Public Interest and Commercial Media: Digital Trends

Public service broadcasters face an ambiguous situation in both the course and the aftermath of digitization. While digitization opens an opportunity for them to broaden and strengthen their public mission by expanding content, adding new services, and boosting penetration, it also threatens their very existence: it is likely to increase and dramatically enhance the commercial offer, reinforcing the case against using taxpayers’ money to produce information via public service broadcasters. Digitization requires, moreover, substantial investments (infrastructure, equipment, training), which, in the case of public service broadcasters, means more public funding—an unpopular cause to advocate.

For commercial media, meanwhile, digitization has accelerated consolidation, cross- ownership deals, and vertical integration. Far from being an opportunity for increased diversity and plurality, digitization seems to reinforce traditional problems in media markets.

This chapter explores developments in four main areas. First, it explores how public interest provisions are present in digital switch-over policy. Second, it analyzes how regulation ensures a role for public service broadcasters in the digital era. Third, the chapter describes the changes that commercial media have undergone in the digital transition. Finally, the chapter maps models of regulation of news online, which takes the form of general or specific regulation. 

The following is the chapter I wrote for the book 'Digital Journalism: Making News, Breaking News', an overview of all the topics and countries covered by the Open Society Foundations' Mapping Digital Media Project (the post above is an edited version of the introduction).