World Day of TV goes unnoticed

World Day of TV goes unnoticed

Nov. 21 was established as the World Day of Television in 1996 following a decision by the U.N. General Assembly. The annual celebration of that day aimed to promote peace, security, culture, and economic and social development all over the world.

Yet, I did not notice any special mention made last Wednesday for the World Day of Television. We were too busy covering day-to-day stories, making sense out of confusing political realities and protecting ourselves from falling into very deep traps. We had no time to reflect what is, or rather what the content of the medium we are working for, should be. 

More than ever, TV is now part of our lives and although some would dispute the motto “TV opens hearts, opens minds, opens eyes,” latest data provided by the Global TV Group show that television “reaches almost 70 percent of any country’s population a day, 90 percent in a week and nearly everyone in a month.”

I, too, would have let this year’s anniversary go unnoticed, if it was not for an interesting academic article prepared by the economist Yannis Eustathopoulos and Nikos Spyrnaios, a lecturer on Information and Communication Science. The article was published by the Institute of Alternative Policies-Ena Institute on the occasion of this year’s TV Day anniversary and dealt with the hotly-debated subject: “Public and Private Radio and Television in the 21st century.”

As both writers are Greek, they have a unique perception of the turbulence in the Greek media during the last five years that stemmed from a forced closure of the country’s public radio and television service (ERT) by a government decree in 2013, then its reopening first in a much smaller version and then its full reestablishment under the present government in 2015. They also had a unique view of the dramatic changes in the broadcasting sector in Greece during almost a decade of deep economic crisis which brought the sector to its knees, with several TV channels having to close down and had the government introduce a TV license law to bring some order to the anarchic TV and radio broadcasting landscape.

Against a backdrop of rapid technological development in the broadcasting field, increase of subscription channels, a rapid expansion of social media and a dominance of a world digital oligopoly, the writers are trying to discuss the role of public media as “merit goods,” i.e. as goods that the society may consume on the basis of their needs and not because they can pay for them, or as a “public service” or “public utility” i.e. as part of the public sphere to secure democratic, social and cultural needs.

The article underlines what we have all observed lately, that the public radio and TV which are financed by the public and the state under several financial operational models are being seriously challenged for not representing the society fairly and producing content based on the ideological and cultural perceptions of their managers. Hence the legitimacy of public media is being increasingly contested especially by governments who favor market economy models.

Can public TV and radio broadcasting survive in the 21st century? It has to, the article claims, in order to serve the needs of the society, but it cannot unless it radically changes its operational model. They propose that Public Broadcasting should adopt a new role in the society, informing the public for the work of international organizations, contribute to the public sphere on local, national and world level, taking up a watchdog role for international and world organizations, and cultivate a feeling of belonging to the national community against the sense of belonging to digital communities promoted by the internet. The writers also suggest that the new public broadcaster should care for the cultural needs of minorities and promote their incorporation to the society, create a climate of affinity with the people of neighboring countries and promote intercultural and inter-religious dialogue on a national and international level. Generally, it should accept the cultural differences and introduce the public to the cultures of other countries. And finally to help in reducing the digital divide so nobody would be excluded, help with adult education and distance learning, be present on all digital platforms, provide interactive services, open source applications etc.

Needless to say that they propose a content not aiming at high ratings and no market characteristics, but content aiming at the public merit as opposed to individual profit, to install ombudsmen to promote dialogue with the society and citizen participation.

In spite of the many and obvious arguments that public broadcasting should continue to exist aiming to serve the society as best as possible, it is obvious that it will need time to discover a modus operandi that would allow it to serve its purpose and guarantee its finances. And most of all, that it would remain undisturbed from government interference which remains its biggest challenge.

United Nations,