and national markets are now more interdependent than ever before. Such a context, together with the speed of change and the disruption capacity of external players, is forcing well-established business models of the media sector to be revised.

Furthermore, society and its citizens are changing, and so are their needs and expectations of media. Their consumption habits are evolving beyond traditional television viewing and radio listening as they rapidly embrace new media.

Public service media (PSM) are not an exception, and cannot ignore how the current transformation context creates new challenges for them to remain relevant, prominent and findable. Additionally, their future sustainability is certainly at stake.

Thanks to the overall perspective that working at the European Broadcasting Union provides, I would say that the main vectors of change PSM should tackle are:

In parallel, the ongoing economic crisis and the waning trust in public institutions across Europe have reinforced those contesting the remit, role and legitimacy of PSM and demanding a review of their activities and budgets.

It is clear that the current socio-economic conditions, aided by the dominant neoliberalism of western democracies, are very different from those that gave rise to public service media. The gradual commodification of media has reinforced the pre-eminence of its economic and industrial goals. Even more, the need for the media, and even their suitability, to contribute to the fulfilment of social and democratic goals have been questioned.

While concluding whether this evolution is positive or negative depends of course on each’s ideology and values, it is clear that the current framework is not favourable for public service media. At least for the kind of public service media we are used to.

Criticism of PSM has been effectively expressed in various arguments:

Additionally, PSM organizations are also strongly questioned because of their:

The most elaborate positions against PSM bring together all these elements and manage to call into question the real value delivered by PSM companies. The latter are accused of being over-protected by regulations and wasting large amounts of public resources. In that way, PSM jeopardizes the development of the national industry, hinders competition and deprives national commercial operators of the opportunity to develop properly and maximize the value they could provide, preventing them from being competitive in the global scenario. In addition PSM’s offer is questioned for not being good or distinctive enough, and therefore not providing good value for money.

PSM is somehow considered a Keynesian social welfare tool that has become obsolete. In fact, nowadays many commercial operators claim that they could even replace PSM organizations, providing greater value in a faster, more dynamic and more efficient way.

Independently from whether we agree or not with that rationale, it is a fact that those arguments have resulted in a mindset that is gaining strength in some countries. That is not at all beneficial for PSM organizations.

However, PSM could also be partly responsible for this situation. When basic questions, such as why PSM is needed, what they really do for us that others couldn’t do, or how they operate and use public funding, are not answered with clear, concrete and understandable arguments, PSM are failing to build their own case.

While the traditional narrative about public service media is well known, it clearly has lost its ability to inspire or engage. And, even more worrying, PSM narratives are sometimes disconnected from current societal and political issues, which obviously results in a lower perception of value by their stakeholders. Additionally, due to the current adverse atmosphere and the sometimes preoccupying political interference that PSM organizations suffer, the latter forget or avoid pointing out their successes or the benefits and value they deliver.

It is then not a surprise that PSM legitimacy, role and remit are strongly contested, and their performance under close scrutiny. Additionally, the current ← 9 | 10 → economic crisis has made public service media a prime target of the austerity measures taken by national governments. This has not only resulted in a reduction in their resources, and therefore hindered their capability to perform, but it has somehow provided momentum for those advocating smaller PSM or their abolition altogether. Worryingly, proposals to close down public broadcasters, portraying the latter as old-fashioned and inefficient institutions, and suggestions to reallocate the public service mission and public funding among market players, are gaining traction and support in some countries.

In this context of change, and somehow hostility, it is the time for PSM organizations to take action and face the described criticism as well as the contextual challenges and threats.

First, PSM organizations need to adapt to the new context. Owing to the external forces listed above, public service media organizations must tackle increasingly complex changes in terms of their structure, corporate strategy, allocating resources, producing and distributing content and, no less important, acquiring and managing talent. While facing changes has always been part of the daily routine and strategy of PSM organizations, being too confident would be a fatal mistake. The current changes are happening with an unprecedented speed and towards new and unknown directions. While in the past PSM were able to own, appeal to and retain the key individuals, the state-of-the-art knowledge and the right skills, this is not the case anymore.

Nowadays, PSM companies face an enormous human resources challenge, which cannot be solved entirely by training, developing or replacing their staff but will force them to engage in new partnerships with a broad and diverse array of market players, private and public ones. The past isolation, even physical, of public service media is becoming a tremendous burden, hindering their adaptation to the networked society.

Secondly, PSM need to work on their legitimacy. Otherwise, any change and achievement in their evolution or adaptation will be useless. But addressing PSM’s legitimacy goes beyond the constant discussion of the raison d’être of public service media that is very popular in academic or legal circles. In the current context, in order to maintain or even renew their legitimacy, public service media need more than ever to demonstrate their value and the benefits they deliver to their multiple stakeholders.

In fact, I would dare to state that this is the most critical problem for the future of PSM: politicians, market players and, most importantly, the citizens, do not understand what public service media stand for and what value they deliver. And while their intrinsic or moral values are still important, they are no longer enough ← 10 | 11 → for them to gain the political, market and social support they need. Nowadays, other types of value provided by PSM (individual, use, or exchange value) need to occupy a greater place in the public discussion about PSM’s existence, role and scope.

Furthermore, PSM need to urgently understand that the concept of value is fairly relative, as it shaped by the consumers’ perception, i.e. whether, in their eyes, that service meets a particular need. Consequently, finding out and understanding what the needs of PSM stakeholders are must be a priority.

As a result of the work that I have been carrying out at the Media Intelligence Service of the EBU in the last years, I am pretty convinced that public service media organizations still have a chance. However, acknowledging the current challenges and threats is the first requirement. Looking into another direction or continuing to preach the historical benefits of PSM will not bring any solution.

Secondly, a new mindset for PSM executives and staff is absolutely necessary. It is what we call the PSM Contribution to Society and it is based in three premises:

This new mindset should result in internal changes, a new strategy, a new offer and a new approach to accountability that revamps not only the concept of public service media but the structure and performance of its providers. Parallel to this, ← 11 | 12 → and being essential to address the issue of PSM’s legitimacy, the Contribution to Society mindset should also result in a renewed advocacy strategy. A key element of the latter will be a new narrative about PSM.

In order to address the scenario described above, respond to criticisms, renew their legitimacy, and bolster their political, market and social support, PSM organizations need to craft a comprehensive set of fact-based arguments about their remit, role and very importantly, their value. And this, together with a revamp of their communication strategies and techniques, should result in a renewed, inspiring and meaningful narrative about PSM that repositions it as a societal asset instead of the current picture of being an unnecessary cost.

This book addresses many of the challenges, opportunities, risks and obstacles that PSM faces nowadays. It provides an overall and comprehensive perspective, and points out some of the key steps that PSM organizations will need to take in the coming years and that could eventually result in the definition and adoption the new mindset we claim for PSM.

The editors have done a good job in the selection of the contributors, and thanks to the diversity in their origin and expertise the book offers a rich variety of perspectives, reflections and proposals. It is certainly a work that will contribute to closing a bit of the gap between academic scholar and professional practitioners, as the latter will find inspiring ideas in the following pages. And I hope that altogether this book will shed some light on how public service media, thanks to their values and performance, can continue to be an essential asset of the democracy, the culture, the technology and the economy of our European societies.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (January)
Public service media Change management Media policy Digital media Network media
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 252 p., 8 b/w ill., 11 b/w tables.

Biographical notes

Michał Głowacki (Volume editor) Alicja Jaskiernia (Volume editor)

Michał Głowacki is an Assistant Professor at the University of Warsaw, Poland. Alicja Jaskiernia is an Associate Professor at the University of Warsaw, Poland.


Title: Public Service Media Renewal
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254 pages