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Ao.-Univ.Prof. Dr. Thomas Steinmaurer Public Network Value
The digital transformation has set in motion far-reaching processes of change in society and has also brought fundamental changes to the media and communication sector. With the internet and the principles of networking, a new digital infrastructure developed which created a paradigmatic new ecosystem for social as well as individual information and communication processes. In this global network, which promised egalitarian communication and interaction for all, new players have since emerged as dominant platforms that dominate the game of power and have become central hubs not only of communication but also of its economization and marketing. The large social media platforms in particular set new communication and interaction processes in motion that enable changed forms of participation and create new public spheres, as well as driving forward tendencies of polarization and radicalization. Dynamics of datafication, a newly developing "surveillance capitalism" (cf. Zuboff) or, more recently, the integration of AI for searching, controlling, and also producing content represent additional challenges of development. Classical media are now faced with the challenge of having to adapt to the new framework conditions and implement sensible transformation processes
in line with their mandate. For public service broadcasting, this means that it
must develop from a one-to-many medium of classical character (in the sense
of a "broadcaster") to a platform of digital information and communication
offerings (in the sense of a network).
The central idea is to create a "Public Value" for society in the digital network
as well. The further development of the added value of public broadcasters
for the network society (cf. Castells) could consequently be described as the
"public network value", within the framework of which not only the recognized,
previously valid quality features represent the basis for all offers, but new quality
features - adapted to the changing framework conditions - must be developed
based on them (cf. Steinmaurer/Wenzel 2015).
In view of the fact that communication processes in digital networks are
becoming increasingly opaque and unclear and manipulation and falsification
of content are constantly on the rise, there is a need to secure quality providers
in the network who not only stand for reliable content but can also develop new
digital formats at a technically high-quality level. They should therefore be able
to offer innovative digital services that are clearly distinguishable from purely
economically oriented applications and create added value for society. For it
is precisely in the digital ecosystem that public service providers must aim to
distinguish themselves not only through the quality of their content offerings,
but also through their network innovations. The Public Network Value to be
achieved should be oriented towards the ratio of social participation, digital
inclusion, and social integration in the sense of establishing a public open space.
Based on the idea of the digital commons, the goal of the development of new network offerings must logically be oriented towards the vanishing point of a
public (network) value and not - as is the case with large platforms worldwide -
a shareholder value.
Regarding the design of digital innovations, which in sum could constitute
a Public Network Value, it should be about creating forms of easy access to
offers, improving the visibility of services and using central functions of the
digital networks. This addresses potentials that aim at intensifying interactive
communication and interaction with the audience. In order to achieve such
network qualities, corresponding efforts are required on the part of providers
in order to make quality-driven content offers for the context of digital ecosystems.
Especially in times of uncertain information quality on the net, in
which fake news and conspiracy theories can quickly spread, it is crucial that
quality-oriented media platforms (can) become fact-oriented clearing houses
for "digital content". This includes tasks such as the increasingly necessary
validation and contextualization of content on a journalistic level. But it also
includes cooperation with other quality providers from the field of traditional
media, as has already been realized in the first steps in the case of research
networks. On a structural-technical level, quality-driven providers and platforms
should be established in the network, as well as networks and links that create
added value for public network values. This could include links, for example
to platforms of the EBU or public archives as well as information hubs from
libraries or web providers such as Wikipedia. These forms of active networking
could strengthen public broadcasters in consolidating their identity as quality
nodes in the network. And one of the quality features of PSM should be to make
their archives accessible in an advanced, i. e., journalistically curated form,
since this often makes it possible to access culturally and socially relevant
content. Other dimensions of Public Network Value also include aspects that
aim to develop appropriate formats that inform the public about the possibilities
and opportunities, but also the risks and dangers of using digital services
and the significance of digitalisation for society in general. Just as innovative
offers need to be developed on the provider side, it must also be ensured that
the users of digital infrastructures also have the corresponding competences
and "digital skills" to be able to move around the internet not only as passive
consumers, but as actively participating citizens (cf. Digital Skills). In sum,
the concept of Public Network Value is characterised by proposing a model
for the further development of the classic Public Value Model for the further
development of PSM for its digital transformation. The center of both innovation
directions must be the claim for public service providers to secure and
guarantee the quality standards defined for them. For it is precisely because of
the challenges currently presented in the digital networks that it is to be seen
as a democratic task for society to afford the development of quality-driven
network platforms in the sense of "public service networks". In this way, an
alternative and a counterpart to globally operating platforms can be created,
which is based on the target values of the social common good and the safeguarding of a democratic public sphere. The conceptual lines of development
thus addressed are to be seen against the background of a respective national
media policy, which is called upon to meet the challenges of digitalisation. The aim should be to secure structures of diversity and a plural public sphere, as
well as to strengthen providers who focus on the creation of information and
communication qualities that are necessary for democratic policy as well as
network innovations that are oriented towards the common good.
In addition to market-oriented considerations, media policy must therefore
also be concerned with the quality assurance of social communication
infrastructures, especially in the context of digital framework conditions. In
view of the perspectives mentioned above, which must be considered for the
development of a quality and democracy-oriented media and communication
infrastructure, the protection of a public service provider per se can be considered
a measure of quality assurance in the context of a diverse provider
structure. Especially in the context of digitalisation and the associated "new
structural change of the public sphere" (cf. Habermas), the idea of establishing
more "public service" network providers - however these may be designed - is
therefore discussed and demanded (cf. Internet Manifesto), and not without
good reason, against the backdrop of a commercialisation and economisation
of the internet that is taking hold worldwide. In this context, it is not only important
to constantly check the quality of their journalistic productions from
different perspectives - also in the sense of regulated self-regulation - and to
correct them if necessary. In the future, it will also be necessary to evaluate
and assess the quality of their digital innovation and development perspectives
under the aspect of their contribution to a democratic communication culture.
This will also have to be done in accordance with the currently (respectively)
valid European legal provisions on state aid, which also focus on the need for
public service providers to comply with a genuine public service mandate.
Against this background, it will be crucial to consider which digital services or
forms of offerings of a meritocratic nature are required to create an explicit
democratic added value.
Regarding possible paths of further development from Public Service Media
to public service networks or digital platforms for society, it will also be
necessary to define which quality features are (or can be) expected or must be
provided from such a newly defined provider. What forms of networking and
cooperation with other quality providers or non-commercial platforms on the
net should be developed, both nationally and at the European or international
level? With which activities can Public Service Media providers in the digital
network succeed in ensuring their public network value as a "return on society"?
And when it comes to thinking about how to implement quality assurance
measures for the further development of the digital transformation, there are
different approaches to choose from. In addition to the instruments that have
already been tried and tested, it will be important to find forms of flexible
and adaptive quality assurance, as specific needs always arise anew. While
problems caused by fake news, deep fakes or conspiracy theories were and
are still being addressed by certain measures - such as fact checking - new
challenges arise very quickly because of digital innovation cycles, as we are
currently observing in the field of artificial intelligence. Quality-driven providers
also must react to this with their possibilities and find answers to any critical
or questionable developments. In this respect, quality development for the context of digital framework conditions must therefore also be understood as a flexible development path. If one finally understands the development steps of the digital transformation through PSM as dimensions within the framework of the creation of a public network value, such a model can generally be understood as a Quality Assurance System for digital ecosystems. For it has the goal - following the model
of the "digital commons" - to create social added value within digital networks,
to develop qualities as an alternative to purely data-economic models and to
aim at strengthening "digital citizenship". It is not without reason that we are
already finding various concepts and initiatives at the European level to build
alternatives to globally active players. Even if such efforts are very belated
and, precisely because of their non-commercial orientation, cannot in any way
contest the position of the large global platforms, it is necessary in terms of
democratic policy to create quality nodes and quality-driven networks with
added value for society. For the safeguarding of a communicative infrastructure
that is committed to the target values of a functioning democratic public
sphere and can make an important contribution to the quality assurance of
information and communication is to be regarded as a central task for the
network society in terms of democratic policy.