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date: 05 August 2020

Summary and Keywords

In Western Europe, the notion of public service in the media was originally associated with traditional public-service broadcasters. However, since the 1990s, the general idea of public-service broadcasting and the continuing need for it in a digitized, content-abundant environment have been questioned. In particular, public-service broadcasters’ online activities have triggered controversial discussions and policy responses, not least because of direct competition with online services of the private media. At the same time, discussions have emerged about the meaning of public service and attendant concepts such as public value, challenging the hitherto commonly accepted attachment of the concept to a specific technology (broadcasting) and a specific—publicly procured and financed—organizational setting. In response to this and backed by politics, public-service broadcasters have reinvented themselves as public-service media. They have expanded their remit beyond television and radio into multimedia realms such as the Internet and, in addition to this, have started devoting new attention to the general public as their prime target of accountability—thus opposed to the original exclusive accountability to politics. Such accountability has been pursued, among other things, through direct cooperation with the public or other ways of connecting with it, for example, through personalization efforts and participatory formats. Although the public has rhetorically become the prime target of accountability, there is little discussion or acknowledgement of the actual perceptions that the public has about the general idea of public service and how public-service broadcasters accomplish this task. With few exceptions, studies continue the dominant paradigm of audience research, which construes the public almost exclusively as consumers.

Keywords: Europe, public-service broadcasting, public-service media, public service, public value, public interest, public, audience, audience research

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