Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Managing Transformation in the Public Polymedia Enterprise: Amalgamation and Synergy in Finnish Public Broadcasting

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Managing Transformation in the Public Polymedia Enterprise: Amalgamation and Synergy in Finnish Public Broadcasting

Article excerpt

Traditional values legitimating the public service approach to broadcasting (PSB) have been articulated as a contrast with the private commercial approach (e.g., Briggs, 1961; Reith, 1942). Tenuous even during the monopoly era, this view is increasingly untenable given the escalation of commercial competition in Europe since the mid 1980s. Today's operational environment demands mastery of market-oriented theory and market-driven practices. In a previous article, the authors investigated this transformation process in the Finnish context and concluded that Yleisradio (YLE) has tackled the challenges by pursuing a culture-industry identity (Lowe & Alm, 1997). The emphasis on culture reflects continuity with the historical character of European PSB. The strengthening emphasis on industrial logic reflects changes required by competition. Transformation can be conceptualized as a dialectical dynamic of continuity and change linked in continual metamorphosis.

In this article the authors elaborate on managerial dynamics in the transformation process. We want to better understand how PSB managers handle the process, and the ways in which managerial challenges demonstrate institutional-environmental connections. We begin with an overview of "value transformation process" and the concept of "market multiplicity" to clarify the internal (institutional) and external (contextual) dynamics that frame our analysis of "management arenas." These ideas are applied in relation to YLE's catalytic role in the digitization of Finnish broadcasting, which was undertaken in response to political policies that demand the company play a leading role in building the infrastructure necessary for a Finnish "Digital Age Information Society" (European Commission, 1997; Ministry of Transport and Communications, 1998). Analysis illuminates two paradoxes that illustrate transformation dynamics -- amalgamation and synergy. This article suggests that scholarly consideration of contemporary PSB is essential because:

(1) The transformation process is creating hybrid approaches that blend traditional public service values with the market-driven practices that ground private commercial broadcasting. Scholarship about change should not neglect countervailing imperatives for continuity.

(2) Much contemporary scholarship lamenting the demise of public broadcasting is perhaps premature. The public service approach is undergoing intensive revision, but scholarship that portrays this as the "death" or "fall" of public broadcasting is arguably suspect.

(3) Too little media scholarship contributes to the articulation of an inappropriate theory of public mediation in the market-driven context. There is a worrisome disconnection between public media scholars and broadcasters.

What follows should engage scholars committed to the vitality of the public sphere in contemporary societies. At stake is the complexion and viability of public mediation.

Value Transformation and the Market Multiplicity

Management science literature emphasizes change as the essential ingredient for modern corporate practice (e.g., Ackoff, 1999; Beer, Eisenstat, & Spector, 1990; Hamel & Prahalad, 1994; Kotter, 1995; and Zohar, 1999). Most treatments neglect the contradictory importance of continuity. Although "transformation" is typically used as a synonym for change, we conceive it as a dialectical tension linking change and continuity as contradictory but corresponding aspects -- a necessary unity of opposition as in the familiar Tai Chi dynamic of yin and yang (see Capra, 1975; Morgan, 1986). This dialectical perspective is useful because negotiating institutional identity and legitimacy is rarely a dichotomous proposition.

Negotiation is premised on compromises between competing values. In this case, it focuses on what the public service endeavor ought to be about to justify how it should be done. Normative judgments are articulated as value constructs. …

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