Different Ways, Same Outcome? Liberal Communication Policy and Development of Public Broadcasting

By Joesaar, Andres | Trames, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Different Ways, Same Outcome? Liberal Communication Policy and Development of Public Broadcasting


Joesaar, Andres, Trames


1. Introduction

After the restoration of independence Estonia chose, compared to the other Central and Eastern European countries the most liberal way of development (Knell and Srholec 2007, Holmes et al. 2008). The latter was chosen for rebuilding the state as a whole, as well as designing the new media landscape. If to benchmark Estonian outcome with other Baltic states, new democracies in Central and Eastern European countries and 'old' Western European states, the question arises--are Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with low daily viewing numbers of PSB on media landscapes far ahead of the rest of Europe, or are these countries so badly falling behind that (Western) European standards can never be achieved? This research shows that a country's economic development (valued as Gross Domestic Product) is one characteristic which has a strong correlation with PSB performance in the past and most probably also in the future.

When analyzing the development of the public service broadcasting, according to the concepts of Blumler and Gurevitch (1995), the main characteristic of Baltic broadcasting landscape can be presented: media policy bias towards economic welfare of commercial broadcasters, whereas the public service interests are secondary. The implementation of the European Union media regulation and the economic situation of television stations, conditioned by the size of the Estonian television market, led to the enforcement of the legislation which was economically advantageous and protectionist towards commercial TV-stations owned by international corporations. As a result, profit for private television companies was guaranteed but, at the same time, the value of the offered contents diminished.

From the end of the 1980s, Eastern and Central European countries had the noble aim of changing from the communist regime towards free democratic welfare states. Among important aspects of development were changes in media systems. In transition states, commercial broadcasters were founded, state-owned print media was mainly privatized, state radio and television companies were turned into public service broadcasters. It has been challenging to reform vast communist party propaganda machines into efficient public service media. The European Union legislation had major impact on this process (Harcourt 2003, 2005, Jakubowicz 2003, 2004a, 2007a, 2008a, Joesaar 2005). 'Europeanization', as defined by Jakubowicz (2009), took place. Even when the Pan-European media policy aims--preserving cultural diversity and safeguarding media pluralism--were common, the ways chosen by countries and the achieved results vary a lot (Jakubowicz 2007a, 2007b, 2009, Ognyanova 2009, Richter 2009, Svendsen 2002, Wyka 2009).

EU media policy is grounded on common market ideology. The former Television Without Frontiers Directive (TVWF), now the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), does not take into account country-specific circumstances such as size of the national (and media) market, economic conditions, cultural and historical specific context. However, these are important factors which have a strong influence on media development and performance. Implementation of the same EU legal framework in different circumstances gives in different member states different results. The size of the market determines available resources. In smaller member states there are fewer resources available for national channels compared to niche channels of large states (Doyle 2002). In the first place, commercial broadcasters focus on broadcasting main stream programming. If a market is big enough for profitable business, and resources are available, the launch of niche channels will follow. Due to the market limitations, it is unprofitable to launch niche channels on smaller markets. The diversity of programming offered will be lower in smaller states than on large markets. Therefore PSB on a smaller market is even more responsible for delivering diversity programming and for high-quality information. …

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