Tag: Media

Future of Public Service Media – Sydney Ideas

“There’s no universal model of public service media, in terms of content, principles or funding” was the concensus of the academics who spoke at a Sydney Ideas forum, which I attended tonight. “Sydney Ideas”, by the way, is a series of regular public forums which I sometimes go along to. Despite our “BBC model” of public service media we have in Australia, the academics spoke of the diversity of public service media.

In the US, for example, they have public service media which is largely funded by the private sector. One of the characteristics of US public service media is “they spend a lot of time begging you for money”, was how Professor Andrew Calabrese described the situation. One of the consequences of the funding model, he argued, was the public radio network was stronger than the public television network. He argued the development of the online visual story-telling by US public radio might eventually see public radio overtake public television in that space.

Dr Benedetta Brevini spoke about the differing models of public service media funding in Europe, highlighting that some countries are supported by government revenue, others by a licence fee, others by commercials, and others still by a combination of all of those sources. Despite this variety, she argued, public service media had been under attack since at both an individual country level, and at a European-wide level since, about 2003, which she linked with the downturn of the European economy. Despite the policy changes, she argued, there was little evidence to support the idea that if you take public funding away, the commercial sector improves. Indeed, she further argued there’s evidence in the UK, a strong presence by the BBC in the online space, further added to the financial viability of the commercial sector. She further went on to argue, there’s a common interest for public sector media with other public focussed organisations, including museums and art galleries.

Closer to home, Dr John Keane located the development of the “BBC model/Reithian model” of public broadcasting (the same model we have in Australia pretty much) within the context of 1920s/1930 nation building. He further talked fairly disparagingly about the “moralism” of the “BBC model” as something which should be “good for you”. In the same way the arrival of radio and television in the 1920s/1930s was a key driver for this particular model, he argued current changes to technology is changing the model of public service media in ways it’s perhaps too early to adequately articulate. He did, however, note a new model of public media emerging in a number of despotic regimes where the idea of “public service” doesn’t exist, where it’s all about “public control with a touch of Hollywood” (or words to that effect). Despite the strong variation in funding models, programming models and so on, Keane went on to argue, generally speaking “public service media” stands “as an alternative to government and private sector influence”.

One of the key issues public service media has failed to do adequately in Australia, argued Dr Fiona Martin, was go through a process of evaluation. As well as the raw numbers of viewership, funding, and models of efficiency, she argued public service media companies like the ABC and SBS needed to further quantify the impact of their programming. She mentioned, for example, a study by SBS of their program, “Go Back To Where You Came From” which was able to begin to understand the impact of the program on migrant communities themselves. As a consequence of mostly focussing on domestic arguments about public sector funding, she argued organisations like the ABC, the BBC and the CBC were missing out on opportunities to co-operate on making programs and in better international-focussed journalism.

Fiona also spoke about what she thought were fallacious arguments that reducing the size of the public sector would assist the private sector, and that new technologies (the internet) would assist the “broken market” model of public sector funding. She argued the arrival of advertising competition (through publications like Daily Mail, The Guardian and so on in Australia) has lessened the journalistic activity of local publications. Further, the market was “still broke”, she argued, because you “couldn’t crowd-fund a program like The Gods Of Wheat Street”.

A further really interesting question raised by Fiona was the idea of whether “public service media” needs to be seen more broadly than media which was funded by the public, citing the example of “The Guardian”.

Although by the end (8.00pm) I was a little peckish, it was a really interesting way to spend a couple of hours on a Wednesday night, and maintained my interest throughout. It was also really nice to catch up (very briefly) with Fiona which whom I shared a house more than twenty-five years ago when we were both aspiring ABC broadcasters.


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.

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 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 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.

Bentley Bar

Two Good Nights

It’s lunchtime Saturday and I’ve just finished listening back to last night’s Andrew Olle Media Lecture, which I really enjoyed. Last night’s lecture was given by News Limited CEO, John Hartigan, who carried on a theme earlier expressed by Lachlan Murdoch that good journalism and … Continue reading Two Good Nights

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September 11, 2006

I remember vividly the night of the attacks. Damien and I were watching the late night news when, all of a sudden newsreader, Sandra Sulley, with an odd and confused look on her face, announced they were crossing immediately to CNN. Over the next few hours, we sat and watched, drank some wine, and for just a brief moment, as the attacks spread beyond the Twin Towers, felt a moment of fear, suspecting an attack on inner-city Sydney couldn’t be that far away.

Five years later, it’s September 12 here in Australia, and coverage of September 11 is almost over. It’s been going on for a week now, and I’ve watched a fair deal of it, especially over the last twenty four hours with pretty shitty weather here in Sydney making television watching an attractive holiday alternative.

And there’s been a lot to choose from: everything from the conspiracy theory film, Loose Change (which they’ve just shown on the History Channel), through to the bloke singing “God Bless America” on Fox News just a short while ago.

My orgy of September 11 viewing, however, began last night with Al Gore, the former Vice President (and would be President) appearing on Denton’s Enough Rope. Gore is in Australia to promote his film, highlighting the potential dangers associated with global warming.

In a softly-softly manner, Gore urged Australia to sign to Kyoto Protocol.

AL GORE: Australia and the United States are the ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ of the global community on the climate crisis. If Bonnie goes straight and reforms, then Clyde is out there isolated and would feel a lot of pressure to change. If Australia changed its policy, it would put enormous pressure on the US to change.


AL GORE: Seriously.

I didn’t stay around to see whether or not he would have much to say about the fifth anniversary, as I was anxious to turn over to watch Fahrenheit 9/11, the Michael Moore film released a couple of years ago. I’m not sure why, but I hadn’t seen the film at the time, though it was interesting to see it with a degree of hindsight.

In the opening sequence to the film, once again, we see Al Gore adopting a softly-softly approach as the battle for Presidential votes in Florida is played out in the courts. As one by one, a number of black female politicians appear before him, seeking support for the disenfranchised black American voters of Florida, Gore goes about his duty, informing them that without Senate support there is nothing he can do, even though he would stand to benefit. He quietly goes about his duties, “doing the right thing”, thereby re-inforcing a theme of Moore’s film.

Without seeking to oversimply the film’s central theme, it seems to me Moore’s argument is that while America’s elite have benefited both financially and politically from September 11 and the Iraq War, ordinary Americans haven’t because they’ve “done the right thing”. In arguing the point, the film portrays the human face of lower and working class Americans who’ve joined the military (and who’ve died) in support of a war he argues didn’t need to happen.

As a film-maker, Moore makes some interesting choices. For example, I really respected his decision not to show the planes crashing into the World Trade Centre. I also think he seeks to treat all of the people he interviews with respect. But sometimes he labours the point and sometimes his “stunts” seem a little disingenous. For example, the lengthy opening sequence with politicians being made up for the cameras seeks to make a point that most would take as a given. And, while I thought his decision to approach politicians asking them if their children would be willing to serve in Iraq was both effective and significant, I thought a sequence where he drove around in an ice-cream truck reading out the Patriot Act (with shades of his earlier television series “The Awful Truth) bordered on the under-graduate.

I have similar criticisms of “Loose Change”, a film by Dylan Avery which seeks to highlight logical and factual inconsistencies in the official version of events surrounding the September 11 attacks. In the midst of some good material, there’s a certain undergraduate tone in the narration, and a certain naivety in the conclusions reached.

For example, I thought the film clearly demonstrates – through video footage and through anecdotal evidence – a series of explosions in addition to the plane crashes, helped bring down the World Trade Centre towers. However, the conclusion that, because the official records don’t record the explosions as contributing, means the United States Government was somehow involved doesn’t stand up to the same level of critical thought the film-maker demands in others. Not once, does Avery, for example, entertain the idea there might have been a number of suicide bombers within the World Trade Centre.

As with “Fahrenheit 9/11”, “Loose Change 2” is best where it seeks to portray the ideas an views of ordinary Americans. Both films, perhaps, would have benefited by doing away with the narrator, just letting the images and people speak for themselves.

Coverage on stations like Sky, CNN, Fox and BBC World has been patchy. On the American stations, much of the debate has centred around whether or not enough had been done (before and after September 11) to track down Osama bin Laden, with the conclusion being “probably not”. There’s also been a fair amount of discussion about how well the war in Iraq has been going, with the general conclusion being “not as well as it should be”.

I know a few people who have, in my view, cynically dismissed this anniversary as unnecessary navel gaving, whereas I think it’s a significant anniversary of a major world event that requires careful re-consideration. Unfortunately, none of the coverage I’ve seen so far has achieved that. There’s been a lot of it, but nothing particularly profound.

Public Service Broadcasting

As it’s been a long time since I’ve attended a university lecture, tutorial or seminar, I guess I’d forgotten the importance in academic cricles of reviewing literature and locating discussions within a theoretical framework, but today it all came flooding back.

At the end of a rather interesting day at work, I went to a seminar led by Dr Georgina Born from Cambridge University entitled, “Digitising Democracy: Digitisation, Pluralism, and Public Service Communications”.

Her paper canvassed a range of arguments about the degree to which cultural organisations such as the BBC (and implicitly the ABC) could or should also be agents of representative democracy. Her own personal view being that the independence of such organisations would be compromised if, by becoming agents of representative democracy, they would also become arms of government. “If you want an e-democracy, set up a new agency, don’t use the BBC”, was the essence of her argument.

Dr Born provided a reasonably brief, thumbnail sketch of the BBC’s forays into digital broadcasting, including new television, radio and online services and was largely enthusiastic about the capacity of new technologies to deliver a more representative viewpoint of the UK’s cultural diversity. I’d actually hoped she’d have spoken more about the practicalities, and I asked a question about the degree to which production models and standards had changed in the UK as a result of doing more with less, but I guess I soon realised that wasn’t really within the scope of today’s discussion.

The essence of her argument about cultural representation was that sometimes minorities speak to each other, sometimes to the broader community and sometimes to other minorities. Her argument was that the national broadcasters are charged by governments (and citizens) with national representation. She was largely optimistic that national broadcasters had the capacity at all levels, including geographically local levels, to better represent cultural diversity through the potential afforded by digitisation.

By and large she was also positive about the Australian media landscape, though a little disappointed with – “fairly uninspiring” was how she described – the digital television services being offered by the ABC and SBS.

As positive as she was, there was, however, an undercurrent of cultural cringe amongst some of those attending, leading one academic to comment the ABC “would never chase an audience of fifteen year of Muslim youth”. I assume the comment stemmed from a discussion about the BBC’s “Asian Network”. “And neither would the BBC”, she said, responding that that the assumption underlying such a statement failed to understand the differing experiences of immigration and multiculturalism in the UK and Australia. She observed the often culturally conservative Asian community was a fairly natural constituency for the BBC.

Although someone did mount a spirited defence of Big Brother, there was a degree of sneering elitism amongst some of those attending. Goodness knows what some of those in the room made of my observations about the current phenomenon of late night television game shows, though I suspect some of them had no idea such programs existed.

Another academic (who I really admire), a long term ABC and commercial television manager, and one of the founders of ABC Online, brought some sense to the room when he confessed that he couldn’t understand how his children, who were academically and politically aware young adults could spend all of their spare time playing games, watching Fox 8 and Big Brother.

And I guess it was then it became apparent there was no one in the room under 35.