SPEECH published on 01 Jul 2014

The Role and Remit of Public Service Media

Speech made by EBU Director General Ingrid Deltenre


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have in fact three starting points for today.

The first one is that independent media, producing good journalism and high quality programmes, serving the people (majorities and minorities) contribute to the cultural diversity and social cohesion of a country and are the cornerstones of every democracy and economy.

My second point is, that the media, and especially public service media, are always a point of reference of a country. They mirror the culture, the level of democracy and the quality of the economy of a country.

And my third point is, that public service media can be the engine of change and improvement of the level of democracy and the efficiency of the economy. But in order to be this engine, they need the legal framework, sustainable funding and  the organization to do this.

But before I explain this, allow me to give you just a brief introduction to the EBU. The European Broadcasting Union represents 86 broadcasters in 56 countries. Our Members reach an audience of 650 million Europeans. That's a lot of people… which is why our Members - public service media - have such a major a role to play. A role enshrined in the very first Article of our Union's Statutes:

Among other things, "The purpose of the union is to contribute, in the field of broadcasting, to:

Safeguarding and improving freedom of expression and information, which is one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and one of the fundamental conditions for its progress and for the development of every individual".

For us as citizens to engage in the political debate, we need objective information on the issues that matter. We need information sources we can trust to be reliable and competent, sources which empower us to engage in topics and decision-making that influence our lives and those of our children. In short we need impartial, critical, well-trained and trustworthy journalists to explain our world - from the local to the global.

Such journalists, working for free and independent media organizations, have a vital role to play in holding the powerful to account. Politicians. Businessmen. Bankers. Criminals, including traffickers in drugs and people.  By posing questions and pursuing investigations, they serve their readers, listeners and viewers by reinforcing the principle that freedom and democracy in a society can exist only under the firm and uncorrupted rule of law. As the so-called "Fourth Estate", they can and should draw attention to injustice and inequalities.

Threats in any form made against even one member of the media, whether cub reporter or Director General, can have a destructive domino effect on an organization or even a country’s entire media workforce. It can terrify them into silence and self-censorship, and this is usually the intention. In addition a high turnover of Director Generals for example together with unclear rules and responsibilities lead not only to highly inefficient organisation but affects the trustworthiness of the media as a whole.

I mentioned in the beginning, that the media, especially public service are also a mirror of the quality and efficiency of the economy of a country.

Statistics show that countries with low levels of media freedom have high levels of corruption. So we can clearly say that not only democracy is weakened, but also the economy is undermined. That is why independent media and especially free and independent public media have an important role to play now and in the future for the democracy and the national economy.

Of course there are some very wealthy and fortunate countries. Their economic power is built on their wealth of natural resources such as Oil, Gas and Gold. They do well despite the high level of corruption. But I am convinced that unless these countries do not develop their political institutions, the economic power of the country’s ruling elite is not going to last. Since sustainable economic power is built on innovation and hard work.

It sounds pretty old fashioned, I admit, but I guess reality is proving me right. All sustainable powerful countries and economies are true democracies with a strong and independent media eco system. I am not aware of any exception of this rule.

To innovate you need the freedom of thought, the freedom of expression and discussion and educated people.

The gap between the rich and the less rich in democracies is much smaller than the gap between the rich and the less rich in non-democratic countries. That is one of the reasons why I believe that democracies are more sustainable. And there are of course many other reasons.

The foundation of strong democracies and strong economic powers are:

  • independent institutions
  • the separation of powers
  • well trained and educated people
  • and of course independent media.


Today more people have access to more information, to more sources (good and bad), and to more media, than any previous generation. Freedom of expression and of access to information has never been as extensive as it is today. The internet and mobile devices have multiplied information flows in ways authorities find hard or impossible to control. The internet is a force of democracy. The availability of satellite dishes has increased the reach and influence of global news channels.

But internet, television and radio channels are also used to spread propaganda, biased government information. The good news is, that this propaganda is easier to disguise as in the past. The internet has become a powerful tool of democratization, more powerful in some ways, and some countries, than traditional media.

Nevertheless, no society can rely solely on bloggers, tweeters, citizen journalism and social media. Journalism is a craft - some would say a profession. It puts issues in context in a way that helps citizens make their own judgments. Sometimes it has the power to bring down a government. Everyone knows how the persistent investigative journalism of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein into the so-called Watergate Affair led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. So good journalism, great journalism, can wield enormous power. This is of course why governments seek to control the media. And why in the worst cases journalists are killed simply for doing their jobs. "Dying to tell the story".

Of course there is bad journalism as well as good. Important stories are neglected in favour of trivia, for reasons of cost as well as of audience ratings. In Britain, a phone hacking scandal involving Rupert Murdoch's News of the World has shown how media can abuse their freedom to produce scandal stories through illegal means. The German President had to resign because of wrong allegations.  The media had concluded he was guilty long before the judge pronounced him innocent. The ones pointing at scandals became the scandal themselves.

We are well aware that there is sometimes a deplorable confusion between what interests the public - and sells newspapers - and what is truly in the public interest. It has nothing to do with good and ethical journalism, and is why in some countries journalists are almost as unpopular as estate agents or used car salesmen.

But despite these negative developments, no government would want to control the media and reduce the freedom of expression. Not even the economic crisis has changed this.  Many of you might be aware, that the public broadcaster in Greece has been closed down, only to be re-launched a couple of weeks later.

No country in Europe believes that it could do without a public broadcasting system. And there are other reasons besides the role of public broadcasting with regard to the informed citizenship:

It is very expensive to produce high quality programmes in news, entertainment and culture, to distribute them is cheap and comes at almost no additional cost. This situation leads almost automatically to media concentration. Size matters.

And this brings me to the topic of the remit of a public broadcaster.

Public broadcasters are in many countries the most trusted source of information and the most important cultural institutions. They matter, because they reach the whole population. They matter because they provide trusted news and information, they matter because they create events, that bring the nation together, they matter because they produce entertaining fiction and fantastic documentaries that enrich our knowledge, they matter because they contribute to finding new talents in music and drama. The matter, because they are still able to gather the people to share the same moments. In a connected and fragmented society they still can be the campfire of the nation.

The members of the EBU the public broadcasters have agreed  that the following six core values are the foundation of their remits:

Universality: to produce a programme for all people, majorities and minorities. Their content must be accessible in the whole country.

Independence: not profits but public trust is the most important currency of public service media.

Diversity: to reflect the plurality of voices and genres in entertainment, sports, culture and information. The objective is to reflect the cultural diversity of a country. The linguistic situation of a country can be challenging, think also about Switzerland with its four national languages, or Belgium with three national languages or Finland with two national languages. As a public broadcaster you have to address this and find a solution. To neglect the cultural diversity is not an option.

Excellence: to act according the highest standards of integrity and professionalism in all genres, not only in news and information but also in entertainment.

Innovation: to be a driving force for innovation and creativity. As I mentioned before, public broadcasters are the mirror of the quality of politics and economy. The disruptive forces of technology are a reality in all countries. Public service media need to drive and capitalize on the technical innovation. They need to become the preferred place to work for the best people.

Accountability: to act in a transparent way and use the public funds efficiently. Appropriate procedures to prevent staff members from corruption and nepotism need to be in place and communicated. Editorial mistakes happen, but one should be open about it and apologize. I have heard that radio, tv, the regional and the culture channels will be merged. This is a good decision. If managed well you will have a better, more diverse and more efficient public service system in Ukraine.

PSM need to use the public money in the most efficient and effective way. The only difference to a private broadcaster should be, that they will be held accountable on how they have delivered according to their remit and objectives and not according to the profits they have generated. It is impossible to do this, if the public broadcaster is de facto a unit of a Ministry. The public broadcaster needs to be a separate and independent organization, with its own governance, resources, budget, financial and operational procedures.

The process to review the remit and the financial needs should be organized with the independent regulatory authority in a way to avoid political interference and to allow for a long term planning. The financial needs depend on the specific situation of a country and the interpretation of the remit.

To lead and manage a media organisation is not a hobby. It needs professional skills. Political appointments in crucial positions have a devastating impact for the whole organisation. 

And last but not least, public service media need to be relevant. A narrow interpretation of the remit, focusing on information and culture will not fulfil the basic mission of providing a programme for everyone.

This is why I ask you:

Ensure the safety of journalists and editorial independence

Good journalists are the messengers of truth. They need to be protected to report what they witness abroad but also in their own country. That is why the editorial independence and protection by the broadcaster's management is very important. The public broadcaster in turn will commit to the highest editorial standards.

Establish an effective public broadcasting system, that is able to produce a wide range of high quality programmes and is at the forefront of innovation

The most important role for public service media is to create an informed citizenship and to contribute to the social cohesion of a country. In order to contribute and stimulate the creative industry the public broadcaster should also be an attractive employer for the most talented in your country. Please establish an organization that can be run according to the highest standards of the industry.

Ensure sufficient and sustainable funding for public service media

To guarantee high-quality reporting and programming requires adequate funding and the ability to plan for a couple of years. This is why the level of funding needs to have a certain stability and should not be changed every year.

Thank you for your attention.