How Important Are Public Service for People from South-East Europe?

Public service media, in South-East Europe, are an important part of the media landscape. Their existence is enshrined in the law of all countries and their mandate is to serve the whole society by informing, educating, consulting and entertaining. They are not allowed to support unilaterally a single party, organisation or any other type of group. However, in reality, the picture often differs, as the public service media have repeatedly been criticised of being the mouthpiece of the government.

According to the Media Programme South-East Europe of the KAS, the independence of broadcasters is influenced by the broadcasting councils and funding. The broadcasting councils are often not a reflection of society and politically appointed. The funding is usually through tax subsidies or the state covers debt when licence fees do not cover all costs.

In an opinion poll commissioned by the KAS Media Programme and conducted by the research institute Ipsos in the ten countries. The KAS Media Programme South-East Europe asked more than 10,000 people the same questions.

In the summarised results for the entire region, it is very clear that although more than two-thirds of respondents say that public service media are important for democracy, almost 65 percent see these channels under political influence.

Regarding the trust in the media channels, the poll revealed that citizens in the region do not have a high level of trust in any media channel. The range of the average rates for trust in each media channel shows that citizens do not point out any specific media channel that would be more trustworthy than others. 

Print and online media are the least trusted media sources while TV enjoys the highest trust without any difference between public or private providers. This also applies for the radio which is less trusted than TV. 

High-trust values for public service media compared to commercial media are higher in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova and Serbia. In contrast, private broadcasters are trusted more in the other countries. The highest trust in public service media can be recorded in Kosovo.

When asked about the type of funding they would prefer for public service media, the majority of respondents rejects any form of state funding and wishes that public service media are funded through advertisements like commercial broadcasters. Almost every third prefers this form of funding.

High approval ratings for funding through tax subsidies exist though in Romania (25 percent); in Moldova, it is even the preferred form of funding (45 percent). However, tax subsidies also cause higher dependence on the state and gives possibilities to influence the broadcasters. 

It can be thus assumed that the advocates for the tax subsidy accept this fact, in order not be asked to pay up. The second most given answer was hybrid form – a mix between licence fees and tax subsidies as well as advertisements. This type of funding is already common in all countries.

According to the same poll, the most asked contents on average from the public service media are education, culture and entertainment, and to serve as a source of information. 

In Moldova news and the educational shows are through the most demanded content. 

“Freedom of the press and expression are central pillars of democracy. Thereby public service media play a significant role. If they do not exist, one should invent them. They are essential to democracy – if they can act free of political influence and are well fund to fulfil their task,“ said Hendrik Sittig, Head of the Media Programme South-East Europe. 

The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) Media Programme South-East Europe covers ten countries – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, the Republic of Moldova, North Macedonia, Romania and Serbia and concentrates its activities in the fields of journalists’ qualification, media freedom and political communication.

The regional Media Programme South-East Europe of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung is based in Bulgaria. In the framework of global democracy promotion, one of the special priorities of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung is the support of free and independent media as an essential precondition for the opinion-making of citizens in a democracy. 

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