Essay: Public service media should not be nationalized

Introduction

A few years ago, listeners of the Czech Radio listened to a prominent representative of the Czech political scene make a speech about the desire to nationalize the Czech public service media. This speech drew immediate reactions across the political and academic scene. Nowadays, these narratives appear in the public space more and more often. As a formal student of journalism, I feel a personal connection to this issue.

The purpose of this essay is to discuss whether public broadcast media is justified within democratic countries. Due to the length of the paper, this analysis will only consider the case of the Czech Republic without an international comparison. That is also a reason for mainly choosing Czech sources.

The first section of this paper will discuss the context of nationalization and will provide arguments regarding the necessity of this type of media. The second section of this paper will address and critique the role of the public service media and explain why they should remain independent.

Context

Following the parliamentary elections in 2017, the Czech Radio – Czech public service – offered an interview to leaders of successful political parties. One of them was Tomio Okamura. His party, SDP, obtained 10% of votes and gained 22 seats out of 200 of the Chamber of deputies (Total voting results, 2018). Nowadays, he is vice-chairman of the Chamber, and his party has the potential to gain 13% in the next election (Stem 2021). This information should demonstrate the importance of the mentioned person.

Below, an excerpt is taken from his speech on the radio: “If anyone has problems with funding, it is Czech Radio and Czech Television. And we want to change it. We want to abolish concessionary fees, nationalize these media, and make sure the Supreme Audit Office has a clear oversight over your economy.” (Český rozhlas, 2017a). According to him, the radio is not transparent and should be more inspected by the government.

Responses to his statement appeared quickly as both Czech Radio (Český rozhlas 2017b) and Czech Television (Dvořák 2017) reacted to his statement. Prominent politicians also reached out to address this issue. Contemporary prime minister of the Czech Republic, Andrej Babiš, responded by stating that,“the system is clear, and we do not want to change anything on that.” (IRozhlas, 2017)

Interestingly, the abolition of concessionary fees is also supported by the Communists. According to the Chairman of the communist party, Vojtěch Filip, public television and radio could be paid by the state budget. However, he declined the proposition of nationalization (the same source). Similarly, the president’s spokesperson Jiří Ovčáček also expressed his and the president’s opinion on the cancellation of concession fees (the same source).

Finally, the syndicate of journalists of the Czech Republic expressed their opinion as well. They stated, “We strongly condemn the statements made by Tom Okamura to the address of Czech Radio, especially his mention of the nationalization of Czech Radio and Czech Television.” (the same source)

The importance of the public media service

In my opinion, statements like this are dangerous. This could be one of the steps that would lead to the collapse of democracy in our country. There are several reasons why public media services are vital to a healthy democratic society. This statement can also be argued to contradict the basic definition of public law, which is defined as Public service – the institute fulfilling the public tasks regardless of profit (Všeobecná encyklopedie v osmi svazcích, 1999).

This definition involves several aspects: as there is no profit here, broadcasting does not have to be adapted to the commercial environment. It is not required to follow market trends or adapt supply and demand. It does not have to seem attractive for investors, and it can be used as a platform for minority groups. Under the current system, advertisements are not able to affect the broadcast. The public service media should not be forced to deal with advertisements and tailoring content to consumer preferences. I am convinced that remaining independent from commercial pressures is the only way to fulfil this public mission.

Moreover, other important values of the public service media must be protected- balance, objectivity, and diversity. Furthermore, one of the most important characteristics – Public service broadcasting- is one indicator of democracy for me. And we know from our history that it does not always have to be a matter of course. Without independent media, we can quickly lose our democracy again. In the case of the nationalization of these media, it is an interference with freedom of speech.

The concept of public media can also be criticized. Some critics argue in favour of the competitive environment – they think it is great to have an extensive competition where commercial media must compete for viewers, listeners or other recipients (Kovaříková, 2003). I agree with the advantage of the competition; however, I also think that both concepts can easily exist simultaneously. I believe it is possible if it is applied correctly.

Another critic reflects the economic aspect – Concessionary fees from the citizens fund public media. Their services are unable to support them independently. From my point of view, it is not a big problem. We should not save money on democratic issues. I would rather have something in my country, a service funded by citizens, than risk threatening our country’s democracy. I believe that concessions cannot be made when dealing with such an essential service.

The last dimension of criticism I would like to mention is the technical aspect. It is said that public service broadcasting is a technological relish – here it is clear there is a problem in the argumentation foul – what is old does not mean that it is terrible and necessary to change the current system. I believe staying conservative in this situation is the best option for this issue.

Even though this four-year-old quote has not changed the role of these media, there are still some minor steps that are dangerous for them – for example, the change of some people on the board of these institutions. It can lead to the slow and invisible change.

Conclusion

The public media service symbolizes the effectiveness of a democratic society. The Czech Radio and The Czech Television preserve democratic principles as an availability, independence, liable service. In this paper, I tried to show some of my arguments why these media should remain independent and the dangers of suggesting that it should be nationalized. I do not think we would approach the tragic scenario soon, but it is crucial to remain aware of the role and the importance of public service broadcasting.

Sources

The argumentative essay  deals with the problem of public service media. The author shows her opinion on the possibility of their nationalization.

TABLE OF CONTENT

AUTHOR

Veronika Batelková – a student of Information and Library Studies. I made the English version of the portfolio as a place for all my English homework for the subject Librarian English.

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