The new normativity : the innovation imperative

Cunningham, Stuart D. (2012) The new normativity : the innovation imperative. In Low, Gregory Ferrell, Martin, Fiona, & Chadwick, Paul (Eds.) Proceedings of the 6th RIPE Conference (RIPE@2012): Value for Public Money – Money for Public Value, University of Tampere, Sydney, NSW, pp. 1-26.

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At a quite fundamental level, the very way in which Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) may envisage its future usually captured in the semantic shift from PSB to Public Service Media (PSM) is at stake when considering the recent history of public value discourse and the public value test. The core Reithian PSB idea assumed that public value would be created through the application of core principles of universality of availability and appeal, provision for minorities, education of the public, distance from vested interests, quality programming standards, program maker independence, and fostering of national culture and the public sphere. On the other hand, the philosophical import of the public value test is that potentially any excursion into the provision of new media services needs to be justified ex ante.

In this era of New Public Management, greater transparency and accountability, and the proposition that resources for public value deliverables be contestable and not sequestered in public sector institutions, what might be the new Archimedean point around which a contemporised normativity for PSM be built?

This paper will argue for the innovation imperative as an organising principle for contemporary PSM. This may appear counterintuitive, as it is precisely PSB’s predilection for innovating in new media services (in online, mobile, and social media) that has produced the constraining apparatus of the ex ante/public value/Drei-Stufen-Test in Europe, based on principles of competitive neutrality and transparency in the application of public funds for defined and limited public benefit. However, I argue that a commitment to innovation can define as complementary to, rather than as competitive ‘crowding out’, the new products and services that PSM can, and should, be delivering into a post-scarcity, superabundant all-media marketplace.

The evidence presented in this paper for this argument is derived mostly from analysis of PSM in the Australian media ecology. While no PSB outside Europe is subject to a formal public value test, the crowding out arguments are certainly run in Australia, particularly by powerful commercial interests for whom free news is a threat to monetising quality news journalism. Take right wing opinion leader, herself a former ABC Board member, Judith Sloan: ‘… the recent expansive nature of the ABC – all those television stations, radio stations and online offerings – is actually squeezing activity that would otherwise be undertaken by the private sector. From partly correcting market failure, the ABC is now causing it. We are now dealing with a case of unfair competition and wasted taxpayer funds’ (The Drum, 1 August

But I argue that the crowding out argument is difficult to sustain in Australia because of the PSB’s non-dominant position and the fact that much of innovation generated by the two PSBs, the ABC and the SBS, has not been imitated by or competed for by the commercials. The paper will bring cases forward, such as SBS’ Go Back to Where you Came From (2011) as an example of product innovation, and a case study of process and organisational innovation which also has resulted in specific product and service innovation – the ABC’s Innovation Unit.

In summary, at least some of the old Reithian dicta, along with spectrum scarcity and market failure arguments, have faded or are fading. Contemporary PSM need to justify their role in the system, and to society, in terms of innovation.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 58753
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Additional URLs:
Keywords: public service broadcasting, public service media, innovation, public value test, ex ante/public value/Drei-Stufen-Test
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000) > COMMUNICATION AND MEDIA STUDIES (200100)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2012 [please consult the author]
Deposited On: 11 Jun 2013 23:03
Last Modified: 18 Jun 2013 00:17

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