Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media


Public Service Media in Europe: A Comparative Approach, edited by Karen Arriaza Ibarra, Eva Nowak, and Raymond Kuhn. Routledge, 2015, 239 pp.

Maria O’Brien



Public Service Media (PSM) is subjected to influence from a number of forces, including but not limited to the technological, the economic, and the political. However, PSM (and in its prior incarnation as Public Service Broadcasting, PSB) has, since inception, been at the forefront of changes in society. Nevertheless, it is evident that the shift to the digital has brought about significant changes in the broader conditions within which PSM across the European Union operate. The survival of PSM across Europe points to the significance of the ideology underpinning the provision of media content that has a societal role. As the introductory section to this edited collection outlines, “the primarily cultural and identity-building role that PSM played for many years had become insufficient at the beginning of the twenty-first century to guarantee its continuity without debate” (2). The complex web of social, political, and regulatory conditions within which PSM operates across Europe is elegantly unravelled in this edited book from Routledge. What is particularly significant about this collection is the coverage of a range of issues from the historical justification for PSM support from the state to the all-pervasive digitalisation.

The academic discourse around PSM within a European context is a well-researched field with significant texts on both EU policy and national policy in a European context (Craufurd Smith; Lowe et al.; Sarikakis). This book adds to the discourse in this field in a way that is both accessible and deeply engaged with the complex issues shaping PSM, including the economic, the digital, accountability, and more. Besides, the structure of this text, with Part I addressing theoretical and analytical concepts, and Part II taking a comparative approach to PSM across the EU, illustrates how the theoretical issues are applied empirically. While much of the academic discourse in this area has addressed the European position, and others have expertly covered the national regimes (such as Freedman on UK policy and Vedel on France’s one), it is refreshing to consider an analysis of the comparative national perspectives. Such an approach allows for in-depth consideration of the complexity of the existence and support of a national media within a context that is shaped by transnational and globalised flows of production, of distribution, and consumption.

The structure of the book provides for both theoretical and empirical approaches to PSM in a European context. As mentioned, the book is divided into two parts, with the first making reference to theoretical foundational aspects of PSM and the global influences that have shaped policy, while the second contains the results of a comparative analysis of six European countries—France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and Sweden—using a cross- national comparative framework. The introductory chapter by Karen Arriaza Ibarra, Eva Nowak and Raymond Kuhn, “Introduction: The Relevance of Public Service Media in Europe”, acts to both define the field of enquiry and to provide a contextual grounding for the following chapters. It usefully addresses the changing political and economic context within which PSM across Europe operate, highlighting in particular the ideological shift to increasing acceptance of market criteria in both the management and allocation of public resources.

The chapters in Part I address the various contextual conditions in which PSM regimes operate: an exploration of economic conditions (including the shift to marketisation highlighted in the introductory chapter), technological issues (including digitisation), political aspects (including the nation-building role of PSM), market dynamics (at both a national and EU level), and the role of PSM within society. Chapter 2, “Economic Paradigms in the EU and their Relation to Public Service Media”, by Sergio A. Berumen and Karen Arriaza Ibarra, addresses the historical role of the state within the market and the various media industrial models which are identifiable in an examination of PSM. For them, historically the oppositional models represented by Maynard Keynes’ interventionist approach versus Hayek’s approach based on the freedom of the market have dominated the economic debates, and have also been used to justify the level of state intervention or support for PSM. They argue that there has been no homogeneity in approaches of the state towards PSM across Europe, with some regimes following neoliberal approaches, some interventionist, and some between these poles—it is a continuum. Chapter 3, “The Role of Public Service Media in Nation-Building” by Christina Holtz-Bacha, addresses the increasingly complex concept of the role of PSM in nation-building, an issue that has become more emotive since publication in 2015. It addresses the academic discourse around the development of a national identity and the role of PSM therein, and the role of PSM in fostering a EU identity. This chapter could benefit from consideration of the problematic nature of overt nationalism arising within the EU, in particular in reaction to immigration issues and the role of media therein.

Chapter 4, “Problems and Solutions for Public Service Broadcasting: Reflections on a Fifty-Six Country Study” by Damian Tambini, takes an international approach to PSM models worldwide (primarily divided into US-style privatised with weak public interest requirements, UK-style PSB and state-controlled such as China), highlighting the significance of technological and market changes associated with the shift to the digital in each case. Avoiding a normative approach, the Mapping Digital Media (MDM) study of fifty-six countries attempted to further practical understanding of PSM development. Of most significance is the finding that PSB regulation is “opaque, conflict-ridden and subject to capture by private interests” (44). The increasing influence of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter has further meant media consumption widely has become more involved in areas of privacy, copyright and more. Technical complexity of the debates around PSB has impeded clear regulation of the sector and thus has, according to Tambini, elided the role of the citizen from public debate on the future of the media (45).

Chapter 5, “Public Service Media and European Market Integration Policies” by Karen Donders and Tim Raats, addresses PSM and market integration policies. While PSM is structured nationally and has a national role, the Commission subsidy policy approach is crucial in shaping how models are structured. Like other areas, broadcasting has been subject to market ideology. The Commission’s attempts to develop reasoning in PSB and new media through such cases as VRT and RTÉ/TG4 emphasises the importance of a clearly defined public service remit. It gets to the heart of what state-aid regulation is attempting to do in this area, namely ensuring the optimal functioning of the market. Chapter 6, “Public Service Media Accountability in Recent Decades: A Progressive Shift from State to Market” by Hilde Van Den Bulck, addresses the shift in accountability from state to market, building on the concepts established in previous chapters. It analyses how the shift from the historical monopoly position through New Public Management to the current conceptualisation of accountability to the market is identifiable in certain national jurisdictions and within the EU. Chapter 7 is the final section in Part I, establishing theoretical concepts applicable to PSM within the EU. “Digitization and Public Service Media: What Service for Which Public?” by Christian S. Nissen considers the challenges digitisation provides for PSM. As Nissen points out in the opening section of this chapter, PSM has from the outset thrived on technological innovations. The concept of digitisation is challenging PSM, from issues of nonlinearity, the dispute with commercial media over Internet presence (and its relationship with state aid) and the shift in the conceptualisation of audiences from citizens to consumers. Overall, the chapters in Part I provide for a comprehensive and thorough discussion of the theoretical and conceptual concepts most relevant for an interrogation of PSM in the current social and political climate.

Part II of the book contains the six comparative chapters. Chapter 8, “Between Autonomy and Dependency: Funding Mechanisms of Public Service Media in Selected European Countries” by Beata Klimkiewicz takes a comparative analysis approach to changes in PSM funding structures in six different countries (looking at licence fee, state subsidies and advertising), to illustrate the role of PSM as operating either complementary to media markets or in a competitive framework. The policy perception of PSM shapes the funding mechanisms, with certain EU states having public value tests, implying increasing investment in measurement and supervision, for example. We will recall that the theme of marketisation was highlighted in the introduction chapter. For Klimkiewicz, the requirement for measurable outcomes for justification of public funding may once again foreground the issue of PSM’s independence and autonomy. The need for measurable outcomes implies a “parameterization” of services that requires closer liaison with the State administration responsible for funding and administration in a way that may undermine the independence of operation of PSM bodies (112).

Chapter 9, “Autonomy and Regulatory Frameworks of Public Service Media: Diverging Scenarios in a Europe of Different Levels” by Mona Krewel, considers different regulatory approaches for PSM in a number of different EU countries, surmising that the different approaches have consequences for the autonomy of PSM and concluding that, at least in part, PSM may not be correctly shielded from the political sphere. Chapter 10, “Management and Organization of Public Service Media Companies: Basic Concepts Related to Efficiency and Failure in European Public Service Media, with Two Case Examples (Germany and Spain)” by Karen Arriaza Ibarra, addresses the concept of management and organisation with case studies from Germany and Spain through the lens of public service remit and public value. This chapter interrogates the notion of public value through the examination of the two “significantly different” PSM systems which developed from different political origins, in addition to using the example of the closure of Greek public broadcaster ERT in 2013 (156). The choice of Germany and Spain as case studies allows for consideration of radically different approaches to PSM, with Germany having followed the Democratic Corporatist Model (and Spain belonging to the Mediterranean of Polarised Pluralist Model (based on Hallin and Mancini’s 2004 categorisation).

Chapter 11, “Why Is Public Service Media Content As It Is? A Comparison of Principles and Practices in Six EU Countries” by Lars W. Nord, takes a comparative approach to principles and practices governing PSM in six EU countries, holding that “the perspectives on specific public media content are not only ideologically driven, but are also fuelled by the commercialisation of media markets” (171). Taking a comparative perspective to PSM remit and content regulations allows for interrogation of the relationship between the role of PSM in politics, the market and the public. Chapter 12, “Accountability Mechanisms and the Control of Public Service Media in Europe” by Ulrike Klinger, addresses the complexity of accountability of dual system PSM’s that have both public and commercial characteristics. Highlighting the embeddedness of media accountability systems in a larger institutional context, Klinger emphasises the significance of such structural context and normative background that imputes specific norms and values.

This edited collection astutely addresses the complexity of PSM within the EU. By situating the challenges facing PSM within the theoretical foundations in Part I, the extensive research of PSM in various nation states underpinning this collection adds to the debate around the fundamental role plays by PSM in society. It frames the regulatory role of the state towards PSM into a broader market perspective, allowing for a more in-depth understanding of the complex interaction between nation state, the supranational institution of the EU, the market and society contained within a PSM system. This collection has interrogated the concepts, both theoretical and analytical, underpinning the political economy of PSM in the EU and various nation states. This approach raises questions about what may influence or affect the structure, operation, content, and reach of different PSM models.

If there is one criticism, it is that the continued significance of PSM in the face of politics, technology and the digital is felt across all member states of the EU, albeit in different ways. A deeper exploration of the comparative PSM frameworks across the EU, taking into account the implications of EU regulations within a national context would shed light on both the different interpretations of the fundamental concepts underpinning and shaping PSM in both a national and EU context. It is also difficult to take a holistic view of the role of and operation of PSM in an EU context without some understanding of EU integration theories across the history of the EU (Mercedes Muñoz Salda and Ana Azurmendi Adarraga’s chapter in Lowe et al.’s anthology addresses the connection between multilevel governance—an EU initiative focused on modernising democratic practices by way of increased collaboration across different levels of government—and the future of PSM, albeit without considering the theoretical basis of multilevel governance elaborated by Liesbet Hooghe and Gary Marks). Thus, a comparative perspective taking in all models in all EU nation states would add to the debate in various ways, including on the role and function of PSM in society, the state–market relation influence on PSM regulation and content, and the wider political economy of PSM.



1. Craufurd Smith, Rachel. “The Evolution of Cultural Policy in the European Union.” The Evolution of EU Law, edited by Paul Craig and Gráinne de Búrca,Oxford UP,2013,pp. 869–894.

2. Freedman, Des. The Contradictions of Media Power. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014.

3. Hallin, Daniel C., and Paolo Mancini. Comparing Media Systems: Three Models of Media and Politics. Cambridge UP, 2004, DOI:

4. Hooghe, Liesbet, and Gary Marks. Multi-Level Governance and European Integration. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2001.

5. Lowe, Gregory Ferrell, et al., editors. Public Service Media in the Networked Society. Nordicom, 2017.

6. Muñoz Saldaña, Mercedes, and Ana Azurmendi Adarraga. “Public Service Media and Multilevel Governance: Citizen Participation in the Networked Society—The Spanish Case.” Public Service Media in the Networked Society,edited by Gregory Ferrell Lowe, ‎Hilde Van den Bulck, ‎and Karen Donders, 2018, Nordicom, pp. 143–157.

7. Sarikakis, Katharine. “Serving Two Masters: The Roles of the Market and European Politics in the Governance of Media Transformations.” Understanding Media Policies: A European Perspective, edited by Evangelia Psychogiopoulou, 2012, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 247–256, DOI:

8. Vedel, Thierry. “Pluralism in the French Broadcasting System: Between the Legacy of History and the Challenges of New Technologies.” Press Freedom and Pluralism in Europe: Concepts and Conditions, edited by Andrea Czepek et al., ECREA Book Series, Intellect Publishing, 2009, pp. 261–274.


Suggested Citation

O’Brien, Maria. “Public Service Media in Europe: A Comparative Approach, edited by Karen Arriaza Ibarra, Eva Nowak, and Raymond Kuhn.” Book Review. Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media, no. 17, 2019, pp. 265–269.

Maria O’Brien is in the final stages of a PhD on tax expenditures for the audiovisual industries in the School of Communications, Dublin City University (funded by the National Development Plan). She lectures in Media Law in the School of Communications in DCU. She holds an MA in Screen Studies from Goldsmiths, University of London, and an MLitt from Trinity College Dublin. She worked as a lawyer in Dublin and London before entering the world of academia. She is cofounder and coorganiser of the annual East Asia Film Festival Ireland.