Editorial independence. Transparency. Pluralism. These are just a few terms we regularly hear when the conversation focuses on public media. But what do these terms mean? And can we identify them when we are faced with them?

The world of public service media is full of terms, abbreviations and phrases that are highly specific. The use of these terms can vary from organisation to organisation and often depend on political and economic contexts. Most of the key terms, however have a broad applicability to public media globally.

Here we explain some of the key terms used by public media organisations and offers examples as to where they have been used and why. Each week, PMA will publish a new term as part of its PSM Weekly newsletter, which you can sign-up to here.

Click on the tabs below to explore the glossary.

Accessible Public Media

With a mandate for universalism and to reach diverse audiences, it is only natural that accessibility is an important requirement for public media. Accessible public media ensures that content – whether based on television, radio, a website, or a mobile app – can be used by as many people as possible, regardless of their physical or learning abilities or their visual or hearing impairments. Accessible public media can look like KBS’ comprehensive web accessibility guidelines, which are regularly analysed to improve accessibility of content. Accessible public media can also look like ORF’s testing of the expansion of its audio description by using synthetically generated voices; ZDF’s “barrier-free” initiative; and ABC & SBS’ introduction of audio description in 2020.


Accountability is a key pillar of public media and is central to maintaining a trusted and credible shared public media space. Accountability means that PSM are primarily answerable to the citizens who fund them, rather than to political or commercial interests. Accountability can look like independently appointed boards that are reflective of society and are insulated from both the government and the media organisation’s everyday management. Accountability can also look like transparency in the way funding is spent or the investment in and upholding of journalistic rigour, such as SVT’s increased focus on local investigative journalism. Such investment ultimately helps to hold power to account on behalf of the public and contributes to a more informed, civically engaged electorate. Enhancing audience or citizen engagement can also lend to accountability by providing an opportunity for the public to have a say in the content they consume and fund. As global threats to both journalism and democracy grow, accountability is needed now more than ever.


Accuracy – a key PSM value – goes beyond ensuring that the details within all content and programming are correct: it also focuses on the importance of information that is in context and correctly represents broader meanings. In a democracy, information that is accurate on both fronts ensures citizens are not misled and have access to information that would allow them to make well-informed decisions and form fact-based opinions. This value can be seen in NPR’s extensive guidelines on accuracy and SABC’s heightened focus on accuracy during elections when “[its] commitment to objectivity, accuracy, fairness, impartiality and balance is scrutinised closely and evaluated assiduously.” Accuracy can also look like Channel 4’s FactCheck and DR’s Detektor, two long-standing factchecking initiatives that aim to provide audiences with fact-based and contextual information on public interest issues. For public broadcasters, accuracy is essential in maintaining credibility, impartiality, reliability, and ultimately public trust. However, this PSM value is under threat, with challenges ranging from growing dis- and misinformation and infringements on editorial independence.

Audience Engagement

Audience engagement fosters accountability, builds trust, and provides an opportunity for citizens to amplify their voices. Increasingly, engagement can come in the form of public broadcasters inviting audiences to have more control over, and be directly involved in, the content they consume. The BBC World Service, for instance, recently announced its International Podcast Competition, an initiative that allows full-time residents of Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa to pitch podcast ideas. NPO in the Netherlands similarly launched a public pitch for a TV programme, which received more than 3,500 submissions. NPO chairman Shula Rijxman said, “As always, the NPO stations and broadcasters are open to all sounds in society and already offer various ways in which to do so. With ‘Your Idea on TV’ we open the door even further, to really reach everyone and give a voice.”

Encouraging citizen journalism has been a useful way of improving direct citizen engagement. Well established examples include PTS’s Peopo initiative in Taiwan and Thai PBS’s C-Site.

Audience Fragmentation

As access to the internet and internet-enabled devices becomes more affordable and prevalent, audiences are increasingly splitting their media consumption across multiple devices and platforms. While more media sources lend to pluralism, it may also leave each media source with a smaller share of the audience — a phenomenon known as audience fragmentation. Audience fragmentation can look like a shift from public broadcast content to that of video-on-demand (VOD) services. For example, in its 2018/2019 annual plan, the BBC reported that its 16-24 year-old audience spent more time on Netflix than all of its services combined. Audience fragmentation can also look like heavier online news consumption and the resulting shift by advertisers to online platforms, adding to the pressures and financial woes faced by local news outlets. But fragmentation does not only impact media outlets; there are concerns that it can also impact democracy when audiences become polarised and develop media preferences that reinforce their own opinion. Ultimately, the challenge for public service media is adapting to and keeping pace with fast changing audience habits and trends.


Press freedom is not absolute. Deutsche Welle notes that “censorship is the suppression of free speech, public communication or other information which may be considered harmful, sensitive, or politically incorrect as determined by governments or other groups or institutions.” But increasingly, censorship is being used as a tool to crush independent journalism and silence dissenting voices. This can be in the form of more direct manoeuvres: the suspension of media houses in Tanzania; programme changes, removals, and cancellations at RTHK; and overly restrictive in-house policies which identify “taboo” or off-limit topics, such as in Brazil. But censorship can also be more indirect, such as legal action in the form of SLAPPs; online harassment against journalists; “fake news” and “foreign interference” laws, such as those in Singapore; the creation of state-controlled regulatory authorities, like that being considered in Pakistan; and economic threats against public media from governments, like in Slovenia. Together, direct and indirect censorship create an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty for journalists to work in. They drive self-censorship, limit editorial independence and holding power to account. Ultimately, censorship reshapes the information that reaches citizens – all worrying threats to the very notion of informed democracy.


Many public service media (PSM) organisations function under a charter – a constitutional or legislative framework that outlines the organisation’s purpose, mission, and objectives. Charters are developed by the government but often with input from the media organisation as well. The charter stipulates general matters such as editorial independence, governance and regulatory policies, and relationships between the public broadcaster and other relevant bodies.

But no two charters are the same. A charter must represent the unique make-up of the society in which each public broadcaster operates. This includes the need for language-diverse programming (as with SABC in South Africa), the representation of multiculturalism (as with SBS in Australia), or support for the creative economy (as with the BBC Royal Charter).

Charters must also evolve with the times, ensuring the public service media organisations are adapting to new technologies, new forms of content consumption, and new audience habits. This can be seen with the draft charter for New Zealand’s proposed new public media entity, which has digital flexibility built in.

Importantly, charters may insulate PSM from political or other pressures by providing a legal justification for their management, operations, and decisions. Charters also enable the public to hold PSM to account, as recently seen when the BBC was questioned over whether the closure of regional TV news programmes was in contravention of its charter.

But charters are not infallible. For example, RTHK has seen its editorial independence significantly deteriorate over the past two years despite the PSM principle being enshrined in its charter. In such cases, a charter can be used as a weapon by politicians who apply their own definitions to how it should be applied. Charters must therefore be buoyed by a strong commitment to their adherence, free from the influence of political, economic, or social interests. This commitment must come from all actors involved – from lawmakers to media regulators, journalists, and managers.

Climate Journalism

Public service media (PSM) have an essential role to play in covering the climate crisis. As trusted and widely accessed news sources, they are well placed to deliver fact-based, responsible, and understandable climate news, while adhering to PSM values such as transparency, editorial independence, and accuracy. A greater number of public broadcasters are making a more concerted effort to meet the challenge in addressing the climate crisis through their operations and news content. Climate journalism provides an opportunity for PSM to re-emphasise their dedication to the publics they serve by covering one of the biggest threats to society. Climate journalism comes under many guises: it can look like the extensive coverage of up-to-date environmental science and predictions; collaboratively developed public resources among broadcasters and partner organisations; and the specific training of editorial staff and reporters. Combined, these approaches can help both journalists and audiences to better understand climate change’s true implications and solutions. Ultimately, as the need to address the climate crisis grows, a multi-stakeholder approach – including news media’s involvement alongside citizens, scientists, and politicians – has become the way forward. 

Read more: PSM and climate change: Covering the crisis (PMA Report)


Public media have a long history of collaborating on initiatives that are not only beneficial to the organisations involved but to the publics they serve. Collaboration can lead to expanded coverage for underserved and underrepresented communities, enriched programming, and strengthened impact and reach. Collaborations also allow for the exchange of best practices and provide opportunities for networking and skills development. Ultimately, collaborations allow public media to better meet key values such as access, innovation and diversity. Collaboration can come in the form of co-public media projects such as the 77 TV series produced by Nordic broadcasters in 2020, despite the pandemic, and the recent collaboration between Belgium’s RTBF and French public media, which highlighted the struggles and realities of young people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Collaboration can also look like public media working with non-public media organisations, such as PBS’ collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution to provide free content to educators via an online platform and CBC/Radio-Canada’s two initiatives with private media organisations to support diversity and local journalism.


News credibility – that is, whether reports are believed or not – does not occur strictly on a story-to-story basis; credibility is also dependent on a media organisation’s track record and encompasses its history with accuracy, objectiveness, and impartiality. Another important element of credibility is editorial independence: the political, social, and economic ties of an organisation or its journalists may impact the extent to which audiences trust or believe in its news. For public media organisations, their credibility can look like adherence to key PSM principles such as transparency, accuracy, and accountability. Some public broadcasters, such as the BBC and SBS, have also developed social media protocols for their employees to keep them in line with the organisations’ values, avoid disrepute, and maintain credibility.

Crisis Reporting

During times of crises, news coverage of what has happened and relief efforts can provide critical and lifesaving information to publics. But crisis reporting is not limited to reporting an incident as it occurs; it involves media organisations acting before, during, and after an event by assessing crisis preparedness and mitigation; providing warnings; building resilience at both the individual and community-level; and ultimately aiding in long-term recovery. Public media organisations are especially important during crises due to their reach, trust, accessibility and other PSM values. Crisis reporting can be seen with public broadcasters like Australia’s ABC and Japan’s NHK, whose long established policies, use of new technology and inclusive messaging makes their emergency reporting globally renowned. And most recently, public broadcasters in Germany, Belgium and Switzerland stepped up as deadly floods ravaged parts of Europe, by providing flood-specific programming, facilitating relief efforts and funding drives, and giving prominence to climate change content on their websites.

Digital Divide

From the price of technology to the rural-urban divide, not everyone has equal access to digital services. This concept of inequality of access is referred to as digital divide and can be influenced by a person’s geography, income, age, education level, and other demographics. When it comes to news, the digital divide remains a significant challenge globally, as more broadcasters make use of digital services to reach their audiences. The digital divide can look like unequal access to educational resources, as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic when British families were “locked out of education” due to the associated costs of the tech needed to access online learning. The UN has warned that the digital divide will become “the new face of inequality” without decisive action by the international community. But public broadcasters are doing their part to combat the issue. The United States’ PBS has developed a collaboration between public broadcasters and local school systems to broadcast educational programmes on local stations as part of a homeschooling service. By investing infrastructure, collaborating with both the public and private sectors, and listening to the demands of disadvantaged communities, public media organisations can help to bridge the digital divide and meet their mandate of being accessible to all.

Digital Innovation

Public service media (PSM) organisations need to continually adapt and evolve their digital services to reach audiences. It’s necessary to ensure viability; maintain relevance; improve access to content; and bolster democracy by establishing spaces that offer fact-based, trusted and high-quality news across multiple platforms. But the pace of change has increased exponentially. Innovation in 2012 looked like the launch of CBC/Radio-Canada’s first fully online local radio station to serve Hamilton, a community where there were no radio frequencies available. Now, amid more rapid technological change, growing competition and the challenges of a pandemic, the pressure to innovate has never been greater. As COVID-19 spreads, PSM rapidly responded to provide multi-platform, at-home educational resources and new ways to bring people together, such as Dutch public broadcaster NPO’s ‘Watch Together’ feature. As the landscape continues to fragment, it is important that public broadcasters continue to innovate and develop strategic digital approaches, such as Channel 4’s current digital strategy, which will ensure its “continued ability to deliver distinctive content at scale and meet its unique public service remit in a more competitive digital viewing environment.”


For public media, distinctiveness is a broad term used to describe how they set themselves apart from the wider media market. This can be achieved through the provision of content that is high-quality, innovative, and defined by their key values. For many public broadcasters, distinctiveness is not just a value of PSM: it can be found enshrined in their charters and publicly stated mandates. The BBC, for instance, has a public purpose that aims to ensure its services are “distinctive from those provided elsewhere”. Ofcom notes that for the BBC, distinctiveness isn’t just the type of content commissioned, but also how it is made and with whom. At Australian public broadcaster SBS, its charter-mandated distinctiveness is closely tied to diversity. The organisation is focused on building a distinctive network by showcasing Australia’s diversity; bolstering in-language user experiences on digital platforms; providing factual and trustworthy information to multicultural communities in their preferred language; and increasing the hours of subtitled flagship content. Ultimately, distinctive public media ensure audiences who fund PSM can receive value for their money.


Diversity – an essential principle for all public media– refers to more than what audiences see or hear; it is also about who commissions and creates the content. For instance, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s national disability affairs reporter, Nas Campanella, is an experienced journalist with a disability. Her lived experience brings understanding, empathy, and careful consideration to the stories she tells. Meanwhile, diversity can also mean increased representation of different demographics within a workforce, such as the growing racial diversity of employees of US public media stations.

Due Impartiality

Impartiality at its most basic – that which does not consider the type of views being espoused, or the nature of the topic – can be fundamentally dangerous and impair the public media mandate. For many public media organisations, who have to encompass diverse views and opinions, sensitive topics such as racism and prejudice, the climate crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic, appear to provide challenges in terms of impartiality. But the  presentation of inaccurate information or harmful views would go against journalistic ethics and act against the public’s best interest. To avoid this challenge, public media need to employ qualified impartiality known as “due impartiality” – that is, the application of impartiality that is appropriate and adequate for each particular situation or issue. In clear cut cases, due impartiality could be the no-platforming of climate change deniers or anti-vaxxers – people whose views are factually incorrect, and where the amplification of these views are dangerous to wider society. But in more nuanced examples, it can be difficult to find the right balance. The BBC, for instance, notes that “the demands of impartiality can vary” while the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) similarly says that impartiality is “an art rather than a science”. Due impartiality must still abide by important news principles, such as being editorially independent, accurate, reflective of pluralistic views across output, and representative of a diverse society. But by weighing different sides of the argument, public media organisations continue to receive accusations of bias, with political partisanship leading some to believe that the media cover their political views unfairly. Those who feel excluded as a result can feel a growing sense of persecution, fuelling their disillusionment with public media. These accusations of bias have even extended to journalists, leaving many organisations scrambling to remove perceptions of bias not just for the organisation itself but also for their staff.

Editorial Independence

Editorial independence – the ability for media organisations to disseminate news without undue influence from political, social, or economic interests – is under significant pressure globally. From pressures caused by external actors, such as governments and media regulators, to those from internal actors such as boards of directors and owners, many media outlets are finding it increasingly difficult to adhere to journalistic principles such as balance, objectivity, and fairness. For public service media (PSM), editorial independence lends to credibility, transparency, and accountability to the public that funds them. Stable funding to insulate PSM against financial threats; effective regulatory mechanisms; and publicly stated mandates and charters can all safeguard the editorial independence of public media. But above all, editorial independence can only be ensured – and play its part towards an effective and informed democracy – when there is strong commitment to its adherence from all actors involved, including lawmakers to journalists.

Election Coverage

How the media covers elections has serious implications on the democratic process. If covered responsibly, the media can foster transparency, hold power to account, serve as effective forums for public debate, and facilitate political discourse. For public service media (PSM), an election can demonstrate their commitment to core PSM values such as impartiality, independence, pluralism, diversity, and access. Election coverage can look like SABC’s heightened focus on accuracy during elections and CBC/Radio-Canada’s provision of greater access to news during the recent 2021 federal elections. Across borders, PSM coverage should aim to make foreign elections more relevant and comprehensible to home audiences, such as DR’s coverage of Germany’s recent election. But stable funding and editorial independence are necessary if PSM are to cover elections responsibly, fairly, and to a high standard. In Ghana, GBC was forced to rely on its internally generated funds to cover the 2020 election while Poland’s state-captured public broadcaster TVP was heavily criticised for failing in “its duty to offer balanced and impartial coverage” of the country’s June 2020 presidential election.

“Fake News” Laws

“Fake News” is a term that has become widely used in recent years. PMA aims to avoid using the term as we believe it is damaging to link the word ‘Fake’ to ‘News’. Simply put, Fake News refers to news content that features misinformation or disinformation. However, the term has become weaponised, with many using it to cast doubts on the truthfulness of claims made by those of opposing views. Governments, in particular, have begun to use legislation to silence dissenting voices. For instance, the Nicaraguan government in October 2020 passed a bill that would make spreading fake news on social media punishable by up to four years behind bars. In Malaysia, there has been a repeal of the 2018 Anti-Fake News Act – which carried a punishment of up to six years in prison and a fine – but discussions are underway for its renewal. Fake News laws are instituted under the guise of targeting “fake news” and protecting the public. But ultimately they often act as tools of censorship and persecution of the media, particularly during times like the COVID-19 pandemic when critical journalism is most needed.

Funding Instability

Public media rely on sustainable and stable funding to fulfil their remits. This be from licence fees, federal or mixed sources. But around the world, public media funding is under threat. Recently, at the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), the public broadcaster was forced to rely on its internally generated funds to cover the 2020 elections – “the most expensive GBC has had to cover in recent years”. And in Germany, public broadcasters are facing increased financial pressures following the rejection of the licence fee increase. Austerity measures have already been announced and, as ARD Chairman, Tom Buhrow, warns, “Without sufficient, independently determined funding, the range of programmes, which is rooted in all regions of Germany, will suffer.”

Impartial Journalism

Impartiality is one of the most essential tenets of public media. It is far from simple to understand or explain but it is critical to democracy. Impartial journalism underpins informed decision-making by offering fact-based and contextual information on issues of public interest, while providing an outlet for citizens to share and amplify their views, while also providing an opportunity for them to hear the views of others. In its simplest sense, impartiality means not to be partial and in a polarised and often divided world needs to be accompanied by rigorous fact checking and verification.  It is certainly the case that there should be no judgement or editorialising on the behalf of the author, nor should any social, political, or economic interests subvert or influence the reporting. Too often, impartial journalism has been taken to mean, ‘the reflection of all sides of an argument, equally balanced between all viewpoints’. But ‘balance’ is also a difficult concept, as balanced reporting can be taken as the need to include the views of those spreading dis- and misinformation. Publicly funded news organisations must ensure that they fairly represent and equally scrutinise the full diversity of thought and backgrounds that exist across society. Impartial journalism benefits news organisations — it helps build public trust, audience engagement, credibility, value, and relevance — all valuable to PSM and explained in this glossary. But impartial reporting also brings challenges. Rising polarisation, misinformation, audience fragmentation, anti-media sentiments and conspiracy theories have increasingly led to public media not only making tough decisions on how impartial they should be but have also led to them defending their impartiality, setting out new approaches, and explaining their editorial policies.

To get around this issue, many public media organisations apply the concept of ‘due impartiality’ to issues, which is explained above.

Impartial Journalists

The concept of impartiality is familiar to public media journalists worldwide. Like news organisations, individual journalists must also be committed to fact-based, informed journalism, regardless of their own personal biases. It is imperative for public trust that there is no perception of an agenda other than reporting in the interest of the public. Their organisation’s approach to impartiality – whether strict or due – should offer important guidance. Journalists are experiencing increasing pressure to remove perceptions of bias regardless of whether they exist or not.

Impartiality guidelines often stray into reporters’ personal lives. For instance, RNZ’s editorial policies says that journalists, programme creators, and presenters must not sign, endorse, or promote public petitions on nationally significant matters which may attract RNZ’s coverage since “to do so would compromise the impartiality of the individual and could negatively affect RNZ’s editorial credibility”. The BBC’s social media guidelines for its staff also prohibit content that “undermines the integrity or impartiality of the BBC”, including views on current political debates and how they vote. Meanwhile, NPR encourages its staff to consider impartiality in their personal lives, including perception biases arising from the actions of loved ones and social media activity.

But impartiality is complicated, and a corporation’s rules can create confusion for journalists. Updated BBC guidelines released last year tried to stipulate how journalists engage with certain issues in a personal capacity, initially causing confusion as to whether reporters could attend events, marches or protests (they could, so long as they were not “taking a stand on politicised or contested issues”). Ultimately, many PSM organisations see an impartial journalist as one who remains impartial both in their work and personal lives and whose actions do not impact public perceptions of bias, which could then undermine not just their own output, but the organisation’s overall output.


Nearly 1,200 journalists – or one every four days, UNESCO notes – have been killed between 2006 and 2019 for simply doing their jobs. Most of these killings occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean, which accounted for 40% of global killings, but impunity for crimes against journalists is a worldwide phenomenon. In India, for instance, impunity can look like the 39 journalist killings which have occurred since 2006, with no convictions against any perpetrators. But it must be emphasised that impunity for crimes against journalists is not limited to fatal attacks; impunity also occurs when perpetrators are not brought to justice for intimidation, harassment, sexual violence, torture, arbitrary detention, and other acts that negatively impact on journalists’ ability to inform democracy and public debate. Ultimately, impunity weakens public trust in the judicial system, promotes fear-driven self-censorship, and emboldens perpetrators of crimes against journalists.

In-language Services

With a commitment to universalism and accessibility, many public service broadcasters strive to reach diverse audiences with in-language services. Providing these services offers audiences a way to interact with public media content beyond the country’s native language(s). In-language services allow public media to not only keep the public educated, informed, and entertained – regardless of the language they speak – but also ensure that diverse communities are both reflected and included. They can look like the creation of original content in multiple languages, such as SBS’ use of audiograms across its in-language social media channels and KBS World’s online broadcast streaming across 11 languages. And, when COVID-19 put added pressure on public media to deliver public service messages, many broadcasters’ in-language services looked like the expansion of their content to include the translation of news content in non-native languages, such as Yle’s increased COVID-19 news offerings in Arabic, Somali, Kurdish, and Persian.

International Services

Some public service broadcasters operate international services. These are often relied upon by people who otherwise lack access to accurate and impartial information about their region and the wider world. A commitment to core PSM principles has therefore earned many international services high levels of trust among their audiences. Funding models vary. For example, although its fellow ARD members are funded by a licence fee, Deutsche Welle is funded by the German state via tax revenue. Alternatively, the BBC World Service is funded in much the same way as the BBC’s UK service – primarily via a licence fee – but also receives funding through limited advertising and profits from BBC Studios, with   additional funding from the UK Foreign Office.

Aside from keeping millions of people informed, international services help to put domestic news in context and represent a country’s culture and values abroad. For this reason, they are often seen as sources of soft power although most trusted international services have strict measures in place to prevent them being co-opted by governments. Many also have dedicated newsgathering teams with local knowledge. These help PSBs to avoid parachute journalism and maintain accuracy, as journalists are less reliant on external sources.

Finally, international services should be accessible. This does not just mean they are freely available, but also that a broadcaster’s domestic audience can access them and that they are available in local foreign languages. NHK World offers content in 18 languages while the BBC World Service provides news in over 40 languages. International services fulfil a much-needed role that is uniquely different to that of domestic PSM, yet they should be guided by the same principles of accountability, transparency, and quality journalism.

Threats to Journalist Safety

Journalism has become an increasingly dangerous profession. While threats to physical safety – such as attacks, kidnapping, sexual assault, and arbitrary detention – are clear-cut examples, threats may also be more insidious. Intimidation, SLAPPs, looming unemployment, impunity, and online harassment may not physically harm journalists, but they drive fear and self-censorship. Threats to journalist safety can look like the recent arrest of a Belarusian journalist after the plane he was on was rerouted under the orders of Belarusian authorities. His family now fear that he has been tortured. But while journalist safety threats may come from governments, they may also come from everyday citizens. Growing hostilities have been noted across Europe, such as in The Netherlands, Germany, and Austria where public broadcasters have been forced to remove logos on their vehicles, cameras, and clothing, and deploy increased security with their journalists.

Licence fees

The implementation of a licence fee – a popular funding model for the use of public service media (PSM) across platforms such as radio, television, and internet-enabled devices – can look differently from country to country. For instance, the licence fee for South Korean public broadcaster KBS is levied along with residents’ electricity bills while in Switzerland public media is funded on a per domicile basis. In the UK, the BBC’s TV licence fee is dependent on whether you watch, record, or download live, catch-up or on-demand programmes. Regardless of implementation, licence fees remain one of the main sources of income for many public broadcasters, such as in Japan where the licence fee makes up nearly 100% of NHK’s income. However, blocks to licence fee increases such as in Germany; questions about the relevance of PSM in the digital age such as in South Korea; and high rates of licence fee evasion such as in South Africa, have threatened the funding model in many countries. But whether they are fully or partially funded by a licence fee, stable funding is essential for public media to maintain key values such as editorial independence, quality journalism, and pluralism.

Limited Access

Access goes beyond mere presence —accessible public media services and content must be adaptive to the interests and needs of everyone in society. Limited access can marginalise groups, as with ZBC’s overlooking of people with disabilities in its covid-19 reporting. Or, in the recent example of RTHK’s suspension of the live relay of the BBC World Service, limited access can mean the removal of trusted sources of information and independent journalism.  The latter example is one of particular concern, as noted in statements by both the PMA and the Global Task Force for Public Media.

Local News Investment

Local journalism is an integral part of the news ecosystem. While national and international news strive to cover as broad a scope as possible, local news journalism functions at the community level to provide stories and representations that are relevant at local or regional level. Quality local news is not only produced within a community but also for that community, helping to foster democracy and enable greater accountability at a local level. But local news outlets are under considerable strain due to declining revenue and audience fragmentation, with many outlets failing to adapt to new platforms and funding mechanisms, leading to the creation of news deserts. Some solutions can be found in collaborations with and funding from public broadcasters. These investments can look like the collaboration between Report for America and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to expand local newsrooms with a diverse corps of 300 journalists. They can also look like CBC/Radio-Canada’s Local News Matters initiative, a national directory “to help Canadians find and support local media serving their communities” and SVT’s investment in local journalism, which is expanding on the Swedish broadcaster’s nearly 50 national locations. They can also look the like RNZ’s Local Democracy Reporting initiative, which provides additional mentoring, support and training for local journalists across New Zealand.


Localisation is the term used to describe the process of making media content accessible to people outside of the original target country or region.  It is a complex process, with content producers having to take into consideration not only different languages, but also different technologies; a country or region’s legal requirements; the needs of visually and/or hearing-impaired users; music rights; and the nuances of cultural differences. ZDF in Germany is one public broadcaster that has a thriving localisation approach. Its localisation work looks like dubbing and subtitling across more than a dozen languages; editing of in-video text such as titles and credits; and the reshooting or editing of programmes to make content more culturally relevant or appropriate. But localisation does not always have to cross borders and public broadcasters such as the BBC and SBS have made original content relevant to their own domestic audiences who speak different languages. Localisation provides an opportunity for public broadcasters to not only demonstrate key public media values such as accessibility, diversity, and universalism, but also allows them to remain competitive as audiences fragment and the world becomes increasingly globalised. At a time when streaming services are also putting great effort and investment into localising much of their advertising and production, it is imperative public media does not fall behind.

Media Capture

Despite the importance of journalistic independence to democracy, threats to independent media continue to grow. One such threat is media capture – “when powerful public and private groups take premeditated actions to control media institutions”. Media capture can come in the form of increased media regulations, the persecution of dissident voices, and the purchase and control of media outlets. Poland’s national broadcaster, Telewijza Polska, has experienced considerable media capture in recent years. This has resulted in it being used by the ruling Law & Justice party as a government mouthpiece.

Media Concentration

Media concentration happens when fewer companies or individuals own an increasing number of shares in mass media. The fewer news media owners there are, the higher the concentration of ownership. While media concentration can be dangerous due to its potential to restrict pluralism (as discussed in last week’s explainer) and ultimately democracy, its impact can be managed. For instance, in a country where a vigorous independent public media system might make up most of the media landscape, media pluralism, with diverse opinions, voices, issues, and media types, can still thrive. To minimise the harm of media concentration, editorial independence free of external pressures, the presence of an independent regulator, and the existence and implementation of effective disclosure and transparency policies on media ownership are important. But of course, these are not always attainable and as a result, concerns about media concentration have been on the rise globally, including across Latin America, in Australia and Argentina. Meanwhile in Poland, the growth in ownership of an array of media outlets by state-backed companies signals tightening government control over the country’s media.

Media Crackdowns

Media crackdowns are calculated measures – most often taken by political powers – to clamp down on press freedom and limit the media’s ability to report freely, fairly, and ethically. Media crackdowns can include suspensions, shutdowns, lawsuits, and warnings – the last of which has recently been used against public broadcaster RTHK in Hong Kong. Media crackdowns are often buoyed by repressive laws. The pandemic’s onset, for instance, has seen an increase in media crackdowns, with some governments using the guise of COVID-19 and “public interest” to silence critical voices.

Media Literacy

Media literacy goes beyond access – it includes one’s ability to analyse and critically evaluate information, responsibly produce their own, and ultimately act on the information they consume. According to UNESCO, media literacy goes hand in hand with information literacy and together they empower citizens to not only understand the functions of media and information providers but also to critically evaluate them and make informed decisions. With mis- and disinformation at an all-time high, media literacy can look like an increased perception among the public of misinformation-related manipulation; an increased confidence in spotting misinformation; and a reduced willingness to share misinformation. Media literacy initiatives have been launched by public service media organisations, such as the collaboration between ABC, PBS and CBC/Radio-Canada to create interactive learning materials to provide media literacy skills and promote an engaged citizenry. And at France Télévisions, media literacy has long been a priority, with a media literacy web series; programmes targeting digital and image education; and yearly participation in Education Week. The latter gives teachers and students access to media literacy workshops and debates.

Media Regulation

Regulatory mechanisms – whether they exist within a media organisation or outside of it – play an important role in protecting media freedom and maintaining editorial independence. For public broadcasters, rigorous external mechanisms, such as a national broadcasting regulator, may outline expectations and responsibilities of public media and ensure public service goals are met. Meanwhile, internal regulatory mechanisms – such as a supervisory body, an ombudsman, and even stable funding – can better safeguard public broadcasters’ independence, promote transparency, and foster the accountability needed to serve the publics that fund them. But the mere presence of regulatory mechanisms is not enough: the protection of public media and media freedom requires a commitment to independence, impartiality, independence, accountability, and transparency from policymakers and others in government.

News Deserts

News deserts – geographic areas with few or no news outlets providing locally relevant news – have been on the rise due to challenges like declining advertising revenue and audience fragmentation (see our week 23 explainer). While communities may still have access to national news, the loss of local news can impact on their democratic lives by reducing access to information that could foster civic engagement and hold governments to account on the local level. There are fears for news deserts in Australia, where recent newsroom closures in Victoria and Queensland have raised concerns of news vacuums and increased the use of social media to access “news”. News deserts can also look like the closure of more than 2,000 newspapers in the US since 2004, leaving more than 65 million people with access to only one local newspaper or none at all. With a decline in local newsrooms, partisan outlets and disinformation have become more widespread, filling the spaces where accurate and trusted news once was. However, in response, there have been initiatives launched to combat news deserts, such as those from North American public broadcasters NPR and CBC/Radio-Canada.


Media pluralism not only refers to the diversity of voices, opinions, or issues that exist in a media landscape but also to the diversity of media outlets and media types. Pluralism is necessary for the effective functioning of democracy and public service media have an especially important role to play by serving as a public source of impartial information and diverse opinions. Particularly during times of conflict, crises, and elections, pluralism is essential for enabling informed decisions and citizen engagement. In some cases, public broadcasters like ABC are contributing to pluralism by expanding their digital services to improve access to more diverse content on a range of platforms. However, media pluralism is also at risk around the world, especially in countries like Hungary and Poland where media capture and monopolisation have significantly curtailed public access to a broad range of independent media and information.


If you have a modern television remote, you are probably familiar with the buttons showing the logo of a digital service you could access with one press. While the lists of services might look different across remotes, they each have one thing in common – they indicate how easily accessible and discoverable each of these services are. The concept of being able to easily find specific content on a platform is known as prominence and it extends beyond your remote – it considers how discoverable content is on radio frequencies, where it’s placed on electronic programme guides, and what is served to you immediately in video-on-demand services or within search results. Regulators such as Ofcom in the UK already protect the prominence of PSBs on linear, traditional channels. But the UK government’s plan to overhaul existing broadcasting rules to ensure their prominence on smart TVs demonstrates the need to consider public media’s prominence through a digital lens, especially as more audiences make use of SVODs or own a smart TV where the developers behind the platform’s technology have the power to determine how discoverable content is. However, as the European Platform of Regulatory Authorities notes, prominence of content will rely on bargaining powers with global players, a task that may prove challenging for some PSBs.

Public Interest Journalism

democracy. It supports civic life through rigorous, independent, and truth-speaking reporting that places the well-being of society at the heart of its work. Public interest journalism is not about reporting what the public may want to know, but rather what they need to know. As such, it is a core tenet of public service media in fulfilling their obligations to uphold democracy and accountability in the name of the public they serve. As organisations that do not necessarily rely on clicks for revenue, PSMs are well placed to carry out this important function. The BBC’s recognition of this was integral to the establishment of the Local Democracy Reporting Service. But determining what constitutes public interest journalism is not always straightforward, and it may involve journalists engaging with serious ethical considerations such as one’s right to privacy, or potential harms such as national security risks. Public interest journalism can look like The Pandora Papers, a collaborative journalism project that exposed the financial secrets of former and current world leaders. It can also look like investigative journalism work – such as those from recent Nobel Peace Prize laureates Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov – that expose corruption and abuses of power, highlight social inequalities, and provide a platform for debate and civic engagement. While working in the public interest is already embedded in public service media values, it is essential that more media outlets take on a similar mandate.

Public Trust

Trust is a key component of the relationship between public service media (PSM) and the public who pay for it. PSM can build and maintain public trust in many ways, such as by providing factual information, demonstrating editorial independence, and accurately representing a diversity of people and voices. While public trust in the media has deteriorated in recent years, PSMs remain the most trusted sources of news in many countries – this is the case in 61% of European countries according to the EBU. Public trust in PSM can look like increased audience engagement, and continued and increased usage of PSM services, such as in the UK where more than 90% of adultsused BBC services each week over the past year. Public trust can also look like audiences’ appreciation of PSMs’ contribution to communities, such as in the United States where public broadcaster PBS is highly rated by Americans in terms of value for tax dollars.


More than their commercial counterparts, public service media (PSM) have a greater responsibility to remain relevant due to their public funding. A relevant public broadcaster is one that remains a continued choice for audiences, even in the face of increasingly fragmented and saturated media landscapes, where they face competition from commercial broadcasters and on-demand services. Maintaining relevance therefore can look like innovative projects from European public broadcasters Sveriges Radio, VRT, and DR, who have undertaken digitalisation, podcasting, and personalised audio to redefine their audio content and stay accessible to their respective audiences. But relevance is also about establishing a trusted relationship with the public, where audiences consistently turn to the broadcaster for information or entertainment. This can include diverse programming and PSM staff that reflect multicultural societies. Or, as seen during the 2021 federal election in Germany when ZDF and ARD were the top choices for information news for viewers, relevance can look like the public trust placed in public media during important national events such as elections. Ultimately for public broadcasters, the processes of becoming relevant and maintaining that draw upon commitments to innovation, distinctiveness, diversity, pluralism, accessibility, credibility, public trust, and editorial independence – all terms we’ve explored in our weekly explainers.


For public broadcasters, being responsive to the diverse informational, educational, and entertainment needs of the public is intrinsic to their public media mandate. Responsiveness not only considers the social, cultural, and economic needs of audiences but also other factors such as technological and accessibility needs. Responsive PSM also meet not only short-term or unexpected needs – such as with a crisis or emergency – but they also plan long-term, sustainable initiatives, like investing in digital innovation and more diverse content. PSM also need to be responsive to market changes, such as by establishing a streaming service to remain competitive. Responsiveness can therefore range from European public media’s flood responses, NBC making COVID-19 information available in local languages, or SBS’s language services review, a process that ensures the broadcaster’s language services are reflective of today’s Australia. Importantly, as PSM function not only for society but within it, responsiveness must also occur within their organisations. For instance, CBC/Radio-Canada recently set carbon footprint requirements for original productions following COP26 and, following the killing of George Floyd in 2020, also undertook several initiatives aimed at diversity and inclusion. Ultimately, responsiveness is a balancing act of numerous considerations but, when done right, it lends to greater distinctiveness, audience engagement, viability, relevance, and value.


As many news organisations face growing funding instability, retrenchment – the process of reducing expenditure or costs during times of financial difficulty – is becoming more widespread, particularly since the onset of the pandemic. For public media, retrenchment often looks like redundancies or the significant loss of jobs. Examples include South Africa’s SABC, which saw 621 job losses as part of its retrenchment; at Ireland’s RTÉ, a voluntary staff exit scheme will be reopened to close a “persistent” funding gap; at ABC in Australia, 250 jobs were slated to be cut due to budget shortfalls; and at Switzerland’s SRG SSR, “job cuts are inevitable” as the public broadcaster continues its cost-cutting programme. But retrenchments don’t only affect human resources; they also affect the services offered by public broadcasters. This is the case at ARD in Germany, where recently announced austerity measures could “have significant consequences for the programming” in all regions. While some retrenchments are unavoidable, they can drastically hinder the ability of public media to provide an essential and effective service to their audiences.


SLAPPs — or strategic lawsuits against public participation — can see the abuse of existing laws by powerful individuals or bodies to strategically target legitimate critical reporting. These lawsuits are often not about winning; rather, a SLAPP’s main aim is to intimidate critics, drain their resources, and discourage active public engagement. There have been growing concerns about the use of SLAPPs in some parts of Europe and their use as a tool of legal harassment and censorship. They can look like the suing of two journalists and a journalists’ association in Croatia by public broadcaster HRT, where political interference in the broadcaster’s work has become commonplace. Many examples can also be found in Slovenia, where SLAPPs have quickly become a worrying trend.

State Controlled Media

State-controlled media goes beyond ownership – not all media organisations owned or funded by a state or government are state-controlled media. Instead, a media organisation is state-controlled when it is also under editorial control from the government, whether directly or indirectly. State-controlled media is the antithesis of public service media. While public media emphasises a commitment to the public through values such as editorial independence, impartiality, accountability, and transparency, state-controlled media instead often serve the government’s interests by acting as a mouthpiece. Regular programme interventions from the state, a lack of mechanisms for accountability and independent regulation, and a lack of impartiality are just some features seen with state-controlled media. Low levels of press freedom – such as in Russia and China – often go hand in hand with state-controlled media.


Transparency from public officials allows journalists to better inform the public and ultimately contribute to democracy. But public media organisations also need to be transparent in the way they are managed, funded, and use their resources. Transparency is a core PSM value, helping to make them accountable to the public that funds them, their editorial independence, and public trust. Transparency can look like clear and publicly available management and financial reports, charters, and guidelines that can be used to hold public media responsible to their mandates. Some public broadcasters, such as the USA’s NPR, have an ombudsman or public editor who serves as the public’s representative to newsrooms by receiving and responding to public queries, comments, and criticisms of programming as well as to issues of adherence, journalistic standards and ethics. But as with editorial independence, transparency requires a firm commitment from those both within and outside of the public media organisation. After all, as recent events at Hong Kong’s RTHK have demonstrated, a clearly defined charter is not enough to protect the values of public media.


Universalism is a key public media value. Ideally, universalism means ensuring access for a national population to public media services across geographic and financial constraints, interests, languages, and understanding. With such a broad undertaking, universalism can have many faces. In Sweden, public broadcaster SVT has made an “historic” investment in local journalism by launching four new newsrooms in 2021, adding to its nearly 50 national locations. In 2020, Australian public broadcaster, SBS, launched a multilingual coronavirus portal in 63 languages and more recently, a Chinese digital service. Regardless of the face it takes on, universalism should ensure audiences – no matter where they are or who they are – are not only being reached but are being engaged with meaningfully.


Intangibly, PSM offer social and democratic value by acting as platforms for pluralistic views and opinions, holding power to account, providing fact-based journalism that fosters civic engagement, producing high quality content that entertains and educates, and much more. In times of crisis, such as during the Covid-19 pandemic, public media has demonstrated its value in being able to convey critical public health messaging in an effective way, and counter misinformation to a mass audience. PSM’s value can also be measured economically. In the US, for instance, PBS is considered one of America’s best investments; at $1.35 per citizen annually, a public survey ranked PBS second in terms of taxpayer value, only behind the military. Meanwhile in Europe, the EBU has noted that its PSM members invest more than €19.5 billion a year in content creation, collect millions of euros through their radio and TV charity fundraisers, and bolster local media environments by investing heavily in original productions. When the UK’s Channel 4 was threatened with privatisation, the creative sector pointed out how much value and work which would be lost as a result. At a time when public media is under threat due to political interference and pressures, fragmenting audiences, and unstable funding, it is important to remember the invaluable contributions these organisations provide to society. 

PSM Viability

Globally, public service media (PSM) face significant threats, including censorship, funding instability, infringements on editorial independence, audience fragmentation, and many more. These threats have impacted on PSM’s viability [PDF] – the ability for media organisations to sustainably produce high quality journalism. Media viability does not only ensure that PSM are able to operate but it also plays an important role in democracy by ensuring that the public have access to crucial and reliable information. For some public media, viability may look like stable funding; the ability to create innovative and responsive content; increased use of media technology; greater citizen engagement and community support; collaboration with other media outlets and NGOs; and strong media regulations, both internally and externally. These examples of viability lend to media independence, increased credibility, and high-quality content – all essential values to PSM and which lend to their sustainability. The pandemic has brought further challenges to media viability, with declining advertising revenue, media crackdowns, and restrictions on content production.

Youth Media Literacy

As more children engage with media and news content, it is important that they are taught how to become responsible and informed consumers and creators, especially in a growing age of misinformation, populism, and polarisation. Many public media organisations play a role in improving media literacy among the next generation of voters, and some have even developed youth media labs – where children produce their own content – to do so. These can look like PBS Newshour’s ‘Student Reporting Labs, where young people engage in newsgathering, reporting, and video production to tackle critical topics. Other examples include CBC/Radio-Canada’s “Prochaine Génération” (Next Generation) project, BBC’s ‘BBC Young Reporter’, and SABC’s partnership with the University of Western Cape which gives students the opportunity to gain on-the-ground experience in newsrooms and develop skills in broadcasting across different platforms. It is essential that public media continue to support youth media literacy as young people grow up and engage in civic life and informed democracy. 

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