reflections 266 ecoysytem

Well, this one is about the sea we have been sailing. 40 years ago, when the first CIRCOM Regional Annual Conference was held, it seemed that the burgeoning family of regional televisions of Europe, was setting sail through waters, well chartered by the most influential media at the time – Television.
So, yes – this piece is about the new ecosystem of media and how do CIRCOM Regional members fit in it. How do we as organization and as individual members fit in the picture.
How do we sail the unchartered waters of 21 century media environment and the new currents we ran upon – AI, the smashing dominance of social media, the tech being the driving force behind many of the changes? And above all – how do we meet audiences’ needs? How do we respond to the call of our societies?

Media at its defining moment

The media and in particular public service media (PSM) are facing a „defining moment“: do we need journalism as we know it – this was the focus of CIRCOM management opening speech at the Annual Conference in 2016, hosted by BNT. Jean-Marc Dubois (then CR President) and Johan Lindén, (then Secretary General of CIRCOM Regional) spoke about the role regional televisions have to play in the new media ecosystem and the need for them to decide their own future. 

The main message that it is time to show what our network of regional media really can do got almost at once a positive response from the European Committee of the Regions. The Head of Bulgarian Delegation to the Committee Tanya Hristova stressed  that regions and cities do matter as regions feel most strongly at local level the immediate effect from political decisions. Also, it is the local communities where initiative should come from. So regional journalism is irreplaceable in bringing information to the people. 

Regional and local news - people  do care

The importance of local news took centre place in 2022 during the Annual Conference in Galway, Ireland, and hosted by TG4, the Irish language broadcaster. Sandrina Hadderingh, Editor-in-Chief in Omroep Gelderland, shared the Netherlands experience in setting up a joint community of 27 local broadcasters to produce and exchange news content. To add to this national, regional and local media cooperate in this effort and sometimes do pieces for each other. She also underlined that the way to connect with people is “go local”. At the same session Matthew Barraclough, Head of Local News Partnerships at BBC elaborated on the role of local journalism as a cornerstone of democracy. He presented the News Partnerships, a form of cooperation among media in the UK to produce, share and communicate regional and local news. Integral part of it was Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS). Defined as “public interest news agency”, this Service covers only reports on local governments and other public bodies, operating for the benefit of local communities. It is funded by the BBC, distributed on market principles and it is for free.

True value of PMS

In 2016 Dr. Klaus Unterberger of ORF presented how PSM would define its public value, how to stimulate it and communicate it to the audiences. While stressing the importance of high-quality content opposed to the commercial televisions content, Klaus Unterberger pointed out that public value have several dimensions - individual value, corporate one, international and social value. To be able to fulfil the remit of PSM journalists must have the right conditions to do their job professionally in the interest of the society.
We do want to understand the world, that is how Lauri Kivinen, former Yle CEO, started his keynote at the 2018 Annual Conference in Leeuwarden , the Netherlands, hosted by Omrop Fryslân. Lauri Kivinen spoke about the new landscape in media and the complex relations among PSM, commercial media and social networks. He questioned the impact of social media platforms on legacy media –would it be for good or it would have negative effect .

Kivinen`s keynote continued the discussion from the 2015 Annual Conference in Dundalk, Ireland, hosted by RTE and TG4 . Back then the approach was quite definitive and a kind of resilience test as the session title suggested - „Social Media: Making Us or Breaking Us?“ Social media and mobile communications were viewed as disruptors. One of the reasons for this was that the „first in social media on mobile“ principle of distribution led to forcing through a model of consumption where legacy media existed equally in a common environment with unverified information, disinformation and deliberately created fake news.

Addressing the fake news phenomenon

It is namely fake news that have been in the focus of CIRCOM Regional highest forums, not least because of their controversial influence on the media ecosystem. At the Annual Conference in Novi Sad, Serbia, in 2019, hosted by Radio Televizija Vojvodine (RTV), the BBC team demonstrated advance technologies and techniques to manipulate audiovision to the extent that it becomes very difficult to distinguish true images from artificial ones.
At the 2022 Annual Conference in Galway, Ireland, hosted by the Irish language broadcaster TG4, Razan Ibraheem, Senior Editorial Analyst with Kinzen, talked about her experience about verifying news from warzones and other places where gathering reliable information requires much effort and resources. By sharing her expertise, she provided her answers to the core questions - can our democracy survive disinformation and how does journalism stick to the truth?

In 2023, at the Annual Conference in Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain, hosted by Basque Radio and Television (EITB), Christine Schwarz of RTBF presented „Faky“ - the media’s platform for fighting disinformation. The next step for RTBF was to join a wider international community of experts – both practitioners and academics, working to counter all kinds of information which are not true.
Rebecca Skippage, the BBC’s first Disinformation Editor, added analysis of the latest developments based on artificial intelligence and the possibly devastating impact on quality journalism. What happens to trust in news if we can’t believe anything we see? It will be a long way to go before we answer this question .

Sustainability of Journalism

The 2022 Annual Conference in Galway, looked not only how the ecosystem in the regional broadcast media operate and exist but also put it into the rather larger context of its role in regional economies.
Victor Pickard, Professor of Media Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, brought to the forefront the American point of view to public service media. His general assessment was that “… the future of journalism, future of public service media and the future of democracy are all bound up together. We should be confronting these problems together”. Pointing out at a “systemic failure” of the existing market-oriented business model of media, Prof. Pickard suggested that “There is no commercial future for much of the journalism that democracy requires. And this means we need to find non market means of support to provide that journalism, and, I would argue, especially public support”.
Olaf Steenfadt of the Journalism Trust Initiative at the Reporters Without Borders, developed the idea of a “New Deal” between journalism and societies. Stemming from (USA President) Roosevelt’s New Deal to revive the US economy after the Great recession the think tank shaped new shared responsibilities between media and democratic society .

Going from global to regional and local, the session “Creative Regions, Creative Economy” looked up close at case studies how the audiovisual industry can contribute to economy development of regions. Needless to look far away, it is enough to mention the impact of the TV series “Game of Thrones” to the economy of Northern Ireland, the whole story being presented by Nicola Lyons, Production Manager at the Northern Ireland Screen agency . The success of “Game of Thrones” only proves that operating at regional level sometimes can be a chance rather than a limitation. Regional audiovisual media would only boost opportunities for creativity and innovation.