Public broadcasters collaborate to reclaim online public spaces with creation of “Public Spaces Incubator”

8th February 2023
Public broadcasters from Belgium, Canada, Germany, and Switzerland are partnering to develop solutions to address increasingly toxic, polarised and unsafe online discourse.
ZDF, SRG SSR, RTBF and CBC/Radio-Canada have partnered on the public spaces incubator. Credit: CBC/Radio-Canada

This press release and other quotes were originally published on CBC/Radio-Canada, RTBF, SRG SSR and ZDF.

Public broadcasters CBC/Radio-Canada, RTBF (Belgium), SRG SSR (Switzerland) and ZDF (Germany) are joining forces to explore new ways for public service media to support citizen engagement and democratic discourse. The new “Public Spaces Incubator” (PSI) initiative will develop and test innovative solutions that encourage accessible and meaningful online conversations on issues of public interest, free from harassment or bullying — inclusive exchanges that will reflect diverse viewpoints and promote greater empathy and understanding, without suppressing perspectives or ideas.

Work on this research and development project will be done in collaboration with New_ Public, a nonprofit organization led by seasoned online participation experts that focuses on building healthy digital spaces. In line with the four broadcasters’ public service mandates to inform and enlighten, the project will focus on serving public knowledge and creating positive social connections.

Catherine Tait
Catherine Tait, President & CEO, CBC/Radio-Canada, Global Task Force Chair

“This partnership of four of the world’s leading public broadcasters underlines our collective and common purpose to address one of the most threatening phenomena of our time — unfettered online abuse. Online spaces that are free from disinformation, misinformation, harassment and abuse are near extinction. The social media environment has splintered into so many echo chambers that exclude diversity of opinion, discourage debate and silence dissent. Now is the time for public service media like CBC/Radio-Canada to play a role in reversing this trend.

“Together, we want to step up, discover and experiment with new ways of engaging our respective populations, connecting our communities and facilitating bridge-building dialogue that will strengthen our civic and democratic life.”

— Catherine Tait, President and CEO, CBC/Radio-Canada

Jean-Paul Philippot, Director-General of RTBF.

“This joint initiative aims to use the richness of digital tools to create a new space for interactions, without censorship but without being, for all that, the chamber for amplifying messages hatred and false information. A digital space that promotes exchanges based on respectful interaction with others. A utopia, some will say, a democratic ambition, we answer, that we want to make real and accessible to as many people as possible “.

— Jean-Paul Philippot, Director-General, RTBF

Gilles Marchand, Director-General of SRG SSR. Credit: SRG SSR

“The SSR is close to the Swiss population. To maintain this proximity, it creates bridges, encourages exchanges and ensures that a constructive dialogue is maintained in substance and form. Respect for diversity of opinions and people is a key condition of this process which is essential to democratic vitality.”

— Gilles Marchand, Director-General, SRG SSR

Director General, ZDF

“Democracy thrives on an open and fair dialogue in society. We must not leave this to the major American platforms. The project ‘Public Spaces Incubator’ is intended to show ways in which public service broadcasting can build independent and fact-based communication spaces in the digital world. Our common goal is to counter the increase in hatred, violence, propaganda and defamation on social media with a public service alternative.”

— Norbert Himmler, Director, ZDF

About CBC/Radio-Canada

CBC/Radio-Canada is Canada’s national public broadcaster. Through our mandate to inform, enlighten and entertain, we play a central role in strengthening Canadian culture. As Canada’s trusted news source, we offer a uniquely Canadian perspective on news, current affairs and world affairs. Our distinctively homegrown entertainment programming draws audiences from across the country. Deeply rooted in communities, CBC/Radio-Canada offers diverse content in English, French and eight Indigenous languages. We also deliver content in Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Punjabi and Tagalog, as well as both official languages, through Radio Canada International (RCI). We are leading the transformation to meet the needs of Canadians in a digital world.

About RBTF

The RTBF is a public enterprise of a cultural nature. It is the public service media of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation. It produces, publishes and distributes content on all platforms: TV, radio, web, social networks and its Auvio streaming platform. Audiences are at the heart of its productions and creations, while respecting their diversity. The RTBF group aims to create social ties with them and between them.To convey the values ​​of public service in an increasingly digital society, it fulfills the following missions: to guarantee pluralistic and independent information, to promote culture, to ensure the enhancement of heritage and talent and to work for memory, but also to entertain , educate and contribute to the development of local economies.


SRG SSR is made up of five Enterprise Units (RSI, RTR, RTS, SRF, SWI and its General Management (Group Head Office). The SRG SSR Group also includes two subsidiaries. With a total of 6,900 employees, equating to 5,500 full-time posts, an annual turnover of 1.53 billion francs, 17 radio stations, 7 television channels and a wide range of complementary websites and teletext services, SRG SSR is Switzerland’s biggest electronic media company. Its radio stations lead their respective markets in all four language regions – as do the television channels at prime time. SRG SSR services successfully hold their own against a variety of competing foreign broadcasters with greater financial muscle. SRG SSR media inform, entertain, and also have an educational function. They distribute their services round the clock on the same terms to everyone in Switzerland, no matter where they are, via radio, television, the Internet, HbbTV, teletext and mobile technologies.

About ZDF

ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen) is Germany’s national public television broadcaster. It is run as an independent non-profit corporation under the authority of the Länder, the sixteen states that constitute the Federal Republic of Germany. 

The nationwide channel ZDF has been broadcasting since 1st April 1963 and remains one of the country’s leading sources of information. Today, ZDF also operates the two thematic channels ZDFneo and ZDFinfo. In partnership with other public broadcasters, ZDF jointly operates the internet-only offer funk, the German content network funk and the channels PHOENIX and KiKA, and the European channels 3sat and ARTE.

About New_ Public

New_ Public works with communities, researchers, engineers, and designers to envision, architect, and scale healthy digital public spaces. We bring together a growing field committed to creating digital community-building platforms that serve as infrastructure to strengthen democracy.

With their foundational work on Civic Signals, co-founders Eli Pariser and Talia Stroud developed a framework to inform the design of existing digital platforms, and inspire and shape the platforms that will emerge in the years to come. Today, led by Eli and co-director Deepti Doshi, New_ Public’s team of designers, technologists, futurists, and community-builders develop and champion design patterns for helping people feel Welcome, Understand one another, Connect, and Act as well as govern, care for, and maintain social technologies.

CBC/Radio-Canada, SRG SSR and ZDF are members of the Public Media Alliance.