A hard-hitting report by the Open Society Institute criticises dumbing down and trivialisation of TV content throughout Europe, as a result of ineffective regulation and insufficient funding of high-quality public service TV.
In all European countries, public service television has to compete with private companies, which have little to no public services obligations. The ownership of these companies often lacks transparency, with a general tendency towards a concentration of media ownership in the hands of some big companies, and with few safeguards against the abuse of such dominant positions. This is the case in many central and southeastern European countries, and in particular in Italy, where the prime minister still controls most of the TV channels.
In central and southeastern European countries, public service television has just been transformed from what used to be state-controlled television. The transformations were coupled with significant decreases in funding. The result was in most cases a drop in the audience market share. In Poland and Hungary, for example, public service TV’s market share dropped from 80% to 20% between 1997 and 2003.
While the reasoning behind liberalisation was that competition with the private sector would increase the quality of public service TV, the recent trend seems to be the exact opposite: lack of diversity, commercialisation of content, trivialisation and tabloidisation of newscasts and dumbing-down of newscasts were only some of the harsh words found by the authors of the OSI study to describe tendencies in the European TV landscape.
All of this, the authors of the study conclude, makes TV a hotspot where regulatory issues are in direct touch with the values of democratic societies.