PUBLIC SERVICE

Jean-Paul Philippot: Nordic public service - a democratic example that should be protected

Jean-Paul Philippot, president of the European Broadcasting Union PHOTO: EBU
Jean-Paul Philippot, president of the European Broadcasting Union PHOTO: EBU

PUBLIC SERVICE. The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has over 85 national media organizations as members from 56 countries in and around Europe. It has represented and served its Members for more than 60 years and promotes the values and distinctiveness of public service media in Europe and around the world. As President of the EBU, I am proud of our Union and it's history and within that context I am especially appreciative of the strong public service media tradition that has existed in the Nordic countries and in Sweden in particular.
   Jean-Paul Philippot is in Stockholm this week for Radio Assembly and wants to bring attention to the increasing threats against public service in Europe.

Publicerat onsdag 9 maj 2012 kl 10:01

For quite some time, public service media in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland have served as examples for the rest of Europe by demonstrating the clear link between properly-functioning public service media and properly-functioning democratic societies. In a Eurobarometer survey published recently by the European Commission, people in Sweden  expressed the highest degree of trust  in Swedish radio  and a similarly high degree of trust in Swedish television.

The results also demonstrated that there were similarly high levels of trust in both radio and tv within the other Nordic countries surveyed. Indeed, the Eurobarometer survey shows that there is strong public support for public service media in the Nordic countries. I am also very pleased to note that the strong trust in public service media in the Nordic countries is also complemented by broad political support.
    While the status of public service media in the Nordic countries remains relatively healthy and secure at this moment, the situation within the rest of Europe is a bit more troubled. 

Most European countries are facing a period of austerity and continued cutbacks and savings. In most of these countries, public service media are being asked to "share the pain", which is in some ways understandable. In the Netherlands,  for example, the resources for public service media for 2011 -2015 have shrunk by the equivalent of just over one billion SEK and in Ireland, 20 percent of the budget has been cut. However, there are also many countries where the  "sharing of the pain" is also being combined with undue pressures and intrusions on the mission of public service media.

In Portugal, there are forces within the government, who would like to combine the cutbacks of over 25% with large scale privatisation. In Spain, the current government intends to not only cut by 25% the overall budget, but also undermine the independence of the public service media by abolishing the  requirement of consensus for the appointment of top management, which will likely lead to very pro government appointees. Threats to political and editorial independence of public service media are also a concern in Hungary, where the powers of the regulatory Media Council would appear to all too often curry favour to the ruling party.

Such threats to the financial and editorial independence of public service media obviously undermine the very important link of trust that an informed citizenry needs to freely exercise its democratic rights and promote the goals of civil society. A true public service media organization cannot serve its public without having proper institutional guarantees of its independence and sufficient resources necessary to fulfil its public service mission and provide quality independent journalism.

In addressing these threats and drawing attention to the prerequisites for a proper public service media organization as mentioned, the EBU has traditionally been able to draw upon its Nordic members as a model for public service media in Europe and I trust that we will be able to continue to do so in the future.
   I am also counting on the continued support of our Nordic members as we confront the challenges facing broadcasters at the European and international level.

Technical convergence has now made it possible for citizens to access information and content at a time of their choosing via the internet and internet-connected broadcasting devices will be a standard in every household in the very near future. Public service media  will be part of this future and many of our members , particularly our Nordic members, have demonstrated their capacity to innovate in the production and distribution of news and content that will be our standard for the future.

However, in order to pursue this adaptation and innovation, we must contend with interests at the supra-national level, who wish to confine us to a sort of “media ghetto” by reducing our access to broadcasting spectrum and seeking to impose restrictions and more political control over our activities. In confronting these interests and arguments in Brussels and elsewhere, our Nordic members have been very influential and I trust that they will continue to make their influence felt in the future.

As you can see there are a number of challenges and threats facing public service media today and in the future. In confronting these, the EBU will continue to draw strength and support from the Nordic example, and Sweden in particular, as manifested by the high degree of public trust and the broad political support which public service media enjoy there.

In doing so, I expect that Nordic governments will continue to foster this spirit of public service, which is so crucial to their understanding of democracy.

Jean-Paul Philippot
President EBU

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