Trust vital for sustainable future of public media, Nordic-Baltic forum finds

Public trust is the key to safeguarding sustainability and inspired content production by public service media – such is the main conclusion of the first Nordic-Baltic Public Service Media Forum, which was held in Riga on 26-27 April. Only trusted and accountable public service media that fully reflect the lives of the technologically and linguistically diverse communities they serve have a hope of withstanding the contemporary pressures and keep providing maximum public value to their audiences.

Public service media, the guardians of quality journalism and an intrinsic measure of resilience of any democratic society, are currently undergoing dramatic changes and facing pressures – be they digital, financial, regulatory or political. And Nordic-Baltic region is no exception. What adds to the pressures in this region is the presence of hostile narratives originating in Russia that create information fog and erode trust in democratic institutions. Stronger ties between PSM, particularly in the region that shares deep historic, cultural and economic ties, help withstand these pressures and raise the profile of PSM in societies they serve. Hence the need for an eight-country forum, Maximising Public Value: A Future for Public Service Media in the Nordic-Baltic Region. The Forum reflected on the current pressures on PSM in eight countries from three different perspectives – the fundamentals of enabling environment for PSM independence and sustainability, the importance of inclusive journalism and the ways to ensure PSM accountability. The forum was hosted by Latvian Television, LSM.LV and Latvian Radio in cooperation with the Baltic Centre for Media Excellence.

The three panels of the Forum, featuring distinguished professionals in public service journalism from NRK, Sveriges Radio, DR, ERR and LTV, examined these issues in depth offering potential keys to preserving PSM independence and ensuring their further development.

The panel Enabling Environment for PSM Independence, led by former chairman of the Swedish Public Broadcasting Trust Ove Joanson, noted that across the region, and particularly in the Baltics, the conflict in Ukraine and the Kremlin-inspired propaganda messages have become a factor, which has highlighted the credibility of PSM. Another common trend is political pressure, exercised through regulation and other means, and the worst examples of that can already be found in Europe – Poland being the worst of them. The presentation by one of the panellists, Stanislaw Jedrzejewski, a media academic from Poland, expressively featured a tombstone with 2015 as the year of death of Polish PSM. The PSM of the Nordic-Baltic region are not facing risks comparable to Poland’s, but pressures exist and, to safeguard their future, they have to maintain, and increase, audience’s trust. In the knowledge-based societies, such as the Nordic-Baltic eight, “it is essential to have a basis of knowledge that can be trusted,” as Ove Joanson put it. And PSM are well-placed to provide that trusted basis.

The Inclusive Journalism: Communicating Identities examined minority broadcasting, and different approaches the region’s PSM take in addressing different communities. Is there is a divide or is there is a possibility of a connection, of unity of those who self-define themselves as, for example, Latvians, Estonians oar Danes or non-Latvians, non-Estonians and non-Danes? The expert panel, led by the former head of Russian-language broadcasting at LTV Olga Proskurova, concluded that the role of public broadcasters in bringing cohesion and staying relevant to all communities could be summed up in four ‘Rs’, namely, “respect, recruit, represent and reflect,” as member of the panel, Director of DR Koncerthuset Leif Lonsmann put it. If a minority in a given country sees members of its community fairly represented, and respected, on screens and pages, and their issues reflected there, that contributes to trust in public broadcasters, and thus contributes to the public value they bring.

Trust is further strengthened by transparency and a clear system of accountability. The panel Accountability as a Distinguishing Feature of PSM, moderated by DR’s ombudsman Jesper Tremansen, stressed that accountability is a key to maintaining audience’s trust. Having an in-house ombudsman is one way of ensuring it, and complemented by public value tests and regular content quality evaluations, as is the case in Latvian public television, LTV. Accountability, in today’s media climate, should go hand in hand with transparency and media literacy efforts by PSM.

The speakers and delegates of the Forum agreed on next steps that need to be taken to strengthen the network of Nordic-Baltic public service media. The key next steps, the Forum concluded in the closing panel, are the following:

  • Forums for public service media professionals from Nordic and Baltic countries need to be held annually, focusing on a specific topical issue each time.
  • Affiliated workshops focusing on new formats in the key areas of public media – news and current affairs, culture, children’s and factual entertainment – need to be held annually, perhaps on a rotation basis.
  • A smaller forum focusing on co-production opportunities and content exchange needs to be held in the near future, capitalising on relationships built at the first Riga Forum.

The Forum, hosted by Latvian Television, Latvian Radio and LSM.LV in cooperation with the Baltic Centre for Media Excellence (BCME), was supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers and Danish Cultural Institute.

Contact:

Gunta Sloga, commissioning editor, LTV gunta.sloga@ltv.lv

Rita Ruduša, executive director, BCME rita.rudusa@baltic.media

In Focus