Public Service Media: is the future so gloomy?

Co-presented with the Department of Media and Communications and Sydney Democracy Network, the University of Sydney

The ABC’s funding will be cut by $120m over the next four years as a result of decisions made by the Australian Federal Government in May’s budget. Many other public service media around the world are in a similar difficult position. Facing growing political hostility, economic uncertainty, stuttering online development, and a nerve-racking lack of investments, the future of the Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) model is rather gloomy. This event, co-hosted by the University of Sydney’s Media and Communications Department, the Sydney Democracy Network and Sydney Ideas takes a closer look at that future.

PSB’s traditional role as a guardian of the public sphere, its impartiality and the quality of its programming is increasingly being undermined by the proliferation of multi-channel platforms, the progressive fragmentation of audiences and increased competition for revenues in a global market. Moreover, the recent economic downturn and the cyclical decline in advertising revenues have put the private media sector under serious pressure around the world. As a consequence, private media enterprises are increasingly lobbying national authorities to reduce regulatory control on their sector, while asking funding cuts for PSBs. The number of supporters of the liberal market mantra which sees PSBs just as a policy tool to correct ‘market failures’ has steadily increased in the recent past. Meanwhile digitization has proven to be both a blessing and a curse: on the one hand, it allows PSBs to explore new ways to reach out and engage with their audiences; on the other hand the inevitable fragmentation of the market and the proliferation of offers undermine the historical economical and social significance of PSBs.

Drawing on examples of national PSBs ranging from the UK to USA, from Italy to Australia, our guests will examine in detail these trends and suggest possible solutions. The key questions they will seek to answer are: is there an alternative to the PSB model? Is the system doomed? Is reform possible? Or will democracy be better off without PSBs?

Panellists

Professor Andrew Calabrese

Professor Andrew Calabrese is a faculty member of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Colorado Boulder. His research centres mainly on the relationship between communication media and citizenship with an emphasis on theoretical and practical issues of media and globalization. He edits a book series called Critical Media Studies for the publisher Rowman & Littlefield and serves on editorial boards of several research journals. He is a board member of the European Institute for Communication and Culture.

Professor John Keane

John Keane is Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney and at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB). He is the Director of the Sydney Democracy Network (SDN). Renowned globally for his creative thinking about democracy, John Keane was educated at the Universities of Adelaide and Toronto and King’s College, University of Cambridge. Among his best-known books are The Media and Democracy (translated into more than 25 languages); the biography Tom Paine: A Political Life (2009); and the recently published Democracy and Media Decadence (2013). HisLife and Death of Democracy was short-listed for the 2010 Non-Fiction Prime Minister's Literary Award. It is the first full-scale history of democracy for over a century.

Dr Benedetta Brevini

Dr Benedetta Brevini is Lecturer in Communication and Media at the University of Sydney and Visiting Fellow of Centre for Law Justice and Journalism at City University She is author of Public Service Broadcasting Online: A Comparative European Policy Study of PSB 2.0 (2013) and co-editor of the volume Beyond WikiLeaks: Implications for the Future of Communications, Journalism & Society (2013). Her work has appeared in international publications such as the European Journal of Communication, Interaction: Studies in Communication and Culture, Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture, Political Communication Polcom. She is a member of the coordinating committee of the UK based Media Reform Coalition whose role is to coordinate the most effective contribution by civil society groups, academics and media campaigners to debates over media regulation, ownership and democracy.

Dr Fiona Martin

Dr Fiona Martin is a Discovery Early Career Research Award fellow and Senior Lecturer in Convergent and Online Media at the University of Sydney. Her research investigates the uses, politics and regulation of online media (internet, web, mobile devices and IPTV) and their implications for media industry change. She has a particular interest in the evolution of public service media and is co-author and editor of The Value of Public Service Media: RIPE@2013 (2013), a contributor to Ethics for Digital Journalists (2014) and to Histories of Public Service Broadcasting Online (2012). Her current ARC funded projects are Mediating The Conversation analysing the politics and cultures of public commenting on news and opinion websites internationally, and Moving Media, investigating mobile Internet and mobile media policy for digital citizenship. Fiona is a former community and ABC radio broadcaster, a cross-media journalist and journalism educator. She tweets @media_republik and @mobileinternetz.

Dr Giovanni Navarria

Dr Giovanni Navarria (chair) is currently Post-Doctoral Fellow of the Sydney Democracy Network at the University of Sydney. He holds a PhD in Politics from the University of Westminster and has published research on the relation between media, government, activism, and power and his work has appeared as academic articles, as book chapters, in online journals, and in conference proceedings. His research interests include the relationship between authoritarian regimes in Asia and the language and tactics of democracy; the role new communication media have in politics; the meaning of representation and the role of civil society in contemporary democracies. He is currently working on a book project focusing on the effects communication media have on prevailing power-dynamics between State and citizens in the authoritarian regimes of the Asia-Pacific region.