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Television in Europe’s New Democracies

Presenting his recent study on television in Europe's new democracies, Mark Thompson outlined the many difficulties facing Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) in most of the newly accessioned countries. Discussion focused on whether the European Union could do more to help strengthen PSB in central and Eastern Europe.

The Open Society Foundation promotes independent, high quality journalism in the media. The research performed by the Society concentrated on monitoring different aspects of the television media in Europe's transition states, mostly in Central and Eastern European. The key to the project was to examine to what extent the media was independent from government and political parties, and whether they were embracing the new technologies on offer.

The previous study, carried out in 2005, found that the state broadcasting was approaching a crisis, which was going largely unnoticed. It was suggested that only one or two post-communist countries (Slovenia and the Czech Republic) would survive this crisis.

Mark Thompson’s 2008 study called 'Television Across Europe: More Channels, Less Independence', revisited nine countries to see what had happened since the previous study was completed. His results (from Albania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Macedonia, Romania and Slovakia) found that:

  • PSB audiences have fragmented, especially among young people.  This has resulted in a dramatic decrease in ratings in most countries.
  • Ownership has become more concentrated.
  • Technology has converged.
  • Regulators have been contracting and not expanding.
  • The licensing process is a more routine affair.
  • Advertising is shrinking and migrating very rapidly to other platforms.

One suggestion discussed by the audience was whether more could be made of the EU’s Amsterdam protocol, where the EU would accept market intervention to enforce independence and separation between the government and the media. However, it was pointed out that the EU is reluctant to take steps which may impede democratic and cultural liberalization and, in many countries, there is little supportive tradition of independent institutions (such as a civil service) to sustain PSB. It was suggested that one way forward was to send Western journalists into these countries and setting up training programs on journalistic professionalism of a different kind. However, it was pointed out that this had already been taking place with few positive results.