Assistant Professor Institute of Journalism and Social Communication Jagiellonian University - Krakow - Poland.
Some remarks on Public Service Media (PSM) reform: the Central and East-European Countries (CEE) perspective
European public service media are undergoing one of the deepest changes during their very existence not only due to the redefinition of their function in a new communication environment and increasing regulatory pressure from the European Commission in terms of clarifying their remit and financial relationship with their governments (*1) but also because of new political choices inspired by commercial incentives (removal of advertising in Spain and France) or populist reasons (abolition of licence fee in Hungary and policy debate about this solution in Poland and the Czech Republic).
How this new – technological, economic and, most importantly, political - constellation affects the perception and shaping of regulatory mechanism within which public service media have operated so far? Does policy-making process concerning Public Service Media reflect democratic expectations? Does it evolve towards a converged pan-European model driven largely by a commercial logic, but still effectively controlled by party politics rather than forces of representative democracy? All these questions necessarily appear as Public Service Media in many European countries strive to defend their territory and identity in a more competitive environment abounding with delivery platforms and services.
Poland and other Central European countries seem to fit perfectly as a laboratory case in this matter: in the last 20 years, public service media have been created through a far-reaching media system reform, placed under subsequent regulatory changes and now, in many instances institutionally weakened – either through modes of financing (removal of licence fees at the expense of financing from the state budget) or through the shift of public service mission to private/commercial broadcasters. In other words, Public Service Media phases of development – introduction, growth, maturity and decline – have been marked by different length and intensity than in other European countries or regions. Some stages (maturity) have not yet developed, others –although shorter - appeared to coincide with development phases of commercial broadcasters (growth). Moreover, new understanding and conceptualization of media (less as institutionalised and quite homogenous centres of a media system and more as services and applications available on the net) creates a new discursive space where justification of a centralised institution seems even more difficult.
Public service media in Poland and other Central and East-European countries were born as a product of a profound media system change starting in 1989. Normative expectations revolved around two prerequisites. One aimed at achieving a full independence both from the State and party politics. The second assumed a partial independence from the market forces through the dual source of financing enabling Public Service Broadcasting to obtain sponsorship and advertising, and also to receive a licence fee or a some form of the state support (for instance for the production of educational programmes) for the public mission parts of its service. These aspirations met many practical difficulties.
At the general level, at least three limitations can be extracted: First, ‘new’ Public Service Media preserved institutional continuity of former state media, in the case of TV, originated in the period of communism. Second, although there was a domestic option for a three-level broadcasting system composed of public, private/commercial and social/civic media, finally, a solution inspired by a will to copy the legal and institutional framework of West-European dual model prevailed. The ideas such as a three-level broadcasting system that came into being during the roundtable negotiations in 1989 in Poland, appeared to entail a range of practical difficulties (*2). As a result, not only dual system was ‘borrowed’ from West European media landscape and policy tradition, but also Public Service Media pattern and regulatory authorities, were modelled after West European institutional patterns. At the same time, it should be noted that a great variation across Western Europe in the historical and social processes has shaped different Public Service Media models in practice, and that the so-called ‘West-European (or professional and autonomous) model’ is but one normative abstraction from those processes (*3).
Third, the starting point of Public Service Media (PSM) institutional birth in Poland and other Central European countries overlapped with enhanced critique and Public Service Media crisis in the Western part of Europe. On the one hand, a normative ‘West European Public Service Media model’ has been taken for granted, forcing scholars and policy-makers to frame their assessment and reflections primarily in terms of how well (or how poorly) EU Public Service Media solutions measure up to this normative model. On the other hand, the normative ‘West European Public Service Media pattern’ was put under the question before an alternative or successful Public Service Media reform could be fully completed in the Central and East - European countires. In given historical circumstances ‘a West European pattern’ has appeared obsolete, before it could be effectively transposed on EU ground in given social, political, cultural and technological conditions (*4).
These three circumstances determined quite specific course of action in Central and East - European countires that now needs alternative routes toward richer empirical and theoretical understanding of Public Service Media, both in terms of institutions and services offered across national or pan-European political and cultural space.
(1) H.E. Meier , “Beyond Convergence: Understanding Programming Strategies of Public Broadcasters in Competitive Environments.” In European Journal of Communication Vol. 18, No. 3, July-September 2003, pp. 337-365.
(2) - B. Ociepka , Dla kogo telewizja? Model publiczny w postkomunistycznej Europie Srodkowej (Who gets the television? The model of PSB in post-communist Central Europe), Wroclaw , Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wroclawskiego, 2003.
(3) See Peter Humphreys , Mass Media and Policy in Western Europe , Manchester, Manchester University Press., 1996 ; Daniel Hallin, Paolo Mancini , Comparing Media Systems: Three Models of Media and Politics , Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004, 358 p.
(4) Karol Jakubowicz , “Ideas in Our Heads: Introduction of PSB as Part of Media System Change in Central and Eastern Europe” In European Journal of Communication Vol. 19, No. 1, January-March 2004, pp. 53-74 [p. 67].