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E-democracy projects

Forum History


The Forum was established by the Third Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe  (Warsaw, May 2005), to strengthen democracy, political freedoms and citizens' participation.


Forum previous sessions


(Limassol, Cyprus, October)

Interdependence of democracy and social cohesion.

New: Proceedings

"Radical measures taken in many countries to try to balance public budgets are both necessary and understandable” but  “Countries are running a high risk of seriously undermining the European model of social cohesion.”  declared Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland while opening the Cyprus Forum.


(Yerevan, October)

Perspectives 2020 Democracy in Europe - Principles and Challenges



''The Council of Europe has a unique strategic role to play in strengthening good democratic governance at all levels in the European space''. Democracy, or rather good democratic governance, is now not only intrinsically linked to the respect of human rights but is also recognised as the most effective form of governance to ensure stability, sustainability and well-being.

 That was the main message of the 2010 Forum.




(Kyiv, October)

Electoral systems: strengthening democracy in the 21st century


 "In a genuine democracy, the citizen is sovereign and the voter decides" - that was the main message of the 2009 Forum, which highlighted the need for greater public involvement, with a view to increasing voter turnout and ensuring that all stages of public life are democratic..




(Madrid, October)

"E-democracy: who dares?"


The discussions addressed the impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs) on democracy.




(Stockholm, June)

"Power and empowerment - The interdependence of democracy and human rights"


This event addressed issues such as the role and responsibilities of the opposition, representative democracy at the local and regional level, empowerment of the individual and non-discrimination, respect for freedom of expression and association for civil society, and fostering democracy, human rights and social networks.




(Moscow, October)

"The role of political parties in the building of democracy"


The Forum reflected on  the role and responsibilities of political parties in finding democratic solutions to contemporary challenges, the interaction between political parties and with other actors in the democratic process, and the building and strengthening of democratic institutions.



Launch meeting (Warsaw, November 2005)

"Citizens' participation"



The discussions addressed the state of contemporary democracy in Europe.


Previous projects


Democratic institutions work")


dr Karol Jakubowicz
Chair, Intergovernmental Council
Information for All Programme, UNESCO



Written for presentation during Workshop 5: “e-Democracy from the Grass Roots”
Council of Europe Forum for the Future of Democracy,
Madrid, Spain, Municipal Congress Centre
15-17 October 2008

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has called public service broadcasting “one of the key socio-political and media institutions developed by Western European democracies in the 20th century” and “a vital element of democracy in Europe”. At the same time, it said PSB was under threat, “challenged by political and economic interests, by increasing competition from commercial media, by media concentrations and by financial difficulties. It is also faced with the challenge of adapting to globalisation and the new technologies”.
Therefore, the Assembly stated that the challenge today is how to preserve PSM “in a form suited to the conditions of the 21st century” (emphasis added – K.J.).
What I want to discuss today is precisely the meaning of the term “the conditions of the 21st century” in relation to PSM generally and specifically in terms of its democratic performance. On this basis, I will seek to outline how PSM should change – indeed redefine itself – to survive and flourish in the 21st century.
I use the word “survive” advisedly. Thomass (2007) has correctly noted that if PSM is still to be around in the 2020s to celebrate its hundredth birthday, it must renew itself in the meantime (see also Bardoel, d’Haenes, 2008). The following comment by OFCOM (2004: 4) refers to the UK situation, but could be applied more broadly: “by the end of this decade, the existing ecology for the provision of public service broadcasting will be under real threat. Ongoing changes in society, in the way people consume media and watch television, in the competitive forces facing the existing main networks, will conspire to mean that the current arrangements for securing the provision of public service broadcasting will be inadequate to ensure the maintenance - let alone the strengthening - of PSB” (emphasis added – K.J.).

The Future of Public Service Media

We need a veritable Copernican revolution in our understanding of how public service is to be performed and delivered in the media in the future. Practically the entire societal, media and technological context within which public service broadcasting was born has changed fundamentally since then. Because of the Digital Revolution, “practically every institution that our society is based on, from the local to the supranational, is being rendered obsolete” (Rosetto, 2008). Nevertheless, what we might call the “incumbent” or “legacy” concept of PSM has displayed considerable staying power. Policy and regulatory frameworks for PSM have equally displayed considerable inertia and resistance to change. As a result, in some cases PSM inhabits what might be called a time warp: it is still defined, and in many cases organized, in line with ideas inherited from the past which have an ever smaller purchase on the reality surrounding PSM today and requiring its fundamental change. Without it, PSM will be increasingly irrelevant and unable to perform its functions.

Technological Change

Let us begin with the most obvious need for change, technological innovation which has crucially transformed the media. At a general and political level, there seems to be universal agreement in Europe on the principle that public service media should be free to use the new technologies, though competition concerns are still raised within the European Union. The Council of Europe led the way with the adoption in January 2007 of the Committee of Ministers of Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)3 on the remit of public service media in the information society, stating in part: “Convinced therefore that the public service remit is all the more relevant in the information society and that it can be discharged by public service organisations via diverse platforms and an offer of various services, resulting in the emergence of public service media” (emphasis added – KJ). That was a historic step, in that 47 European countries formally supported a technology-neutral approach to public service content provision by other platforms than just broadcasting, even going so far as to suggest a new name for it, consistent with this approach. The Recommendation clearly advocates a technology-neutral approach: “the public service remit … should be performed with state-of-the-art technologies appropriate for the purpose;” PSM should use “new interactive technologies” and should be “present on significant platforms.”
However, while many countries may grudgingly allow PSM organizations to branch into the new technologies, that is not enough. They should actively support, fund and oblige PSM organizations to do so, treating the Internet and other new technologies as a legitimate and fully-fledged area of programme activity, and not only as auxiliary service vis-ŕ-vis broadcasting activities. Otherwise PSM will miss the new technology bus, as more and more users over time switch to broadband networks for most of their media consumption.
A shorthand way of presenting the technology-neutral definition of the remit is to say that “PSM = PSB+all relevant platforms+Web 2.0”, involving generalist and thematic programme services, as well as what is known as “personalized public service” via the Internet.

Internal Reform

In order to be capable of meeting the challenge of technological change, PSM organizations should reform themselves and their production process into what is known as the “functional or multimedia orientated structure”. In this case, content is born digital and stays digital: programme production is not separated according to channels or media, but according to program genres, and should be ready to be used on different distribution channels – radio, television, the internet, etc. The advantages of this structure include the synergies of resources and talent for programme production, cross-fertilization of ideas, and greater scope for cross-departmental usage of programme-content that is carried by several channels or services and across multiple delivery platforms to a variety of new combined receivers for different user situations.
Another element of change is, of course, the rise of the commercial sector and – with digitalization and convergence – the appearance of many intermediaries and digital gateways between the content provider and the audience. PSM organizations – once vertically-integrated, self-contained and self-reliant organizations - must be prepared to operate in this environment and potentially cooperate with commercial partners.
The CoE Recommendation reaffirms the role of PSM as an active contributor to audiovisual creation and production and greater appreciation and dissemination of the diversity of national and European cultural heritage. To serve this role well, PSM should evolve from a content producer, aggregator and disseminator into a cultural industry, so it can more effectively promote domestic audiovisual production by maintaining a high share of original domestic works in air time; make optimal use of audiovisual archives by launching new channels; promote the growth of the programme industry and the development of audiovisual culture and production in the country as a whole.

Adjusting to Social and Cultural Change

More generally, PSM must respond and adjust to social and cultural change (see OFCOM, 2004) affecting use of, and attitudes to, the media. Below, we list some of these processes of change and the way PSM should respond:

· The levelling of social divisions (rising affluence, educational standards, growth of middle class), resulting in major changes in the mass audience as traditionally understood. It is no longer willing to accept the role of passive receivers of content, nor will they accept old-style paternalism of “the voice of authority” approach from the PSM;
· Individualisation and fragmentation, also in media consumption, replacing the group experience. Hence the need for individualized and personalized modes of communication, using the new technologies
· Growth of social networks and political disengagement. The desire for networking is revealed in the success of online community tools and chat rooms. Trust in authority has declined. The same may apply to the media which can no longer take the trust and respect of the audience for granted. This calls for a change in the relationship between PSM and the audience into one of partnership and dialogue, so that there is a greater sense of “public ownership” of PSM;
· A sense of entitlement: a trend toward access and inclusion in which service users have rights which exist by virtue of citizenship. The “cultural entitlement” agenda: the idea that individuals should have roughly the same opportunities of access to creative and cultural opportunity, regardless of where they live. All this has fundamentally changed the relationship between the media and their audiences and added many more voices to the process of mediated, society-wide or even global communication. To meet those needs, PSM should open up to dialogue with, involvement and user-generated content contributed by, the audience, and establish other participatory schemes. PSM should address all generations, but especially involve the younger generation in active forms of communication.

Broader processes of change include globalization, international integration. They, too, require a redefinition of the PSM programme remit. One example is the role assigned to PSM as a “reference point for all members of the public; a factor for social cohesion and integration of all individuals, groups and communities”. In interpreting these tasks, we must – in the conditions of the 21st century – remember the need for intercultural dialogue within and between peoples and societies; and the fact that the nation-state is no longer the adequate, or the only, frame of reference for individuals.
The CoE White Paper On Intercultural Dialogue defines intercultural dialogue as “an open and respectful exchange of views between individuals, groups with different ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds and heritage on the basis of mutual understanding and respect”. PSM should certainly be a forum for this dialogue, so it cannot create a single reference point for the entire public. Secondly, PSM should strive to create a sense of affinity and understanding with the people of other countries in the region, especially if the country in question is involved in some international integration scheme, and promote acceptance of, and respect for, cultural diversity worldwide.
Another issue concerns social cohesion and integration. A new obstacle to this has appeared in the form of the digital and broadband divides. If PSM is to serve the cause of social cohesion and integration, at it has always done, then in the conditions of the 21st century this must also include contributing to overcoming the digital divide. One of the public tasks of the BBC is to “build digital Britain”. Other PSM organizations should assume a similar obligation.

Resisting Ideological Pressure

To conclude this short list of conditions that PSM must face in the 21st century, we must also mention the result of the ideological evolution of European societies, i.e. the neoliberal revolution, gathering pace since the 1980s, and undercutting both the rationale for public intervention into the media and, in many cases, individual acceptance of the role of PSM as a product of collectivistic societal arrangements, offering a role for public institutions to look after individual welfare.
Neoliberalism, of course, puts its faith in market forces, in the conviction that the law of supply and demand will create mechanisms of satisfying all the communication needs of all groups of society. An additional argument here is that the Internet and all the new communication services offer “limitless choice”, so PSM is no longer necessary. At best, PSM is accepted as a mechanism for redressing market failure. This is the so called “monastery” model of PSM as a niche broadcaster, a cultural and educational ghetto, offering content commercial broadcasters cannot broadcast profitably.
The irony of the situation is that with growing competition in the media landscape, market failure is actually becoming more of a threat to quality in the media. In broadcasting, it is clear that faced with cutthroat competition commercial generalist channels are reducing their public service commitments (as in the United Kingdom), and the share of high-quality programming. Paradoxically, PSM is regaining monopoly on „public service content”, on original content produced for the domestic audience, and on full-value, mass audience generalist programme services.
Very recently, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution on concentration and pluralism in the media in the European Union, pointing out that “the development of the media system is increasingly driven by profit-making and that, therefore, societal, political or economic processes, or values expressed in journalists' codes of conduct, are not adequately safeguarded”. Also, that “experience shows that the unrestricted concentration of ownership jeopardises pluralism and cultural diversity and whereas a system purely based on free market competition alone is not able to guarantee media pluralism”. The European Parliament also noted that “the proliferation of new media (broadband internet, satellite channels, digital terrestrial television, etc.) and the varied forms of media ownership are not sufficient in themselves to guarantee pluralism in terms of media content”.
Therefore, the resolution stated that “public audiovisual services are essential to enable people to familiarise themselves with cultural diversity and to guarantee pluralism” and called on the Member States “to support high-quality public broadcasting services which can offer a real alternative to the programmes of commercial channels and can, without necessarily having to compete for ratings or advertising revenue, occupy a more high-profile place on the European scene as pillars of the preservation of media pluralism, democratic dialogue and access to quality content for all citizens”.
Ideological dogmas are not easily changed or overcome, but there is overwhelming evidence that commercialization, commodification and tabloidization of privately-owned mass audience media is reducing, rather than extending, the range and quality of content available to the public. This is why Jürgen Habermas, the distinguished German philosopher, has made his famous call for public subsidies for quality newspapers as the lifeblood of the public debate and the public sphere, at a time when they are threatened with take-over by financial investors interested only in cutting costs and driving up profits.

Public Service Media and E-Democracy

E-democracy: a Cure for the Ills of Democracy?

Council of Europe has an extensive acquis on democracy (Reflections on the future of democracy in Europe, 2005; Pratchett, Lowndes, 2004; Oakley, 2003; Kayhan, 2003), but equally on its weaknesses and shortcomings.
A 2007 CoE Parliamentary Assembly report on the state of democracy in Europe (Gross, 2007) notes with great concern the following developments:

· the increasing feeling of political discontent and disaffection among citizens, which is well illustrated by a declining turnout at elections 2;
· a growing disappointment or indifference towards politics, especially among the young generation;
· loss of confidence in democracy and a growing gap between political institutions and citizens;
· the dysfunctioning of some political institutions in many countries: political parties have partly lost their capacity to be a link between citizens and state; representativeness of parliaments is all too often questionable; basic principles of democracy such as separation of powers, political freedoms, transparency and accountability are widely perceived, and sometimes rightly so, as being insufficiently implemented or not implemented at all.

In its Resolution 1547 (2007) on “State of human rights and democracy in Europe”, the Parliamentary Assembly also comments on the role of commercial media in democracy, noting that “in many cases [they] tend functionally to replace political parties by setting the political agenda, monopolising political debate and creating and choosing political leaders, is a matter of concern. Media are too often primarily business-driven institutions and, by prioritising their business interests over the service to the citizens and democracy, inevitably contribute to the distortion of democracy. The role of the media in setting political agendas, transmitting political debates and forming opinions about political leaders underlines the importance of independent, pluralist and responsible media for a democratic society”.
Among the necessary responses to this crisis is the fact that “the traditional institutions of representative democracy should open themselves to more citizen participation in order to overcome their own shortcomings and to reintegrate those citizens who are concerned with their dysfunctioning”. Therefore, “thought could usefully be given as to whether traditional systems of representative democracy need to take more account of the rapid changes in communications and access to information leading to the evolution of systems of direct democracy” (emphasis added – K.J.).
A cure for the ills of democracy is therefore seen in the report in “digital democracy” defined e.g. as “the exchange of ideas and opinions as part of the democratic process by means of the Internet” (Butcher, et al, 2002), or “e-democracy,” defined e.g. as “the use of information and communications technologies and strategies by ‘democratic sectors’ within the political processes of local communities, states/regions, nations and on the global stage” (Clift, 2003).
Another definition of e-democracy may actually be more useful:

    E-democracy is a means for disseminating more political information and for enhancing communication and participation, as well as hopefully in the long run for the transformation of the political debate and the political culture. Participants in the field of e-democracy include civil society (organized and non organized), the administration, politicians and—to a lesser extent—the economy (cited after Coleman, Norris, 2005).

However, can e-democracy by itself cure the ills of democracy, or indeed create a new model of democracy? This seems to be doubtful. For one thing, as the European Parliament a Resolution on concentration and pluralism in the media in the European Union points out “while the internet has greatly increased access to various sources of information, views and opinions, it has not yet replaced traditional media as a decisive public opinion former”. More importantly, however, democracy is about the formation of the common will of the demos, so two questions have to be considered:

    1. To what extent can electronic democracy contribute to the interactive constitution of a common will of the demos?
    2. And to what extent can it contribute to constituting the demos as a community?

Digitally-facilitated referendum democracy, which is what e-democracy could amount to, is a direct democracy of isolated individuals and not of interacting citizens. And it is this interaction which is the necessary precondition for constituting a demos with a collective will. Through electronic networks citizens are approached separately, without a shared debate. This direct democracy lacks the mechanisms of common consideration and working out compromise acceptable to the majority that are inherent in representative democracy. This may result in the disorientation of individuals and further fragment societies, weakening a sense of responsibility to others. A fragmented public can hardly contribute to interactively constituting a common will of the demos. For these reasons, interactive will-formation by members of the demos through Internet communication is unlikely. As Barber (1998) has put it, ICTs “clearly disadvantage deliberation and the pursuit of common ground and undermine the politics of democratic participation. [They] cannot help in the pursuit of national, common and civic identity and without these forms of association, democracy itself becomes problematic.”
Dahlgren (2003) argues that by facilitating the emergence of multi-sector online public spheres, the Internet is creating disparate islands of political communication and has the effect of dispersing what has been a relatively unified public sphere of the mass media into many separate public spheres, undercutting a shared public culture and the integrative function of the public sphere. This threatens to undercut a shared public culture and the integrative societal function of the public sphere, and hampers the formation of collective political will and may well foster intolerance among separate “voluntary communities.” This trend towards fragmentation and increasing dispersion may be harmful in terms of the democratic potential of the ICTs.
Therefore, one has to agree that technology is an enabler not the solution. Integration with traditional, “offline” tools for access to information, consultation and public participation in policy-making is needed to make the most of ICTs. The online provision of information is an essential precondition for engagement, but quantity does not mean quality. Active promotion and competent moderation are key to effective online consultations.
By the same token, e-democracy is not about replacing representative with direct, ICT-mediated democracy: rather, about the emergence of a hybrid form of direct-representative democracy – facilitating public debate, the birth of new political movements, and citizen involvement in the work of institutions of democracy:

    e-democracy would promote enhanced participation in ICT-assisted deliberation processes. Note that this does not translate to direct democracy with instant referendums on every imaginable question. Rather it would foster an enhanced representative democracy, enriched with stronger citizen control of the deliberation and decision-reaching process and engagement in it (Kyriakou, 2005: 74).

PSM, Democracy and E-democracy

Public service broadcasting has always been about serving democracy. It has had “fundamentally democratic thrust” in that it made available to all virtually the whole spectrum of public life and extended the universe of discourse. Its whole purpose has been to introduce social equality in access to information and all other content and to provide a forum for public debate.
Nevertheless, it was a system based on unequal and asymmetrical relations between broadcasters and the audience. In this system of representative communicative democracy, power accrued “to the representatives, not those whom they represent”, and it created “participation [in political life] without involvement” (Scannell, 1989: 163-164). In addition, the original model of PSM was based on an unequal, asymmetrical relations between the audience on the one hand, and broadcasters, cultural elite and the state on the other. Bardoel (2007: 49-50) notes that many PSB institutions have kept the people and civil society at a distance, while politics and the government served as the preferred partner in the past. That was legitimated by social divisions and stratification at the time. Today, this is not acceptable. At the same time, the role of PSM in democracy is becoming more important than ever, given that

    there is a considerable risk concerning the media's ability to carry out its functions as a watchdog of democracy, as private media enterprises are predominantly motivated by financial profit; whereas this carries the danger of a loss of diversity, quality of content and multiplicity of opinions, therefore the custody of media pluralism should not be left purely to market mechanisms (European Parliament, Resolution on concentration and pluralism in the media in the European Union).

In the conditions of the 21st century, the traditional PSM service to democracy is no longer enough.
First of all, the polity within which the democratic process now incorporates both the national and the supranational level, with many functions of the state taken over by international organizations and with many global problems having to be tackled by the international community, rather than by particular nation-states alone. Hence, PSM should extend its service to democracy in ways shown in table 1.

Table 1. Old and new tasks of PSM in relation to political citizenship and democracy

Traditional tasks of PSB

Additional Tasks of PSM

· Serve democracy at local, regional, national level;
· Represent civil society vis-a-vis the authorities
· Provide a forum of public debate
· Serve as a watchdog of the government

· Inform citizens of the work of international organizations
· Contribute to creating a public sphere and elements of a civil society at the regional, continental and global levels
· Serve as a watchdog of international and global organizations
· Develop social capital and a sense of community and co-responsibility for the nation-state at a time when cyberspace allows individuals to participate in virtual communities and become detached from their own societies and nations

Adapted from Jakubowicz, 2008.

According to the European Parliament’s Resolution on concentration and pluralism in the media in the European Union, “public audiovisual services are essential for democratic opinion-forming”. Given the increasing fragmentation of the audience, due to the rising number of commercial stations on different platforms, PSM has a fundamental role to play is potentially the only remaining electronic medium of full-fledged public debate and political will formation on societal scale needed for the democratic process.
That, however, is only the beginning of the PSM contribution to the democratic process. Given the malaise of democracy described above, more is required of all the institutions of democracy to reinvigorate the democratic process and stimulate popular democratic participation.
Consideration of ways of doing that has identified three priorities:

· Electoral processes: enhancing turnout and inclusion
· Parties: promoting fairer funding and intemal democracy
· Citizen involvement: supporting civic education and direct democracy (Lowndes, 2005).

Especially the last area (though to be fully effective action in this regard should also be oriented towards is one where PSM can make a particularly effective contribution, inter alia by becoming involved in promoting empowerment and participation and thus ultimately e-democracy.
Four obligations of the media in general, and of PSM in particular, in promoting democracy can be deduced from normative theories about media-society relations (Carpentier, 2007: 159). They assume different degrees of audience activity:

Table 2. Old and new tasks of PSM in relation to political citizenship and democracy



Audience role

Old or new?

The informative and control obligation

Audience as passive recipients of information, observers of how media perform watchdog role on their behalf


The representation obligation

· Representation of the political

Audience as spectators of the political process

· Representation of the social

Audience as various social groups and sub-groups being represented


Groups involved in creating representations of themselves, or speaking on their own behalf

Old/New *

The forum obligation

Audience as active participants in public debate


The participatory obligation

Audience as active participants in operation of media, content production or provision, media management, but also as participants in social networking and public life


Adapted from Carpentier, 2007. * Some limited forms of active self-representation by social groups in PSM have been tried in the past.

If the media are to promote civic involvement, it is obvious that the forum and participatory obligations acquire special importance. In the conditions of the 21st century, however, this cannot serve the purpose of e-democracy if PSM is prevented from entering the field of new communication services and is forced to concentrate on traditional broadcasting services. That is why Ian Kearns (2003) has called for a redefinition of traditional public service broadcasting: “Social and technological change means facing the challenge of renewal - from public service broadcasting to public service [online] communications the entire Public Service Communications community needs to move away from the broadcast paradigm of content delivered to a mass public and toward the usage and participation paradigm of the network age”.
By involving its audiences and users in different online participatory and networking schemes, PSM could help overcome the cultural and organizational barriers to greater online citizen engagement in the democratic process, as well as political, participatory, organizational and technological obstacles to the success of e-democracy (Coleman, Norris, 2005). To this end, PSM should undergo an evolution from a mainly transmission mode to a proper communication mode, and engage in partnership with civil society. Participatory schemes and services encourage citizens to become users rather than viewers of content: active participants who produce, modify, comment on, judge and repurpose content rather than act as the passive recipients of broadcast information and entertainment (Chitty, 2007).
Table 3 illustrates how the new technologies can be used to promote user participation in PSM, also as way of its democratization.

Table 3. New Technologies in Promoting Participation by Civil Society

Methods of PSM Democratization


Selected examples


Email correspondence with programme makers and executives; instantaneous reaction in blogs and on websites



Online communities and social networking sites built around programmes and series


Access to air time, participation in programme development

User-generated content

A website established by Channel 4 allows users to generate, upload and view four-minute documentaries.

Participation in the organization and management of PSM

Multistakeholder approach with NGO and civil society participation, online communication

BBC News editors maintain a blog “The Editors” (http://www.bbc.co. uk/blogs/ theeditors/), because “The BBC wants to be open and accountable … this site is a public space where you can engage with us as much as the medium allows. We're happy for you to criticise the BBC .. and to ask serious, probing questions of us - we'll do our best to respond to them” 3.

Participation in the formulation of communication policies

Multistakeholder approach with NGO and civil society participation, online communication

The British regulatory authority OFCOM has established the “Ofcom PSM Review blog” (http://ofcomPSMreview.typepad.co) as part of its review of public service broadcasting – “for people to debate the issues in the review”.

In their online services for the younger generation, PSM could also use video games to good advantage, as

    gaming may foster civic engagement among youth. Several aspects of video game-play paralel the kinds of civic learning opportunities found to promote civic engagement in other settings. Simulations of civic and political action, consideration of controversial issues, and participation in groups where members share interests are effective ways, research finds, for schools to encourage civic participation. These elements are common in many video games. In addition, many games have content that is explicitly civic and political in nature. SimCity, for example, casts youth in the role of mayor and requires that players develop and manage a city. They must set taxes, attend to commute times, invest in infrastructure, develop strategies for boosting employment, and consider their approval rating (Kahne, Middaugh, Evans, 2008: 7).

The participatory culture created by video games and other forms of digital media
offers many opportunities for young people to engage in civic debates, to participate in community life, to become political leaders—even if sometimes only through the "second lives" offered by massively multiplayer games or online fan communities. Here, too, expanding opportunities for participation may change their self perceptions and strengthen their ties with other citizens.
This can serve their empowerment which comes from making meaningful decisions within a real civic context. Civic participation requires more than knowledge of how institutions work and how people participate in them. It requires an interest in and commitment to participation, which can be developed, for example, through discussions of social issues and volunteer work to address those issues. Young people can thus develop confidence in their own abilities to act as leaders, practice articulating their own point of view, debate issues, and help others in their own communities. This can help turn them into people who individually and collectively engage in democratic society in order identify and address issues of public concern through acts of voluntarism, organizational involvement, and electoral participation (Kahne, Middaugh, Evans, 2008; see also Lenhart, Kahne, Middaugh, Macgill, Evans, Sr., Vitak, 2008).
After Lowe (2008), we may identify five main forms of PSM services that support citizens’ democratic needs and promote participation

1. Information
2. Facilitation
3. Collaboration
4. Democratisation
5. Mobilisation

These services are described briefly below, based on Lowe’s analysis.


Provision of information is still a crucial element of PSM service top democracy. PSM news is unique in casting an equally critical eye on economic actors as well as political actors and due to their non-profit status, in so far as public funding and editorial independence are secure. Where commercial media leading news provision there is worrisome neglect and avoidance of highly relevant issues.
On-demand archives of previously broadcast material present an aspect of great importance in this category of PSM services. Such service links radio and television programmes, national cultural and social heritage, in both current and historic terms, with on-demand services via company web sites.
The idea should be to organise content that is currently in the news in combination with documents and other materials to give users robust opportunities to develop a deeper understanding beyond the transitory surface story. BBC 4, the radio talk and current affairs channel in the UK, produces the Today programme which is a good example, in this case linking radio and the internet (www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/today). The Today website is the legacy of an earlier popular programme strand called The Great Debate (1999-2003) which provided dialogue about news items especially focused on civic issues. The Today version features an issue of the day, typically related to national or international political concerns that effect Britain. The online site includes an archive of past issues and an overview of the issue currently under debate. Today offers participants opportunity to influence the radio programme’s substance and approach via their questions and input, and by suggesting issues for future programmes.
Radio Slovenia offers a useful example that illustrates PSM effort to provide a distinctive service within traditional broadcast media and not only in the new media context. The Europe in Person! programme strand the producers search out people across Europe who give voice and personality to the rich variety and ordinariness of life in Europe today. The programme works to lower boundaries in perceptions by cross borders in representation. Much emphasis in the 12 to 15 minute features is keyed to the person’s views on Europe and ideas about different European societies.


A range of services are offered by PSM companies that enable individuals to explore a variety of issues and topics in order to learn new things of personal relevance. These services facilitate deepening of insight and securing enlightenment in ways that are educative rather than educational..
The election engine system is a common example in PSM. The election engine enables citizens to discover which candidates most closely represent their personal views and interests. Candidates fill out a questionnaire which users later fill out as well and then click on a dialogue button. The “machine”, which is a software programme, compares the user’s answers to each of the candidates standing for election and reveals the ‘distance’ between the user and the candidates. The site offered by the Finnish PSM operator, YLE, for parliamentary elections is a good example of this type of Facilitation: (www.yle.fi/vaalit/2007/vaalikone).
A different angle is evident in an online service offered by Slovenia’s RTV – Odprti kop (www.rtvslo.si/odprtikop). Translated ‘Datamining’, the service enables each individual user to investigate topics of personal interest to learn about issues in the news or relevant to the public sphere. This is essentially a specialised search engine programme that functions on the basis of closed captioning subtitles and video streams.
Another unique example is provided by DR, the Danish public service media company, which has been developing online games with a distinctly public service character. In 2006 DR hosted a competition and the top four winners are available at www.dr.dk/Spilkonkurencen. Vćrdikampen (“The battle between values”) is related to a controversial political issue in Denmark (the right-wing government declared war on progressive values). Players learn what the values are about how where they personally stand in relation to them. Another game establishes a dilemma and two players work through the implications. Other games encourage users to analyse political spin in publicity clips and statements.
Another relevant example of game-oriented play in PSM efforts to facilitate insight and enlightenment is Latvia’s “Latvijas Televizija” (www.ltv1.lv/lat/forums). Topical questions are posed online and people participate in offering answers. The results are assessed and provided as summary information. The answers open new opportunities for discovery. One recent topical question was “what kind of Latvia do you want to live in 25 years from now?”
A final example is the Citizenship Assimilation Test that was a national television show produced by Teleac/NOT, the educational public broadcasting foundation in the Netherlands. People participated at home via the internet in taking the national test immigrants must pass as a requirement for Dutch citizenship (www.nationaleinburgeringtest.nl). Dutch citizens got a clear idea of what the government has defined as essential to become a citizen, and with what necessary understanding of Dutch values and culture. The test was so popular that more than a million visitors took it in 2005. The results raised so much reaction that Teleac/NOT forwarded the thousands of responses to the responsible ministry and have kept the site live. The interesting thing is that a majority of Dutch participants failed to pass. The program and the site generated public debate on the meaning and usefulness of this type of exam.


Social networking services offered by PSM companies that integrate broadcast and online services in connection with user-created content of thematic interest. They are of keen importance for constructing democratic discourse.
A fascinating development is underway at ARTE, the Franco-German PSM operator. In ARTE radio (www.arteradio.com) this PSM provider uses the creative commons licensing approach to all the content. Especially interesting is the open platform nature of the enterprise. Listeners are producers submitting material which is posted on the site. ARTE offers the space and the contents are posted with the ambition of building a community partnership between user-created content producers and ARTE radio’s own work and production.
A related example of a PSM web 2.0 production in association with television and using archive material, was the BBC’s Creative Archive project in 2006 (http://creativearchive.bbc.co.uk). Participants could access archived BBC materials specifically designated for their use in personal productions. This experiment was on the cutting edge of what is often referred to as ‘remix culture’ and was very popular. It will be interesting to see how this type of exciting collaborative approach can be developed further for promoting individual participation both in and through the media.


As discussed, the role of PSM is not only in promoting individual participation with regard to a specific issue or in a particular situation, as important as that is. The role of PSM is also of broader importance in supporting the on-going project of democratisation which nurtures perspectives, routines and involvements that construct democracy in society.
The best current example of what PSM is doing here is in the Why Democracy? project (www.whydemocracy.net). Why Democracy? is a collaborative production of public service broadcasters from across Europe and around the world. These include the BBC (UK), DR (Denmark), YLE (Finland), ZDF (Germany), SBS (Australia), SABC (South Africa), ARTE (France) NHK (Japan), and many more. This is about growing public interest and stimulating public involvement in democracy today. This initiative is supported by the EBU (EuroVision), the Danish Film Institute, the Ford Foundation, Sundance Institute in the USA, and many others. In October 2007, ten one-hour films that focus on contemporary democracy were broadcast in what is reportedly the world's largest ever factual media event. These can now be screened online and there is ample opportunity to join in dialogue and debate. More than 40 broadcasters are participating with an estimated audience of 300 million viewers. Each participating broadcaster will produce a locally-based season of film, radio, debate and discussion to tie in with the global broadcast of the Why Democracy? documentary films. This will result in 20 short films dealing with personal, political and rights issues around the theme 'What does democracy mean to me?'
It is important to observe that the funding and production represent a viable example of civil society organisations working co-operatively via PSM. Given the scope and scale of this initiative, it simply would not be possible without the institutional framework provided by PSM with its emphasis on democratic culture and practice.
There are many PSM projects of smaller scale, on-going practice, and domestic emphasis as well. Among the most important of these are various programme strands offered for children. All such programmes and online services feature news and information designed to nurture an appreciation for democracy. A good example is Logos!, a daily production of the German PSM operator, ZDF. This programme provides news for children with lots of explanation and background information at a language level appropriate for children’s understanding, and in a way that is suitable to their interests. Users can see a stream podcast of "logo" in the ZDFmediathek section www.zdf.de. Research has found that adults also use the service because the producers present complicated things in ways that are easy to understand.


This category focuses on services that assist citizens in personal efforts to be activist with regard to social movements and involvement. One very good example is provided by the BBC.
The BBC's Action Network (www.bbc.co.uk/dna/actionnetwork/) service provides advice and tools to people who want to run campaigns on (mostly) local concerns. Action Network producers leverage the BBC's television and radio networks to publicise the range of self-organising groups who are using its database to store documents and communicate via messages and email alerts. The service maintains distance from Government and is careful not to endorse particular campaigns or be directly involved.

We can identify three main models of the creation of public service broadcasting, or of the transformation of State broadcasting into public service broadcasting.:

1. Paternalistic – as in the UK, where PSB was originally born in 1926 in the form of the BBC, an independent public corporation with a public-service remit, understood in part as promoting public enlightenment, playing a clearly normative role in the country’s cultural, moral and political life, and as promoting ‘‘the development of the majority in ways thought desirable by the minority’’ (Williams, 1968: 117);
2. Democratic and emancipatory – as in some other Western European countries, where erstwhile state broadcasting organisations began to be transformed into public service broadcasters in the 1960s and 1970s, a time when State (government) control of the then monopoly broadcasters could no longer be justified or claim legitimacy, and a way was sought to associate them more closely with the civil society and turn them into autonomous PSB organisations.
3. Systemic – as in West Germany after World War II, Spain, Portugal and Greece in the 1970s, and in Central and Eastern Europe after 1989, when change of the broadcasting system was part and parcel of broader political change, typically transition to democracy after an authoritarian or totalitarian system.

Historically speaking, there has thus been growing, though limited, association of public service media with democracy and civil society. In the conditions of the 21st century, the time has come to take the next step and reconstruct PSM into a platform for open societal communication. This would be a radical departure from the traditional model of paternalistic top-down communication and truly encourage partnership and participation between PSM and civil society.
This would open a new stage in the history of public service media and complete the evolution of PSM, which can be presented as follows:

• 1920-1930s: State radio or paternalistic PSM
• 1960-1980s: Democratic-emancipatory evolution of PSM: closer ties with civil society
• 2000-2015: PSM and the Civil Society: Partnership and Participation


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1 Public Service Media (PSM) instead of Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) is a name suggested by the Council of Europe to indicate that public service content provision should no longer be limited to traditional broadcasting, but should also use other platforms, including the Internet. We will use mainly this name or acronym throughout this text, even though it deals in part with the past, when PSB was the appropriate name.

2 In another CoE publication, the phenomenon was described as “citizens' alienation from politics and growing distrust vis-a-vis their representatives are fostered by what citizens perceive as a cognitive distance from the elite. This has engendered feelings of powerlessness, needlessness, and even helplessness with regard to politics. This distance is further compounded by an apparent lack of transparency with regard to the political processes”. (Trechsel, 2005: 48).

3 Another example is the BBC’s invitation to the public to help redesign bbc.co.uk. The BBC announced a competition to invite ideas for the redesign of bbc.co.uk for the Web 2.0 era. Entrants were encouraged to integrate content sharing sites such as photo site Flickr, video site YouTube and blog search tool Technorati.