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Public value of non-commercial community broadcasting in Austria

New study by the Austrian Academy of Sciences and COMMIT on behalf of the Austrian Regulatory Authority for Broadcasting and Telecommuni-cations (RTR) and the forum journalismus und medien wien (fjum) documents mature and unique 3rd sector providing voice and building community – Summary by Helmut Peissl

The study was presented on Monday 6th of July in Vienna at the premises of the regulator as is available for download

The recent study on community broadcasting in Austria was initiated and realised by the community media institute COMMIT and the Austrian Academy of Sciences within the last two years. The authors Josef Seethaler and Helmut Peissl stress with their conclusions that non-commercial broadcasting (the formal term for community broadcasting in Austria) has arrived in the middle of society. Wherever non-commercial radio and television stations operate, they meet the need for local information, communication and community building. They ensure diversity in the local area, represent social nodes, convey critical media competence – and make democracy tangible. They are thus in line with the media policy objectives of the European Union formulated in the “EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024”, which call for the promotion of civil society as an important player in the media landscape.

In Austria the first community radio stations went on air in 1998. More than two decades later, the study leaves no doubt that the 17 non-commercial radio and television stations operating in Austria have developed into an independent institution during the period of their existence, supported by a shared set of values. In other words, they have developed a common identity and a common idea of what goals are to be achieved with the range of programs offered or what communicative functions are to be fulfilled. This “public value” provided by non-commercial broadcasting, this added value for society, cannot be provided in this form by public or private commercial broadcasting.

The analysis of focus group discussions with 120 mainly volunteers from 15 broadcasters show that they are oriented towards five communicative functions that serve the implementation of specific values in programming across broadcasters:

With the articulation function, community stations offer people in their distribution areas the opportunity to communicate their concerns and to bring them into public discourse – this is especially true for population groups that otherwise have no voice in public for social, cultural or linguistic reasons (“open access”).

The participatory function empowers people to go beyond communicative participation to actively participate in shaping their social and natural environment and thus in the political process as a whole.

With the complementary function, the radio and TV stations meet the specific information needs of the local population and take up topics that are hardly represented in the mainstream media.

With the media education function, they promote critical, not merely technical, media competence both by creating their own media contributions and by raising the audience’s awareness of how the media works.

With the (still expandable) realisation of media-convergent strategies, a counter-model to the sham participation offerings of commercial online platforms could emerge that enables authentic and responsible participation.

The presentation of the study was followed by a vivid discussion with community media representatives and MP Eva Blimlinger from the Green party and Stefan Schennach form the social-democrat party who furthermore holds the function as the general rapporteur for Freedom of media and safety of journalists with the council of Europe. Stefan Schennach invited the authors to Strasbourg to present the study and their findings with the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europa.

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