Sunday, 16 June 2013


Having spent much of the last couple of days hearing that state television is what separates us from the animals, I thought I'd expand on the topic a little further than I did in my original post on the ERT reboot . Sadly people busy licking the boot of the Big State (while deploring the non-socialist foot currently in it) have no time to dig up evidence. Although I am often told by such folk that one needs professional journalists in order to discuss any news in depth, I thought I'd risk voiding the manufacturer's guarantee on my brain and do it myself.

As chance would have it, a massive international team of researchers published last year a study of the effect of public broadcasters on the public's knowledge of hard and soft facts. No, it doesn't cover Greece, unfortunately. It's based on a large survey of people's knowledge of current affairs in six countries (with fully comparable data for five by the looks of it). You can check out a study on audience perceptions based on the same data here. Spoiler: old people like public broadcasters the most.

Overall, the researchers found that the general trend is for audiences with exposure to public broadcasters to be more knowledgeable of 'hard' facts (politics, economics, international affairs, etc) and no less knowledgeable of 'soft' facts (gossip, celebrities, etc). You can see their comparisons on the right. This was not always the case of course - in Italy, for example, the only Southern European country surveyed, the opposite was true - exposure to public broadcasting meant people were less knowledgeable - and this in a country where people who trust television are reliably more likely to trust Silvio Berlusconi. A similar effect was found in (South) Korea, where exposure to public television did not make people less knowledgeable but did contribute less to their knowledge than exposure to private television. How come?

Well, the researchers found that it was the de jure independence of public broadcasters that explained most of their ability to educate the public. This correlation was so much stronger than the correlation between public funding (i.e isolation from the corrosive powers of competition, neoliberalism and all the other supposed evils of the world) and educational value that independence wins hands down. Compare for yourselves below:

So this leads us, ultimately, to what we all seem to agree on: if you must have a public broadcaster (and I don't believe we must), then it needs independence in order to work. What is this de jure independence mentioned in the graphs, I hear you say? Well it's a measure of the level of legal protection for public broadcasters choosing to broadcast things their Governments don't like. A proxy, after all, for de facto independence. For a fuller discussion, see here.

In fact, given insufficient independence for the public broadcaster, insufficient quality among the private broadcasters, and endless interference and cross-subsidy by rent-seeking business interests, perhaps Greece needs to borrow an African perspective on this debate after all. Or maybe we should revisit why private television (which nobody proposes to ban - yet) is more successful in educating the public in Japan than elsewhere, despite producing those dreadful cringy or semi-pornographic game shows you hear about from time to time.

UPDATE: I'm going to try to get hold of and analyse the data for the latest Eurobarometer report on the use of media in the EU. While this doesn't examine the issue of public broadcasters in detail, I hope it can be used to demonstrate the extent to which broadcasters in general are being sidestepped by young people.

In the meantime, please consider the following typology of possible types of broadcaster (sourced from here), and try to consider where our new ERT should be, in your view. It's more than most people will ever do.

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