Ukraine Readers On The Public Interest

By MARCUS BREEN, Professor of Communication and Media, editor of the International Journal of Technology Knowledge and Society, and member of the Institute for Law, Government and Policy.

This week has been momentous for the Ukraine. In Europe – or at its doorstep – live ammunition has been used against protesters, killing perhaps hundreds.And this week, more people than ever in Ukraine read my blog. It was the blog about public broadcasting and the public interest. It is 16 people so far, a tiny number. However the “surge” in readership suggests an interest in the relationship between the state and public broadcasters, between private interests and government.This is the political economy of media.

There are differing sets of questions and concerns:

  • how government media institutions respond to vested interests;
  • how public broadcasters respond to governments;
  • and a third set of interests is what private media companies do.

I have no idea what is happening in Ukraine, apart from US and international media coverage. Each reporter and source offers a perspective and many of them uncritically channel the views of those being interviewed. (In contrast, in the US, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) TV has camera footage from behind both the protesters and government police officers, which is a framing exercise indicating an attempt to offer viewers both sides of a complex story.)

Why is this framing important? Here is a guess that is not reflected in most media reports I have seen and heard: Ukraine is cursed with an unfortunate geography: close to Russia and its transformation and Slavic culture (closed and traditional) while also close to Western Europe and drawn to the west’s social and economic approaches to governance and culture (open and disruptive).

How could public interests be served by broadcasters in such a cauldron of competing cultural interests? I suspect this is the pressing issue for policy makers in a country that is currently tending towards eastern styles of autocracy, while looking to the west for liberal models of development and democracy.

To readers in Ukraine – please stay the course in pursuing the public interest. It will probably be a model that I don’t recognise because there is no single model of the public interest and public broadcasting. Every nation needs its own national broadcasting system to suit its democratic purposes.

 [*Note: This blog was first posted to Professor Breen’s personal blog, breencomments.blogspot.com.au]

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