Digital technologies have profoundly changed the media landscape. In particular due to the now ubiquitous Internet, we have observed in recent years unparalleled abundance and diversity of content and of platforms where content can be shared and accessed (Facebook, Wikipedia or blogs, spring quickly to mind). These modifications have however not stopped at simply multiplying the communication channels, but have also led to new types of civic engagement and social interaction and to new modes of content production, distribution and access that move away from the conventional broadcasting model of “pushing” information from one point to many. This newly created media ecosystem puts the institution of public service broadcasting (PSB) – i.e. for instance in the Swiss context, the SRG SSR idée suisse – under pressure.

While PSB’s fundamental task of securing freedom and diversity of expressions and of cultivating and transmitting social values endures, some urgent questions arise: Are not some of these goals already achieved by commercial and user-generated media? What is the role that PSB organisations should assume in the new environment and are they really worth the taxpayers’ money? Have PSBs somehow forgotten, in the struggle for commercial success, their essential task of sustaining the public sphere and of promoting core social and cultural values? The present project seeks answers to these questions.

We do not necessarily argue that the institution of the PSB is outmoded. If aptly designed, we believe that PSB may effectively continue to serve the public interest and even take up new tasks. PSB must however reform to reflect the novel conditions of the digital media environment. The project is a legal enquiry. In order to attain its objectives, however, it also necessitates an in-depth multidisciplinary analysis of the implications of digital media, in particular those affecting PSB as an institution and as a means to secure certain public interests.

The project will examine the existing PSB instruments put in place in selected countries to manage the adjustment from analogue to digital and suggest their possible optimisation. It will eventually draw the contours of a model that most appropriately implements the goals of PSB in the contemporary (and ever evolving) digital environment. The corresponding legal framework, encompassing media, competition, state aid and intellectual property law rules, will be analysed not only at the national level, where PSB regimes are commonly formulated, but also at the European and international levels, where its compatibility will be tested in order to generate an overall coherent regulatory model.

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