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A New Accountability Model for Public Media

A New Accountability Model for Public Media

Written by
Glenn O’Farrell
April 16th, 2019

Glenn O’Farrell looks at the impact of public service media and their role in the transformation of society.

A New Accountability Model for Public Media

Photo: Hannah Wei

Disruption is everywhere, in all sectors, and public media are not spared. In a media environment undergoing deep transformational change, some wonder about the continued relevance of these public enterprises, whether they be general interest or dedicated educational media, such as Groupe Média TFO. For us, it is inescapable that, both now and in the future, public media organizations must evolve and even reinvent themselves, with an urgency born of necessity.

Now more than ever, public media have their place. But we are convinced that they must be more responsive and align themselves more with the habits of digital users. Therefore, we propose to use accessible digital metrics to place economic and social accountability at the heart of this vision for public media. At Groupe Média TFO, a digital, educational, francophone enterprise operating in a minority language environment, we continue upon this course of action mapped out in our new 2019-2022 Strategic Plan.

As Canada is about to review and modernize the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act, we propose to take a new look at the impact of public service media and their front-line role in the transformation of our society. These central public enterprises produce and distribute our homegrown creative voices.They are powerful players influencing the infrastructure and the democratic life of the communities they serve. Public media are information enterprises and witnesses to history, the present and the future of our societies. We believe the time has come to implement robust new funding initiatives and measures to stimulate the production of Canadian educational content to serve our audiences better.

Our domestic debate about public media is also taking place elsewhere. In 2018, Switzerland held a referendum to decide whether or not to maintain its mandatory licence fee, levied on each household to finance the national public audiovisual media. More than 70% of those voting reiterated their support for their public service media, but the debate raised lively discussions as to citizens’ expectations regarding the broadcaster. In Denmark, DR, the public broadcaster, faces significant cuts to its annual budget, while in Australia, the Liberal party was called upon, in June 2018, to decide whether ABC, the national public broadcaster, should be privatized. Even though the proposal was massively rejected, this illustrates the questions regarding the contribution and mission of public service media.

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All of this debate results directly from the recent explosion in the number of digital platforms and major changes in consumer habits.The relationship between citizens and content producers and broadcasters has morphed: people can now access content whenever and wherever they want, on the platform of their choice.

In addition to adapting public media enterprises to the context of media plurality, a new metric of accountability is required. Before delving into these issues, let us return to a fundamental question: that of public value in the digital age.


Public media cultivate a unique means of engagement with audiences: to stimulate the desire to learn for the sheer pleasure of learning, and to broaden personal and collective horizons. This concept of “public value” is the foundation of the public media mission.

Groupe Média TFO is a member of Les Médias Francophones Publics, an international association of 11 media organizations from France, Switzerland, Belgium and Canada. It has developed a new framework to define and measure the contribution of each organization to the public value of the member countries. The framework measures this contribution in several areas: culture and education; democratic life; diversity and inclusion; economic impact; and support for creation, as well as innovation and social responsibility.

For its part, Groupe Média TFO has developed a unique expertise. It views learning content through the lens of a minority community with sensitivity and all the attendant subtleties. Diversity and inclusion are celebrated through programming based on the essential learning competencies of the 21st century.

Groupe Média TFO has placed math, technology, science and “cross-curricular competencies” at the heart of its vision. It is now one of the largest producers and aggregators of French-language educational content in Canada. Notably, it has made more than 12,000 innovative educational and technological resources available to educators, families and the experts of tomorrow on the IDÉLLO educational platform.

In a world of endless transformation where technological innovation multiplies at an exponential rate, and at the dawn of the “fourth industrial revolution,” to quote Klaus Schwab, economist and founder of the World Economic Forum, public educational media play a fundamental role in the support and preparation of all citizens, in particular the next generations.

The relationship between citizens and content producers and broadcasters has morphed: people can now access content whenever and wherever they want, on the platform of their choice.

Yes, learning is undergoing transformational change. Paper-based encyclopedias are less relevant. Knowledge and critical thought are joined at the hip. Developing competencies such as communication and problem-solving have surpassed the teaching of techniques and processes. Worldwide, the fourth industrial revolution, the digital one, transforms both the goals and the ways of learning.

In this context, Groupe Média TFO plays its role by multiplying initiatives to prepare young Ontarians to contribute fully and with discernment to the society of tomorrow.

We do not know what tomorrow’s trades and skills will be. Our duty, therefore, is to help current and future generations of francophones and francophiles achieve their potential and further the cause of education in Canada.

Through a range of innovative audiovisual and digital content (in particular, our 22 YouTube channels, which have generated over 700 million views), we contribute to the achievement of the Ontarian and Canadian Francophonie potential: 10 million speakers, 2.7 million living in a linguistic minority situation.

As for Groupe Média TFO, a main pillar of Franco-Ontarian and Canadian culture, our commitment to the Francophonie is quite clear. And we have a duty of accountability to our audiences and partners.

The necessity to reinvent oneself, over and over

The pervasiveness of transnational digital giants in all sectors of economic activity has disrupted national ecosystems and industries. High-performance connectivity, tever-expanding super databases and disintermediation are disruption drivers. And like many others, Groupe Média TFO has reinvented itself, and continues to do so.

The story of our digital transformation began in 2011. A quick and efficient digital transformation must rely first on a shared internal vision. To achieve this, our business structure was revamped in stages to break down silos and emphasize co-operation and a cross-sectional approach. The idea was to let ideas and competencies emerge… and refocus on human potential.

Thanks to the innovation, creativity, commitment and imagination of our teams, we turned the organization around, from a traditional broadcaster to a digital player with an international outreach. This converging model, at the crossroads of the public sector and entrepreneurship, seeks to leave no stone unturned in serving its primary mandate in Ontario while pursuing development activities elsewhere that strengthen its core and generate new revenues. LUV, the Laboratoire d’univers virtuels (virtual universes laboratory), is an excellent example of this. LUV is an innovative production solution, unique in North America. By setting up this cutting-edge studio for itself and opening it up to different industry players on a commercial basis, Groupe Média TFO is working to benefit the whole creative ecosystem. This efficient approach maximizes public-sector resources—as does the creation of the first Blockchain prototype in the Canadian audiovisual sector, to transform the management of the industry’s digital cultural productions. With our modest digital know-how, we persevere in a never-ending search for distribution opportunities. Over the last few years, we have entered into high-profile international distribution agreements with Louisiana Public Broadcasting and PBS Learning Media in the United States, with Qwant and Beneylu in France, and now with the distribution of our pre-school content on Chinese platforms. Here as elsewhere, digital technology offers an opportunity to nourish a continuous dialogue with our audiences within the great international francophone family.


We believe in the accountability of public enterprise through digital measures. We are in alignment with governments adopting digital strategies in their service offerings. The Service Ontario portal is a good example of this, showing the strong trend towards producing digital reports on government services. There are other striking examples of governmental digitalization in Estonia, India, and Rwanda, to name a few. Governments are also involved in large-scale data aggregation. We believe that digital accountability gives decision-makers precise instruments to improve evaluation of the economic benefits and effects of investments made in furtherance of their public policies. Over the last few years, we have been implementing a shift towards responsible data management, which allows us to optimize our business model. The first step was to create an index to measure the social impact of our learning content to francophone and francophile communities in Ontario and the rest of Canada.

We believe that digital accountability gives decision-makers precise instruments to improve evaluation of the effects of investments made in furtherance of their public policies.

We see digital metrics as an indispensable evaluation tool, enlightening decision making. It is also a powerful instrument for our financial accountability. However, we understand the importance of using the data with a critical mindset and rigorous ethics. We are committed to using an intelligent, responsible and equitable approach to optimize data usage while maintaining practices that are respectful of public values in order to maintain public confidence. Clearly, the importance of privacy and the respect of confidentiality are non-negotiable.

We are now dealing with the first generations of digital citizenry. We are at a turning point. The future of the public media industry and its sustainable development are at stake. In the media cacophony surrounding us, citizens must be given high-quality, reliable homegrown voices, to give life to the digital democratic marketplace. We must ensure that will done in a responsible and enlightened manner. Such content serves as a living and breathing reflection of who we are and as a guarantor for our public values, notably freedom of opinion and expression. This is content that tells our stories, reflects today’s values, shares our past and prepares our future generations for the society of tomorrow.

A public media organization must know how to take risks and how to surprise. At Groupe Média TFO, it is this passion for our organizational mandate and mission that motivates us every day to adopt new, innovative approaches, at the cutting edge of technological and educational trends. And measuring economic and social accountability becomes essential to align the public value of our content coherently with the movements of the fourth industrial revolution.

Public funding remains essential. It is what allows public services to maintain their unbreakable bond with public values.

En avant la musique!