How can the reform of broadcasting media help to promote democratic governance, conflict prevention and poverty reduction? What can be learned from the implementation of such reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina? This UNDP paper argues that public service broadcasting (PSB) can play a key role in promoting democratic governance and reducing poverty. However, broadcasting reform can only produce results at the same pace as democratic evolution in a given country, and should be integrated into broader democratic governance reform. Reformers need a strategic plan and a focus on the enabling legislative and regulatory framework.
Broadcast media – in a narrow sense – refers to electronic media (e.g. radio, television, the Internet). Most countries have a mix of broadcasters, including state, public service and commercial broadcasting. Public service broadcasting is normally publicly-owned; however, managers have significant autonomy regarding content and programming. Various international standards underpin public service broadcasting, including: universality, diversity, impartiality, independence from both state and commercial interests, a concern for national identity and culture, and direct financing by the public.
Public service broadcasting can be more effective than commercial broadcasting in promoting democratic governance reform. PSB can play a key role by: (i) ensuring that marginalised and disempowered groups have access to information; (ii) providing a voice for the ‘voiceless’; (iii) promoting tolerance and understanding among diverse groups; and (iv) facilitating dialogue on issues such as development, peacebuilding, and poverty reduction.
Key broadcasting reforms include: an improved legislative framework based on international standards (e.g. on financing, governance and management issues); an independent regulatory system; and the co-existence of both commercial and public service broadcasters. A case study of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), where the reform of broadcast media was a major post-conflict priority, reveals the complex challenges of such reform in post-conflict situations.
- Media sector reform was carried out in an uncoordinated and piecemeal manner. There was also a lack of expertise on issues relating to the transition from a state broadcaster to a public service system.
- There was a failure to prioritise local management capacity building. Overcoming entrenched cultural attitudes and media practices was also challenging.
- Limited local consultation contributed to a lack of ownership of the reforms. Resistance from political parties and local authorities also hampered the reform process.
- Media organisations became dependent on donor financing and little effort was made to develop local financial self-sustainability.
The experience of BiH reveals that broadcasting reform must focus not only on the content but also on the process of reform. The process of broadcasting reform is closely linked to the state of democratic governance in a given country. Media reform should therefore be integrated into broader efforts to support democratic governance. Other important considerations for the international community include:
- Recognising the importance of formulating a strategic plan for media development. Strategic plans must include a needs assessment and stakeholder analysis, and recognise the need for a comprehensive and long-term approach.
- Focusing on the enabling legislative and regulatory framework. This should be in line with international standards for public service broadcasting. Ensuring better coordination of media sector support among international and national actors.
- Engaging in extensive consultations to enable the maximum participation of local actors.
- Developing local capacity and financial self-sustainability from the outset to guarantee the long-term viability of broadcasting reform.