Funding of public service broadcasting in the future?
The idea was that AP’s media committee suggested that the license model we have in Norway today (paying a separate tax for NRK broadcaster, and also paying a tax when buying a TV set ) should be replaced/added with a similar tax for PC’s and Cell phones.
The feedback of my statement was immediate. Why did I have that opinion? And why didn’t I argue for my statement? Why isn’t this a great idea? The twitter nick @fenilsen gave me a challenge: Argue for my statements. And that’s fair. Well Twitter isn’t a great channel for discussing complex subjects, and to be fair towards the complexity I didn’t want to go there – in that format. Instead I suggested to meet and debate it – and that I just might write a blog posting about it.
So here goes: Broadcasting in Norway used to be a monopoly public service company (from 1945) – first established in 1925 (became the brand “NRK” in 1933) and had(from the beginning) the main financing model by commercials. It was the Nazi Germans that introduced censorship and prohibited commercials in Broadcasting in Norway (1940). NRK continued the policy of not financing their broadcasting by commercials and established the public service broadcasting model more or less identical to the model BBC had established. Norwegian public service broadcasting became as we know it such after the Second World War. This gave the legitimacy for the funding models and enabled the Norwegians to get a high quality and free broadcasting system (first Radio, later TV) with a sustainable financing model from the government and by the separate broadcasting tax. There were no commercials in radio, and later TV, and the focus was to inform and educate the population.
NRK had a monopoly up till the 80’ies. Further reading on this can be found HERE. Since then, we have gotten competition from cable TV and wide range of Norwegian commercial broadcasters (radio and also TV) and since then the license model has been under debate. Nevertheless the idea and political decisions have been to protect the system with a public service broadcaster, due to the value of having a commercial independent voice in our country. The legitimacy gets under attach as the development of Internet itself, and the digitalization of content becomes the standard and the infrastructure of transporting content such as TV programs just as well are via IP and the internet. The models legacy was in short: Independent broadcaster and producer of content, responsible (together with our governmental Telecom company – Televerket) distributor of broadcasting signals (read infrastructure) – these arguments are about to disappear for the future.
The question is: How do we want to finance TV and Radio in the future? One of the suggestions are, as mentioned above to start taxing PC’s and Cell phones instead (or in addition to) TV and Radio sets. I believe that this is a bad idea and a sidetrack since it doesn’t answer the challenges broadcasting is facing, nor do I believe that the consumers will understand or accept that a PC, a cell phone or the Internet as a broadcasting / TV equipment where our public service broadcaster has infrastructural responsibilities worth paying tax for. In addition there are lots of practical aspects of this equipment tax idea that makes it impossible as well. Buying a TV set abroad is far more complicated (heavy) than buying a lap top or a cell phone. Is a Kindle e-reader subject for such tax? And how to make sure that people register their electronic equipment (bought on travels abroad) just to be able to pay a tax to our public service broadcaster. It’s hassle, and if most people don’t understand why – they won’t do it. An even more interesting question is – what is broadcasting and TV into the future? As we know broadcasting is evolving and changing so much these days that everything we grew up with of what TV -is in dramatic change.
The Norwegian media politic is as well. In Norway we are discussing, and no doubt the government’s media support (funding) will change. It will change because the world is changing from an analogue world to a digital world – where the Internet will be one of the major infrastructures, -not paper,- not separate broadcasting transmitting systems.
I believe that it’s not sufficient to define a public service broadcaster as we have done up till now for the future; it has to be a wider definition, maybe a “public service content provider” is a better definition? A “public service content provider” will be able to serve somewhat other objectives than today, in other platforms and in other manners. Trying to finance that via separate taxes on equipment seems like an absurd idea, and I don’t think the government will get support from their population by this approach.
I believe it serves us better to go to the core of; why is it we would like to have a governmental funding of communication (text, audio, visual) in the future? How do we want to organize that? What kind of participants do we want to support? Should NRK be in a special situation, or should we let several companies be able to apply for funding for public service broadcasting funding? The answers aren’t given for any choice our government has to make for some sustainable models for the future. What is certain is that any model will need support from the population in order to be implemented.
As a conclusion: I believe it’s better to answer these core questions and challenges before jumping into a “quick fix” idea of taxing the PC’s and cell phones.
Click HERE to read an older blog posting on the future of broadcasting