A short reflection on public service broadcasting in Europe. To be able to take part in current debates on the status and future for public service media, the importance of background and political context must be emphasized.
Trying to grasp debates on the future of public service media, one can consider the case of public service television in Europe and discover how strikingly restricted the EU and the EU-Commission have been, and still are, in the regulatory process. It is relevant to consider the fact that Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) in Europe historically was justified on technical grounds. There was a lack of frequencies and the existing technology was offering limited space for broadcasters. But there were also a normative set of values and an underlying philosophy based on western traditional thoughts on democracy. Even to this day and age we use the same argument to justify the role of public service media. But since the 1980’s increased competition in the marketplace and arguments favouring market ideology have made it harder for PSB to make a case for itself. On a European level it still seem to exist strong characterizations of political, cultural and linguistic heterogeneity (despite efforts for unification). Perhaps it’s natural considering the fact that Europe once, and not to long ago, was divided by the Iron Curtain. Looking at it from a classical east-west horizon, PSB still stands for western values. Even if mission statements are different among the member states, there are still a few common references which shape a shared value ground for broadcasters as a symbol of service in a universal context, a service to all on equal terms and with a broad range of programme genres, signified by diversity. Together with similar guidelines, these mentioned constitute a range of factors which unify PSB in Europe. The common values customized the Protocol on PSB, added to the treaty of Rome, the ‘constitution’ of the EU, in 1997. From this and along with free trade and market economy, PSB represents joint European values.
Regarding the Amsterdam Protocol, the document can be seen as an attempt to solve the strong conflict between rules of competition in the EU and the state involvement for PSB. The conclusion of the protocol is that regulations of PSB are up to each member state to legislate about, which naturally has led to strong complaints from commercial broadcasters, arguing against the special status of PSB given in the EU. This is an important contextual framework to consider when looking upon PSB as a potential tool for unifying Europe and working together to establish a European identity. The difficulties are obvious when the mission statements still are in the hand of the member states, and illustrate yet another evidence of ruling present national domains. In this context, the national still holds a strong position in an ever growing media world based on diverse interests and consumer oriented approaches. neither can we ignore the fact that PSB needs to transform and proceed through new organizational and regulatory dimensions to survive.