Over 100 delegates from 19 countries in Central & Eastern Europe (CEE) and beyond came together in Prague last week to discuss the need to protect the independence and sustainability of public service media (PSM) in the face of numerous challenges.
Public service broadcasters, Parliamentarians, regulators, diplomats, academics and experts from a range of organisations including the Council of Europe, Venice Commission, OSCE and the European Federation of Journalists, met for two days of debate on how to ensure PSM is allowed to operate and develop independent of political control.
PSM is the cornerstone of a democratic society but media freedoms have been undermined in some countries in Europe recently. Institutional and editorial independence is critical to well-functioning PSM, ensuring the broadcaster is always acting in the best interest of its audience. The conference called on Parliaments to find the ‘political will’ to protect PSM and use their strength and influence to enforce the existing international instruments protecting freedom of expression.
Media freedom cannot be guaranteed without sustainable funding and many countries, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, struggle with the lack of stable and adequate funding and antiquated collection systems. Participants agreed that governments must guarantee sustainable funding for PSM, ideally collected via a licence fee so it remains accountable to citizens and not Parliamentarians.
Independent governance for PSM is another essential. Members of supervisory bodies should have a definitive mandate, that does not change depending on who is in power, and be able to exercise their duties free of political interference.
The conference also looked at how PSM can combat hate speech – both preventing it being broadcast and putting in place measures to contextualise it and demonstrate its noxiousness. PSM’s role is to champion social inclusion and cohesion and ensure a diversity of views and a culture of tolerance.
Speaking at the conference EBU Director General Ingrid Deltenre said: “Public service media is a mirror of society, democracy and its democratic institutions.” It is the duty of PSM to make sure wider society understands the role and impact that PSM plays in all aspects of life from the cultural to the technological and economic.
European Parliament President Martin Schultz and Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland both sent messages of support to the conference which are available to view on the EBU Youtube page along with the introductions to each session.
The participants at the conference adopted a set of conclusions and recommendations on the way forward that will be widely shared with multiple stakeholders, including at the European Commission’s annual colloquium on Media Pluralism and Democracy this week.