09.50 - Enrique Bustamante, Complutense University of Madrid, examined the missions currently assigned to public services in the principal European countries, starting with the situation in Spain where a state-owned public service coexists with the public television networks of the regional Autonomous Communities and some local public broadcasters.
According to Bustamante, the reform of the RTVE public service, undertaken by the Spanish government of Rodríguez Zapatero between 2005 and 2007, was a qualitative leap forward, as regards its autonomy in contrast to political power, its financial regeneration and the definition of the mission of analogical and digital TV. However, at a regional level, the exclusive jurisdiction of the autonomous governments led them to take different paths. In addition the introduction of Sarkozy's model in 2009 with the prohibition of advertising on public television, as from 1st January 2010, has led to stringent requirements and limitations for the state public service in parallel with extensive deregulation of the private sector.
The transition to digital has thus resulted on the one hand in a weakening of the public service, and on the other hand, with the growth of two large private groups, Telecinco and Antenna3TV that are starting to constitute a duopoly in the advertising market, in addition to a group of secondary private networks in a d angerous alliance of the state with the European protective associations of the media. The last straw is that the private groups that have the means to tackle the digital switchover are practically asking for public support from the European Commission and the Spanish government. It is therefore crucial at this point to recover and reassess the role of the public service.
Pierre Musso, University of Rennes, focused his attention on the effects of the reform adopted by the Sarkozy government in March 2009 which removed advertising from France Télévisions.
His analysis begins with an examination of the history of French television, which exhibits three different views of pluralism: from 1950 to 1975 pluralism meant the public monopoly, from 1975 to 1995 pluralism was identified with the plurality of operators in the field, while from 1995 to 2010 (in particular with the law of March 9th 2009) pluralism has come to be seen as competition with a strong defence of private media groups and with a fragmentation of the audiovisual field which has been accentuated with the introduction of digital terrestrial television. From the monolithic dominant block that it was, French television is evolving in the direction of total fragmentation and there are two paradoxical consequences of this: on one hand the more the public sector is weakened, the more its obligations are reinforced, and on the other hand the more competition, digitization and the audience is increased, the more the public sector becomes regulated. Professor Musso also analyzed in detail the Law of March 2009 which introduced three reforms: above all the appointment and dismissal of the President of France Télévisions by the President of the Republic; then the creation of a "single company" which transforms the national television programming companies France 2, France 3, France 4, France 5 and RFO into services belonging to the France Télévisions group; and lastly the progressive phasing out of advertising. In order to renew public television it is therefore necessary to become free from these paradoxes thanks to a regulation of the audiovisual sector as a whole, which would apply to both the public and the private sectors.
Francisco Rui Càdima, New University of Lisbon, focused his intervention not so much on the Portuguese case as on the wider European issue. The global crisis in the field of audiovisual media has had a significant impact on the media system. A change is necessary, as well as the introduction of a clear distinction between public service media content and the offer of commercial operators, both in the radio-television broadcasting system and in the new world of the Net, so as to encourage and improve the legitimacy of public service media. At this moment, with the steady migration of broadcasting to the Web, it is very important to evaluate the general level of public interest in any particular content, so that we can determine whether it is truly relevant to the mission of the public service.
We know that the generalized spread of the field of entertainment within broadcasting leads to a gradual de-politicization of the public, which implies a profound rethinking of the objectives, purpose, mission, contents, practices and distribution platforms of public media. This is no easy task since, although the digital universe does generate qualitative strategies within public service media, apparently controlled by systems for the assessment of their public value, there are paradoxically more difficulties and negative repercussions upon the old linear media system.
Matthew Hibberd, University of Stirling, is a new entry in our gathering of professors and experts. The title of his speech was Hard Times for the BBC? Well yes, they certainly are. It is a moment of strategic reassessment and reconsideration, with staff cuts and the revision of the Corporation's business plan. Then there is the problem of contents. One only has to think of the controversy created by the wiretapping issue, that created such a big commotion in the communications sector. The fact is that the public service is a situation of difficulty and we must start to worry about the general state of affairs. After all, the public service is extremely important. If it didn't exist we would probably have to invent it, for there are fundamental and political reasons for its existence.
For example communications can have a crucial role from the point of view of the democratic right to information and contents. There is a need for restructuring in this direction as regards the media as a whole. The BBC's current system of funding is probably the best possible option and it should therefore be preserved until a better one can be found. The BBC as well as all the current media are now going through an era of economic, but also ideological, austerity and w e must react effectively to this situation now. The public service media are defending themselves from attack, but they also have a crucial role in supporting technological and economic innovation. These new requirements need widespread support.
Roberto Suarez Candel, University of Hamburg, then intervened on behalf of Professor Uwe Hasebrink. He conducted a thorough analysis of the German television system and the current state of the public broadcasting service. The situation in Germany is greatly influenced by the importance the German constitution gives to the values of freedom of thought and access to information. The existence of public service broadcasters offering a universal, basic, varied, pluralistic and high-quality service is therefore the prerequisite for the development of private commercial channels. It is also important to bear in mind that in Germany, each Land is autonomous as regards the regulation of the media, the allocation of authorizations to public and private broadcasters and the legislation regarding the sector.
Since 1991 there has, moreover, been a treaty on inter-Länder Broadcasting (RStV) which, among other things, asserts that public broadcasting services should provide citizens with an offer that includes educational and cultural contents, information, public debate and entertainment. The strong position of public service broadcasting within the media system has however often resulted in conflicts and controversy. The commercial operators in the market believe that because of its funding mechanism the offer of the public broadcasters alters and distorts free competition. This heated debate has recently led to a long, complex and costly regulatory and bureaucratic process. The final result is the assessment procedure known as the 'Dreistufentest' (DST) (The 3 step test ), which is intended to assess the extent to which the offer conforms to the democratic, social and cultural needs of society; the extent to which this offer contributes towards editorial competition from a qualitative point of view ; and what financial commitment is required to implement the offer. This in turn has led to a series of complex consequences and controversies concerning its operation. Together with the assessment of the public service, one of the main subjects of discussion is the modification of its funding mechanism.
Beata Klimkiewicz, Jagellonian University of Kracow,
was next to intervene, speaking about the situation in Poland and Eastern Europe. The speed of the reforms imposed on public service media since the early '90s and the pace with which events have taken place has created many problems (funding, lack of contacts, carrying out the mission of the public service), which it has been sought to address with rather fragmented policies, often disconnected from their relationship with the public, normative expectations and the surrounding media environment. The quality of the public service in Poland is very high and the objective of the Government in 2009 was to confer a very precise mission upon the public service. The rules included the demand for a quality product, greater attention towards previously unknown groups of users and particular attention to the values of Christianity. The advent of the cross-media era nat urally leads to the need for a radical renewal. A new draft law of 2010 emphasizes the cultural role of the media and suggests that it should be independent from politics, while recommending an enhancement of its connection with public opinion . One of the criticisms which have been made about Polish public television is that it is too detached from its audiences while, thanks to the web, a number of radio stations have been able to create a better connection with their listeners. At this point professor Klimkiewicz asked whether in fact the need to define the mission of the public service is an old question, which in time we have lost contact with.
Giuseppe Richeri, University of Lugano, recalled that national social cohesion is certainly a prime objective for public broadcasting. But this goal is now increasingly difficult to maintain and to reinforce under the various pressures of localism and internationalization present in many countries, to which, particularly in Europe, an increase in cultural and social diversification is added. Conceiving of public television programming articulated on many different channels, enlarged to include the various offers via Internet, and capable of conveying values, experiences and agendas aimed at creating elements of collective identity, absolutely requires a profound rethinking of the public service. Faced with this situation, in order to pursue its objectives public television either needs to reacquire a large slice of the audience that is has lost, which promises to be a rather complex objective, or it must admit that this section of the public can no longer be regained.
Above all Professor Richeri wanted to remind us that in order to perform its functions of collective interest public television must become free from the logic of competition with commercial operators, which inevitably involves a revision of the modalities of funding from advertising. For the first time, we have begun to systematically measure and assess public opinion and the choices of the public, for example, between public and private television. The final aspect of the new law focused attention on the new media. All web contents produced by radio and television programs must have a connection to radio and television programming. It is prohibited to carry out business activities on the public television networks web as well as having links to commercial sites.
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