“No human authority can institute truth by decree […] because it transcends human authority.” – Karl Popper, On the sources of knowledge and ignorance
In many countries, media policy is once again a central issue. Newspapers suffer substantial losses, and the same is true for radio and television channels, which experience a significant reduction in advertising revenues. Faced with the bankruptcy of some companies and the loss of credibility of journalists in the public eye, media policy has become the focus of attention.
In the time of the Internet, Wikipedia and the development of digital means of communication, today’s strange political atmosphere could be described as “media desertification”. In reality, the media is facing a massive disruption of their industrial sector by the arrival of social networks and the Internet in general. In fact, while some media outlets might disappear, others will move on to be active online. There has been an incredible multiplication of media outlets in this respect.
In recent years, the advent of digital technology has brought about profound changes: production costs have fallen sharply and content can be transmitted via multiple media platforms. Wherever we are, the Internet gives us access to a diverse range of media channels: press, radio and television, as well as new electronic information platforms. The Internet makes the media converge so that old and new information services find themselves in direct competition.
Faced with these changes, the concept of public funding media services is being questioned because it no longer corresponds with our day and age. However, proposals made to deal with this evolution vary widely across countries. Countries like France are moving towards a more widespread distribution of public money: from paper press to television, even to the support of young “youtubers”. Others such as Poland and Hungary reinforce their policy interventions in the media sector, even dictating editorial policy. In contrast, New Zealand opted for a purely commercial mode of media funding, which allows for greater competition and free choice on the part of the consumers without crushing them under distributive taxes and without political meddling with media content.
But most Western countries have remained stagnant in a system of media subsidies in the form of compulsory payments for TV and radio stations. This distribution is influenced by individual lobbying efforts, each struggling in their own way to get hold of a larger share of private money.
In light of this corrupt system of another century that isn’t coherent anymore, a number of think tanks have proposed its complete abolition. In Germany, for instance, the Prometheus Institute launched a campaign in 2015 to get rid of compulsory media contributions. In the United Kingdom, the Institute of Economic Affairs has proposed the privatisation of the BBC and to abolish the mandatory media tax. In Switzerland, a citizen movement has even collected enough signatures for a popular initiative to abolish their media reception fees (“Billag”). The Swiss people will have to vote on this issue in 2018.
Public broadcasters exploiting their clientele, which doesn’t get the choice of opting out of the mandatory scheme, have defended the system by arguing for the need for “independent information”. However, everyone has their own interest and both cognitive and ideological biases. Independence can not be decreed by law, it is formed in a process of critical debate and in hearing opposing views.
The submission of citizens to certain media companies doesn’t make sense in the 21st century anymore. Citizens should be allowed to make free choices about the content they consume and want to support. Only then they can develop their their own free judgement about the validity of information provided throughout the media landscape. This is the only way we have to get a fair, reasonable and modern media market that respects the wishes of its customers.