On October 13, 2022, the panel discussion on the topic of “Are citizens helping to shape the future of public broadcasting? Thematically, it followed on from the participation projects #meinfernsehen2021 and the ARD Future Dialogue.
In the University House, Prof. Dr. Christiane Eilders (DIID spokesperson and Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Heinrich Heine University), Dr. Frauke Gerlach (Director of the Grimme Institute), Prof. Dr. Christoph Bieber (Professor of Ethics in Political Management and Society at the University of Duisburg-Essen) and Ingmar Cario (Deputy Program Director Information, Fiction and Entertainment at WDR), together with moderator Bettina Fruchtmann, discussed the results of the projects and current developments with regard to public broadcasting.
The first topic discussed was the scandal surrounding the former director of rbb and its consequences for public broadcasting. The main reasons for this were the non-transparent decision-making and control structures of the bodies. The influence of the pandemic on the usage routines of public broadcasting was also discussed, especially with regard to the citizens’ increased need for information.
Current events underscore the relevance of the results of the #meinfernsehen2021 participation project. Indeed, the mission of public broadcasting implies the central but difficult task of reaching the entire breadth of the population with its program offerings. This is difficult, he says, primarily because of two factors: first, individual needs and personal preferences vary widely, making it difficult to design a uniform program. Second, these individual desires are difficult to capture because the discourse about public broadcasting is often conducted exclusively in expert circles. This is precisely where participatory formats such as #meinfernsehen2021 or the ARD Future Dialogue come in.
Overall, Christiane Eilders and Frauke Gerlach were able to identify a “constructive will to change” among the participants in the online participation of #meinfernsehen2021. The challenge, they said, is to go beyond selective participation projects and develop formats that are enriched by citizen participation and that can contribute to an ongoing dialogue. Possible ideas included the convergence of media environments or collaborative content production through audience participation. In this context, participation should be understood as a dialogue that depends on resonance and responses; not only in the digital context, but also in the analog context (e.g., through citizens’ councils or selective dialogues). Here, too, communication through these spaces to citizens:in would be a crucial factor in making public law structures more transparent.
Based on these implications, concrete measures and consequences for public broadcasting were then discussed. Examples of inputs from citizen participation that have already been implemented are, on the one hand, programmatic changes such as a focus on sustainability topics in the “Sendung mit der Maus” and the representation of diversity through increased perspectives from rural areas through “mittendrin” reports in the Tagesthemen. On the other hand, the expansion of established formats to include a balanced view of opinion, for example by including pro and con opinions in news formats.
Following the discussion among the panelists, the audience was invited to ask questions. Among the topics discussed were the role of artificial intelligence in public broadcasting, the relevance of public radio, the increasing thematic differentiation of public broadcasters and the associated outsourcing of educational content from the main program, and the function of political magazines in digital environments. We would like to thank our panelists as well as the audience for the lively and insightful discussion!