Who’s watching?

Coming back to the topic of public broadcasters looking for new ways to finance their organizations, the sparse discussion on the topic focuses on the wrong end. Here’s why: (in Germany but other coutries too) Public TV exists to ensure the availability of neutral information, or the multitude of sources of information, because Freedom of Information is a Constitutional Right. They are ordered by the public (or rather the legislator) to exist. The government must not interfere (which prohibits funding by taxes, because that could be a reprisal — and yet they do interfere, because they have delegates in all relevant commitees). What the whole current discussion boils down to: What legal base should the charge have that an individual (or a household? how about businesses?) has to pay? And how to charge – for each device or per adult or…? All in an effort to get the maximum justifiable amount of cash. But this discussion omits one important point: relevance due to bandwidth.

On traditional broadcast media (TV and radio) bandwidth is technically limited, so there is only room for a limited number of channels. Even on satellite, because compared to the internet with millions of channels available, 500+ channels on satellite is a puny number. In this old environment, Public TV still plays an important role, because they use quite a lot of bandwith due to their numerous amount of channels. Which means the likelihood of you watching or listening to one of their programmes is quite high.

Then came internet.
And what these people don’t get is that on this “convergent platform” as they call it, their relevance has shrunk to close to zero. The old justification was “when you have a radio, you have to pay because you can use it, whether you really do it or not” doesn’t apply on the net. Because of two reasons: a. on the radio, the chance of dialing in to one of their programmes is 80+% (on antenna TV 100% in rural regions, less in the cities and on cable). They certainly wish it were that high online. But it isn’t, and because of that, their demands for charges on computers and cellphones are not only ridiculous but also immoral. b. On the web, they cannot fulfil their duty of delivering neutral information. This is because the web by its nature is a free medium, so it naturally breeds various free information. The argument of “historically trusted source of hi-quality journalism” has no relevance here. And what’s more, should anybody ever decide to filter information or commit censorship, what’s to stop them from cutting of these “trusted sources” in the first place?

They do not understand that the game on the web has entirely different rules, and they cannot change them to work in their favour. But they’re also not willing to change their system, which makes it very difficult for them to cash in just because they’re available. So instead of reinventing their business (ouch the pain!) it’s much easier to try to use their political allies to turn democracy on its head.

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