However, democracy and participation are not enough; the real potential for public service media is the embrace of autonomous media—media that is truly independent, free to do what they wish, share what they wish, and operate as they wish. This includes not only what they focus on, but how they focus and what their business model is.
A democratic society is not a monolith; it thrives as a result of a diversity of perspectives and voices. The only way to achieve this is to encourage and support autonomous media that have the independence and ability to genuinely speak truth to power and articulate the diverse needs of a diverse public.
There needs to be healthy competition between media entities, preventing monopoly and the concentration of power, and instead ensuring there are viable alternatives and sustainable competition. Perhaps instead of a single model for a public broadcaster, there should be a constellation of public service media institutions that provide a broad range of programming and opportunities for citizens to engage with.
Public service media provides the cultural infrastructure that makes a country what it is. In a democratic society this is crucial, and essential, to ensuring that the necessary debates, conversations, and information are accessible to citizens.
However, in the digital age, we need to recognize that this infrastructure has shifted away from television and radio to social media like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and other platforms that are easier for the public to use and more responsive to the public’s needs and desires.
The power these platforms have, and the essential service they provide, should not be left to the private sector and the needs of advertisers. Rather, when we regard these facilities as essential infrastructure in a democratic society, it becomes clear that they need to be integrated back into a public service media model. This is not to argue that these large and foreign companies should be taken over by the government, but rather that the function and capabilities they offer should be emulated and adopted within our broader public service media system.
One of the problems these platforms face that public service media would have to address is the broader issue of content moderation and oversight—which, arguably, public service media are in a good position to do. The norms and values that influence what is acceptable content and what is unacceptable should not be left to foreign companies but should reflect the people who are participating.
However, it’s not just issues of moderation and governing content, but rather broader media governance models as a whole. A democratic society requires democratic media, which are a result of democratic governance models. Democracy is not just about voting every four years, but rather participating in the decision-making and shaping of society. That decision-making and shaping happens via our media systems. Therefore, how media governs itself directly influences how society governs itself.