Obstacles to and considerations for change
Tangible PSM reforms are threatened by the instability of the legal framework. Another issue is the widespread lack of funding and sometimes also of professionals and organisation. PSM in Eastern Europe tend to have a low reputation and market share, coupled with little support from the public.
These aspects are interconnected and need to be discussed in light of assessments from the June 2016 study “PSM Correlations”, by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).
First of all, for the successful operation and implementation of the mission of "genuine public media services", a stable and foreseeable legal framework is required. Eastern European public media acts are sometimes changed and amended overnight – usually as required by day-to-day politics – such as in Poland, several times in the past in Montenegro, and in Georgia and Croatia.
The practice of accelerated procedure has prevailed (without any consensual public discussion), as well as the enforcement of such acts or their amendments. This enables new governments to arbitrarily replace staff and make other changes.
Instead of a system of stable and foreseeable financing, these laws often change the sources and methods of financing. Under populist vocabulary, the system of licence fees is replaced or refused by state/government financing, connected with political pressures.
In most cases, PSM are severely underfunded, barely making enough for simple reproduction, not to mention technological innovations. A dozen of them in Eastern Europe are barely surviving, with budgets between €7.5 and €15 million. Others fall within the range of €40 and €100 million, which is considerably lower than public service media on average in Western Europe.
The result is poor program output, inadequate staffing and in some cases, threats to the very existence of PSM in a country. Bosnia and Herzegovina is perhaps the most imminent example, where political and social conflicts also obstruct its operation.
These factors mean that the level of professionalism can be reduced. As a relic from the past, resulting from frequent political, HR and managerial changes, the organisational structure, managing and governance of public service media are often inadequate, as is their capacity to respond to developments and circumstances changing ever-faster.
Finally, the PSM content on offer does not achieve an adequate response from the public. Confidence level, support, market share and relevance for their societies remain low.
However, the only solution to the PSM scenario in Eastern Europe lies precisely in fostering the more active involvement and assertion of civil society, in order to create a new paradigm of openness by PSM institutions. A transformation of form and content is also needed, including keeping up with technology.
In many PSM in Eastern Europe, a more fundamental change of generations is required.