Public Service Media in a Networked Society
Public Service Media in a Networked Society
Various governments, often in collusion with crony capitalists, want to control public media; choosing to be detached from such influences is essential.
The notion of ‘detachment’ implies something that could be connected but is not, and this by choice. There is also a problem of implied negativity in detachment, but to see this only in that sense would be overly simplistic. Connection is less complicated conceptually, perhaps, but equally complicated in practice. Detachment and connection can be understood as a continuum that is an essential feature of networked societies and the emerging media system in the 21st century.
The complicated relationship between detachment and connection was a focal point of discussions among the 100 or so participants in the RIPE@2016 conference last week at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. Cutting through and across many of these was the character and complexity of the media-society relationship as a tension between being connected and being detached.
Public media are supposed to be connected. That is implied by the public designation and is required in legal mandates in most cases. At the same time, it is important to be detached in several aspects that are fundamental to the intention to be a service for civil society. Here the issue of media independence matters because policies and activities are undermining that in many nations.
Various governments, often in collusion with crony capitalists, want to control public media. In practice, it reverts to state media. Choosing to be detached from such influences is essential, although difficult to achieve in many instances.
In other dimensions, however, detachment merits the negative connotation. This is especially the case when public service media organizations resist accountability, only give lip service to public participation, or fail to ensure relevance in their contents and services.
This often happens when management positions are awarded as ‘sugar plum’ jobs to party supporters who may speak the language of citizenship, civil society and inclusiveness but act in ways that preclude much of that.
In such respects, connection is the greatest challenge, and even under ideal democratic society conditions it can be devilishly difficult to accomplish.
Accountability can facilitate opportunities to interfere, control and constrain. And while public participation is an ambition, many people don’t feel heard or taken seriously and remain detached from these organizations.
All of this matters greatly in the quickening development of networked societies that fundamentally depend on networked communication systems. As Peter Lunt, Chair of the workgroup on PSM and social media, remarked in the closing session of the RIPE@2016 conference, “in networked systems the media terrain is flattened.”
In consequence, PSM providers are often less valued and used, especially among youth populations.
Steve Paulussen chaired the workgroup on PSM and journalism. This group agreed that trust is always difficult to earn and easily lost – often through no fault of the journalists but because self-interested governors damage their public integrity.
One point of agreement across the six topical workgroups, as articulated by Philip Savage for the workgroup on audiences and participation, is great need for a profound user-based and –centred theory of public service in media. This was linked with the importance of developing a richer conceptualization of the intermediary role of public service media.
Producing content continues to matter to a significant degree, but it is unlikely to be enough for public service in a networked society because distributing, accessing, curating and even advocacy are important public service functions, a point highlighted by Manuel Puppis in conclusions from the workgroup on the PS remit today.
In concluding remarks from the workgroup that focused on power and policy, John Jackson’s group agreed that although PSM must co-operate with many actors and be held accountable, it is vital to cherish and defend core values that legitimate the public service approach to mediation.
PSM providers would do a great disservice in surrendering the independence necessary to define their key roles and operationalize their essential functions.
Addressing the remit in practice, Jo Bardoel’s group believe PSM will remain a crucial part of the emerging ecology if it remains true to the core values that are its irreplaceable grounds for social legitimacy.
This can be lost if the resources are insufficient to finance continuity of services, however, or if the networked communications infrastructure is controlled by commercial industries to a degree that allows choking out public services to advantage profit-related interests.
This article was published here with the permit of the author.
The final conclusions will be developed in the RIPE@2017 Reader. The entire series of Readers published since 2003 is available in PDF format as free downloads from the Nordicom website. This series provides a rich history of scholarly research and thought-leadership on the development of public service media in the early 21st century.