IRIS Extra 2016-2: Public service media in Transcaucasian countries

Author: Ekaterina Abashina, Lomonosov Moscow State University

Published: 13/07/2016

The development of public service media has not progressed at the same pace everywhere. Local market conditions and variable regulatory frameworks have played a critical role in determining how fast and with which features public service media has been consolidated across Europe.

The audiovisual market has developed significantly since the time of monopolies. Thanks to the Internet the options of audiovisual content available to the viewers are now both many and diverse, and this is also true for the provision of public service content. There is, though, a significant differing element: whereas for commercial audiovisual media services the market is the determining aspect, for public service media it is the role of the State.

The role of the State in defining the governance structure and the programming of public service media has been focused on in a central recommendation of the Council of Europe of 2012 on public service media governance. This formal structure, together with the effective management of the organisation and a transparent, open, responsive and responsible operational culture, have been isolated as the essential components for strong public service media, in terms of ensuring independence and accountability. How these criteria have been applied in practice is a national question, and the degree of implementation of the recommendation has varied widely.

In this regard there is naturally a certain delay for those market situations that developed from monopoly to competition relatively late. This has been the case of the post-Soviet regions, where public service broadcasting became a reality first in the early 2000s, when the rest of Europe was already discussing digital economies and converging regulatory frameworks.

Within the post-Soviet developments, a particularly interesting region is the South-Transcaucasian one. The South of the Caucasus includes Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and is geopolitically a very interesting area. These three countries do not only share a common history, but have also followed a similar evolutionary path when it comes to media development.

A comparative analysis of these three countries is conducted in this IRIS Extra, with a wide set of references by Ekaterina Abashina. After detailing the context with some historical notes on their respective media markets and regulatory frameworks, the author discusses the statute of the governing bodies, the financing of PSB, and the appointment procedures of Board members. She then analyses their programming policies and their adaptation to the requirements set by the international organisations of which they are members. Each country is examined individually, with systematic cross-references and a comparative overview of similarities and differences between the three systems.

It might be too early to conclude that there is a South-Transcaucasian PSB model. Nonetheless, it is clearly apparent that recommendations of and assessments by international organisations have been particularly influential in the development of public service broadcasting in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. In this regard, the analysis presented by Abashina is a very helpful tool for navigating their quite complex regulatory frameworks.