Publication Date
January 1, 2008

The Open Society Institute (OSI)'s European Union (EU) Monitoring and Advocacy Program (EUMAP) and the Open Society Foundation's Media Program has released a new set of monitoring reports assessing changes in broadcasting legislation, policy, and markets and their impact on the independence of television. The 453-page report focuses on the latest changes in 9 countries: Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Italy, Lithuania, the Republic of Macedonia, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. These countries also featured in the OSI's original Television across Europe project (2005), which covered 20 countries. The new reports are sequels, measuring the progress - or lack of it - in improving the independence and pluralism of broadcasting in the previous 3 years. Recommendations to governments, international organisations, media, and regulatory bodies aim to ensure that television can play its role as a "pillar of democracy and open societies".

As stated in the document: "change is sweeping through television, and its future has never been so hard to predict. Surveys in several of the countries in our sample have found that traditional ways of watching television have seen a steep decline, especially among younger viewers, aged 16 to 25. The largest channels in each country have seen their ratings fall. Public service television, in particular, saw a decline in ratings – in most countries, a substantial decline. Although it increased its aggregate revenue across Europe, over the past three years, the public broadcasting sector has seen a drop of more than 4 percentage points in its total market share, while the commercial sector (both radio and TV financed by advertising) has grown modestly....As they attempt to keep pace with their publics' changing preferences, traditional broadcasters in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as those in Western Europe, are offering video content via the internet to keep up with the trend. Meanwhile their output is made available by the 'aggregators', which stream channels and programmes from multiple sources all over the world, over the internet."

Among the effects of new technologies is the lowered start-up cost because there is no need for traditional infrastructure. Because this rapid start-up possibility exists, there is a need of business models and professional standards to sustain new models. Disbursed advertising revenues have resulted from this transformation, causing financial challenges at a time when there is high demand for new content. Online access means that citizen journalism is growing alongside traditional journalism. However, the internet may encourage audience distraction and superficial habits of news consumption. "...[I]f these fears are valid, we may be growing less able to absorb the more demanding (and expensive) genres of journalism - the same genres which broadcasters are anyway less inclined to provide, for economic reasons."

Key patterns include: fragmentation in consumption; ownership consolidation - reducing the number of suppliers of media content; broadcast licensing relaxation; broadcast regulation contraction; and technology convergence - merging of telecommunications, cable, satellite, mobile operators, and traditional broadcasting. For public service broadcasters (PSBs), the key trends described here are over-extension, under-funding, and self-doubt. The trend in advertising is towards redistribution, as budgets are reallocated from traditional media to the internet.

Key findings include:

  • "Public service broadcasters (PSBs) suffer from mounting politicization and pressure, flawed funding models, and disintegrating reputations.
  • Broadcast regulators are also increasingly politicized. Only a few have taken initiatives to let a more diverse range of operators enter the market.
  • Public service content has not been boosted by incentives or obligations.
  • Transparency of commercial media ownership remains a major problem.
  • Although debate on media policy and reform has intensified, civil society is rarely consulted in a meaningful way.
  • There has been no concerted effort to promote media literacy. Where this happens at all, it is carried out mainly by [non-governmental organisations] NGOs."

Emails from Csilla Tóth and Marius Dragomir to The Communication Initiative on February 26 2009 and July 18 2009, respectively; and OSI News on March 18 2009.