Background Paper for PSB Conference, 10 October 2003

<CENTER>This Conference has been organised by

the International Federation of Journalists,

with the Support of European Parliament President Par Cox and

EU Commissionner Günther Verheugen

Link to the Programme of the Conference

Download Word File


This conference to discuss strategies for the defence and promotion of public service broadcasting comes at a crucial time for the industry and for the workforce. Media actors and citizens alike are currently confronted by a growing number of problems:

- Scepticism about the quality of journalism and the role of media in society. People are losing confidence in broadcast information as radios and televisions are competing for viewers and keep under political influence or corporate greed (1);

- Concentration of media ownership at European and national level, pressures for deregulation of services at global level and the spectacular growth of the global media market is leading to an unprecedented commercialisation of media products;

- Digitalisation and new technologies are changing the way media professionals work, not always for the better, and bring a range of new customised services into the traditional mix of text and audiovisual media;

- As ever, the threat of political or corporate interference continues to plague the newsroom. Within the EU as well in new member states, corporate media or politicians put pressure on public broadcasters. Quality is declining, governments try to reduce the number of public broadcasters and still try impose their views to journalists in some countries.

What future for PSB?

The conference will discuss how to preserve the concept of “public” in broadcasting services. We need to restate, again and again, that broadcasting run on purely commercial terms is undesirable.

The European Union, despite a legal basis for the protection of public broadcasting defined in an additional Protocol to the Treaty and the defence of cultural diversity as stated in Art.151, is going through a major crisis of the public broadcasting systems.

The market consistently fails to produce the overall quality of broadcasting that people either individually of collectively desire and it takes no account of the community at large and of the complex relationship between citizenship, culture and community.

Pressure on public finances and the liberalisation of trade have begun to call into question the certainties of the past. Companies like ARD and ZDF in Germany, RAI in Italy, TVE in Spain, RTP in Portugal, TV2 in Denmark, ORF in Austria and the BBC in Great Britain have been seeking to maximise market share and increase their commercial revenues. In Italy, the conflict of interest of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who also owns the major commercial channels has not been solved, and the current draft law on communications plans to open RAI to private capital as well as to allow more media cross-ownership. Governments are often unwilling or unable to confront the challenge of reforming outdated public broadcasting systems in a highly competitive and technological environment.

Over the last 20 years many of Europe’s public broadcasters, many of them fat and complacent from years in the comfort zone of state support, have moved in a decidedly global direction. The BBC has been particularly expending, with operating revenues of more than €4 Billion, including publishing and Internet interests. It now ranks as the world’s 16th largest media corporation and the second largest in Europe. These changes have been at a cost.

The people who work in the industry find their jobs are less secure, they have to absorb and develop many new skills to accomplish tasks in a converged multi-media environment, and their intellectual property rights are undermined as media plunder their work for reuse and redistribution in new electronic information systems.

All of this takes place in the shadow of increasingly aggressive demands from private media corporations to diminish the social model of public broadcasting and to separate out commercial and public values in such a way as to consign public media, if it exists at all, to the margins of minority broadcasting.

Public Broadcasting in the Global Economy

The conference will also focus on the liberalisation of services, which was on the agenda of the World Trade Organisation for many years, in particular through the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The provisions of the GATS assume that in all service sectors should be deregulated, and even exemptions or restrictions fall under the rule of progressive liberalisation during negotiations in coming negotiating rounds (Art. 19 of the GATS).

Thus, there is no service sector that is theoretically exempted from GATS, and audiovisual services are de facto covered by the agreement. As far as the European Union is concerned, there is no legal provision in the Treaty on the European Union or any WTO agreement which would allow any special treatment of audio-visual services in the future. For the time being, the European Union puts forward exemptions from the most-favoured nation clause in the audio-visual sector, but there is no doubt that this issue will keep being a major point for future negotiations, under the pressure from trading partners such as the United States and Japan or from major developing countries such as Brazil and India.

The current mandate of the European Commission is to preserve cultural diversity according to Art 151 of the Treaty, and to keep audiovisual services out of the global liberalisation and deregulation process. The challenge of the enlarged Europe is to preserve the cultural diversity of its nations in the global market. Media are a key to policies relating to cultural diversity, freedom of information, and democracy.

There is currently a project in favour of a Convention on cultural diversity, based on two Declarations on Cultural Diversity adopted by the Council of Europe and UNESCO in 2000 and 2001. The European Commission has also published a communication on this issue in August 2003. Public broadcasting is a major element of cultural diversity and a vital aspect of balance between the public interest and wider media corporate that produce standardized products. A draft proposal of this convention has been submitted to UNESCO and we hope that it will be adopted by the UNESCO General Assembly in October 2005.

The civil society groups are currently debating the preparation of the World Summit of Information Society (WSIS) and there is no doubt that the very existence of independent non-commercial media are pre-condition for an information society based foremost on human, and not on technology or corporate powers.

Public broadcasting is also –and foremost- about people. As Article 8 of the draft declaration of the WSIS suggests, we need a “peopled centered Information Society”. Citizens should have the right to access to independent, quality oriented and pluralistic information. Globalisation, which up until now has been driven by a charmed circle of trade bureaucrats, political elites and corporate leaders, is increasingly challenged by and emerging global alliance of social, cultural and democratic citizens groups who seek a softer, more human scale, form of international trade.

The opportunity for a digital age to provide entertainment, information and education is accessible to an increasing number of people all over the continent. However, when it is managed with little respect for public service values or reduced to its role only on paper, it turns against democracy and civil society.

Today’s global worldview is managed by around ten multi-billion dollar media corporations. Below them, in the second rank, are around 50 powerful regional media groups. There is a current trend within the European Union to deregulate media concentration, and if nothing is decided by EU authorities, the size of regional media conglomerates will continue to grow . Whereas until recently the influence of American companies on the continent was limited compared to European companies, this situation is evolving quickly, with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation purchasing Italian pay-TV and other US media groups that invest in candidate countries.

This concentration can diminish national cultural diversity and the capacity for production of national programmes. In the cultural field, especially in the dissemination of news and comment, it is dangerous to rely entirely on foreign content.

New broadcasting values for new democraties

A key feature of the conference will be the debate on the problems of public broadcasting in many new member states.

All central and eastern European countries have won freedoms, but many are far from enjoying genuine media democracy and smoothly running economies. There have been enormous changes in the mass media landscape in these countries over the past years, especially with concentration of the private sector and massive restructurings in the former state media. Many Western media conglomerates have established themselves in the new member states. German, Austrian, Swiss, and Nordic media companies have largely carved up between them the private news media. But efforts to transform the former state broadcasters into genuine public broadcasters have been insufficient for many years. Though new media laws have been adopted and officially implemented in all the countries, there have been numerous infringements and delays in their application.

Enterprise is important, in media as in other areas of economic life, but the argument that the market alone can be the guarantor of freedoms, prosperity and security is exposed as false, especially in the media sector when there happen to be a period of strong political and social change.

People want prosperity, but they also yearn for democracy, civil liberties and security. Central to the idea of the democratic society is that of the well-informed and self-determining individual. People must be able to receive information, they must be able to make sense of it in the context of their lives, and information must reflect the diversity of the cultural and political society in which they live.

Meanwhile, in Eastern Europe, regulation and administration of media in some countries has been heavily politicised throughout the nineties. Parties have been competing for influence on boards of management of television and radio. In some cases, eloquent and elegantly expressed laws and regulations for the operation of media, which would normally bring public broadcasting into line with European norms, are distorted by continuing unhealthy relations between politics and journalism.

In some cases, well-meaning efforts to bring about reform have been misjudged. The rush to open markets has diminished the role and importance of public broadcasting, and created inequalities on the national market. Journalists and others find themselves stranded in a no-man’s land between arrogant commercialism and politically compromised state broadcasting structures that are bankrupt or increasingly starved of the resources they need to survive.

The IFJ conducted several missions of investigation in Central Europe (Czech Republic, Hungary and Bulgaria) in the past years . Though the situation is different in each country, in all of these cases, the IFJ found itself confronting governments and political groups that were reluctant to give-up influence over media that were supposed to be public according to the law. The IFJ has been leading a campaign to defend the integrity and professionalism of public broadcasting in Central and Eastern Europe since 2002 , both in candidate countries and Stability Pact countries. It has also helped to set-up media observatories in several countries such as Czech Republic and Bulgaria.

Given the changing nature of the media market, the crisis of public and political confidence in public media and the profound problems facing people within the industry a new and co-ordinated approach is long overdue in Central and Eastern Europe.

Each country poses a set of different problems. In each, journalists, media professionals, politicians and civil society are engaged to a different degree in broadcasting questions. The aim of this conference is to recall major principles and to set EU priorities for a strong and efficient policy in favour of public broadcasting.

We call for editorial independence, quality content, guarantee of financing and the restoration of public service values in media policy. The mission of public broadcasting is vital to those who work in media, but it’s of fundamental value to democratic society.

We see, too, the need for confidence-building actions to strengthen independent professional and trade union organisation of broadcasting staff, not under the shadow of any political elite, but able to press politicians on all sides to deliver effective and genuinely independent structures for public broadcasting. In all of this the primary aim is to challenge journalists and programme-makers to enforce editorial regimes that are professional and free of political influence.


The aim of this conference on public service broadcasting seems to be uncontroversial, however there are reform needs in both the current EU states and in new member states. The potential rewards of tackling this issue seriously at European level are enormous not just for new member countries, but also for a wider expression of European solidarity in the struggle for freedom of expression, cultural diversity and democracy.

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(1) According to an opinion poll in France (BVA/Liberation, August 2003), 70% of the people think that media avoid reporting on issues that could “harm to influencial people“ and only 20% of them trust radio and television for a “precise, complete and trustworthy“ information.

(2) UNESCO : Universal Declaration and Action Plan on Cultural Diversity, November 2001

Council of Europe : Declaration on Cultural Diversity, December 2000

European Commission : “Towards and international instrument on cultural diversity“, COM (2003) 520 final

(3) See IFJ Study :

European Media Ownership: Threats on the landscape, January 2003.

(4) See IFJ Study :

Foreign Ownership in Central and Eastern European Media : Ownership, Policy issues and Strategies, June 2003.

(5) Reports of IFJ Missions to Bulgaria :

April 2001

September 2001

Report of IFJ Mission to Hungary, February 2001

Report of IFJ Mission to Czech Republic, January 2001

(6) IFJ Public Broadcasting Campaign : Budapest meeting, 15-17 February 2002