7 Topics, 7 Weeks
4. Fund content, not companies! There’s no law against it.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
More and more people, mainly younger ones, are turning to the Internet for political news. That presents us with entirely new challenges: When information is sorted by algorithms, it creates filter bubbles. Users search for information on the web and get results that confirm their opinions. Algorithms in turn amplify one-sidedness, creating individual echo chambers. This one-dimensional quality is the polar opposite of diversity of opinion. We media organizations need to counter this trend by providing content that shores up the pluralism of our society, and at the same time is fresh and attractive enough to draw younger target groups.
That’s one of the things we do best. Every day, our programming features shows that are particularly successful with younger audiences, because we speak and understand their language. The way we stage issues differs from what public broadcasting offers. A striking example of this is Ein Mann, eine Wahl (One Man, One Vote), a show in which Klaas Heufer-Umlauf used unconventional tactics to sound out the top candidates in the recent elections. Programs like this spark enthusiasm for topical social issues among target groups that do not normally tend to get involved in politics. With this content, we effectively fill the gaps in public-service broadcasters’ provision of information.
Even Siegfried Schneider, Chairman of the Directors Conference of the State Media Authorities (DLM), has appealed to us, the private TV stations, to retain and expand our news and information offerings. “When young people turn on regular TV, they mainly tune in to the private stations,” Schneider says. “So the private channels have a de facto responsibility to expose young audiences to information.” In effect, we already assume part of the public service obligation to make information available – but we have never received financial support for doing so.
In order to expand our efforts to broadcast socially relevant content, we need to discuss their financing urgently. It is high time our lawmakers proposed and implemented appropriate measures to support the German market. This is essential if we are to safeguard diversity of opinion in our country even in the digital age, not put it at risk. Incidentally, there’s no law against it.
As Professor Mark Cole of the University of Luxembourg emphasizes in his comprehensive study, EU case law ascribes a special role to private broadcasters in achieving media pluralism. The state aid law allows giving financial support to private stations. Professor Cole also points out that the original wording in the pan-European broadcasting rules refers to “public service broadcasting” – with the emphasis on broadcasting, not the broadcaster. In other words, the focus is squarely on the content rather than the agent. Did something get lost in translation?
Our Media Regulations 4.0 model is designed to tie funding to content, not to companies. This proposal is a clear response to the current media-policy challenges: Media Regulations 4.0 is an effective and realistic approach to getting the dual broadcasting system in sync with conditions in our digital society. This adjustment is long overdue. Subsidizing relevant content creates a reliable counterbalance to one of the most perilous trends in our media landscape today: filter bubbles and echo chambers that narrow the political horizon. We must join forces to oppose this development, and set new standards together.
Sincerely, Conrad Albert