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Klaus Unterberger "The time of naivety is over"

With these words, Verá Jourova, Vice-President of the EU Commission and Commissioner for Values and Transparency,
expressed her concern about the current state of the digital transformation. A handful of globally operating data corporations have taken extensive control of the internet. Google, Facebook, Twitter
and TikTok have created new economic empires and dominate young people's
media consumption with their social media offerings. This is a remarkable
business success, however connected with massive negative effects: Data
collection and supervision, algorithmic control of information, fake news and
filter bubble effects transform enthusiasm about the internet into a state of
alarm. The latest surge of innovation in digital technology also triggers not just
fascination, but - at the same time - fear: Artificial intelligence creating texts
and images beyond human control. At the same time the changes of perception
of media is also worrying. Increasingly, people do not seek access to editorial
media and rely on the newsfeed in their social media consumption. The alarming
perspective: the "news-will-find-me" generation receives its information from
the very sources it trusts least.2
But if media quality is not just a look back at what has already been produced
- it has to look into the future: What is quality on the net? Can we rely
in the online sources? Is the flood of social media washing away all quality
criteria? Can we accept that people get completely different answers to the
same question from their digital search engine because artificial intelligence
constructs personalized information with the help of algorithmic data analysis?
And more importantly, can we trust this content?
The question of quality is more urgent than ever in view of the massive disruptions
in the media economy and media perception. Not only market shares
and shareholder value are at stake, but the trustworthiness and credibility of
information as the basis for a democratic public sphere. The crucial question
is whether technologies and artificial intelligence can be publicly controlled. In
the case of Google, Facebook and TikTok, the answer is no. How these companies
collect data, according to which interests they evaluate it, how they use it,
whether for commercial exploitation or even for intelligence surveillance, has
not been answered yet. The US government has already classified the Chinese
operator of TikTok as a "security risk" because of its collection of data from
Americans3. If this is indeed the case, wouldn't Google & Co. also be a security
risk for Europeans? The question of who owns digital technologies is a decisive
quality criterion: Can I trust the information on the net? Is the communication
space secure? Who checks algorithms and artificial intelligence? Do the media
and those who disseminate public communication have controllable regulations and functioning quality assurance? How can media users recognize quality on
the net, if so, by which criteria?
ORF Public Value has initiated intensive analyses on this in recent years:
With the development of "Public Network Value"4, Prof. Thomas Steinmaurer
has created a basis for determining which quality criteria are relevant for the
fulfilment of the public service mission and remit in the digital age.
In numerous contributions, scientific analyses and an international study,
the 'transform'-process has dealt with the digital transformation of the ORF5,
which was accompanied by a series of public debates in the "ORF DialogForum"6.
Currently, the Public Value Study "Entertainment in the Digital Age" examines
the question of how Public Service Media should behave in the face of Netflix,
Disney and Amazon Prime.7
The search for a trustworthy internet - not just market-compatible but also
democracy-compatible - is one of the most relevant challenges of today's world:
This is why the project "A European Perspective"8 can be seen as a trendsetting
beginning of how digital transformation is already being used today for a
cross-border public service. Eleven public broadcasters are participating in the
pan-European initiative under the leadership of the "European Broadcasting
Union". Its aim is to develop a digital European newsroom. News stories from
the participating broadcasters are collected and processed by an automated
translation system for the individual national languages. The advantage for
media users: A range of quality-checked reporting from different European
countries will be created, providing access to authentic information at the
push of a button. In addition, work is being done on the development of a public-
service algorithm that could be used for a trustworthy source of information
while observing existing journalistic quality standards as well as the guidelines
on personal privacy and data protection and, above all, under public control.
"A European Perspective" is creating pioneering work in the development and
implementation of digital technologies beyond commercial interests and thus
creates a contribution to the often-requested European public sphere.
This is precisely the point of the "Public Service Internet Manifesto"9, which
was developed in cooperation with 200 scientists worldwide. It addresses
European media policy, but also explicitly the Public Service Media. It calls
for a digital infrastructure oriented towards the common good that produces
not only "shareholder value" but above all "stakeholder and Public Value" as
an alternative to commercial platforms. Public Service Media, their resources,
but also their competences should play a decisive role. Within a few months,
the "Call for Action" was supported by more than 1,300 academics and media
experts worldwide, including Jürgen Habermas, Noam Chomsky, Evgeny
Morozov and many others.
However, ORF cannot wait for European solutions. Due to the current challenges
of digital media production, the question of quality must be answered
in a practical way. Therefore, all ORF regulations, especially its "Social Media
Guidelines"10 are of particular concern to online media production. This is also
the case for ORF quality control11. Whether audience or expert interviews,
Quality Profiles, or Quality Checks, whether Public Value studies or Public Value
reports: they all include the dimension of digital transformation. The focus is on the public service mission and remit, the fulfilment of which is obligatory
even in the digital age.
Have we answered all relevant questions? Obviously, no. The developments
and the dynamics of innovation of technological development do not allow
conclusive and final answers to the question of media quality supporting democracy
and citizenship.
Whoever claims quality on the net must also prove it. After all, media users
also change their opinions from time to time, especially when the media
world changes. After all, democracy is also always looking for new ways to
protect itself against corruption and authoritarian attacks, against populism
and "alternative" truths, not least against data oligarchies, surveillance and
manipulation. If the "time for naivety" is over, the question of trust in media is
more important than ever. Public Value, the distinctive quality of Public Service
Media, is of particular importance in context to numerous crises, like war
and climate emergency, polarization of society and populism. Especially when
it comes to maintaining and supporting a "res publica", a democratic public
sphere in the digital age and developing it for the future.