Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Institution First

Day 7/365
Originally uploaded by Timo Kirkkala
Today´s Helsingin Sanomat writes that the parliamentary committee reforming the national public broadcaster YLE is most likely going to suggest that YLE will be financed in the future through a separate YLE tax. Unlike the current license fee, this compulsory tax would be collected as part of the normal tax collection. It would not go into the government´s total budget but straight to YLE. Journalist Teemu Luukka writes:"It is not likely that the committee will suggest radical changes into (YLE´s) duties."

I had yesterday lunch with a Danish friend of mine. She is one of those social entrepeneurs like me, i.e. people searching for new solutions to current problems. She said that her current interest is in using standard design techniques also for the planning of public services. This would mean bringing the problem and the end user into the core of the design process. As she pointed out, the common public service design process works like the YLE case: how do we fund an existing institution in the future.

When the design process starts from the institution, we are already kill a big majority of good ideas even before they see the light of day. When we take an institution and its current structure for granted, it is hardly surprising that we do not find very good solutions.

Everyone following media discussion today would know that public service communications needs rethinking. This is not an issue of organisational reform but an issue of citizenship - what kind of information and analysis do we need in order to play our role as citizens in a better and more informed manner? Getting stuck on the word broadcasting avoids looking into a landscape of new tasks, new actors and more flexibility. Now the fix is making a poorly functioning funding system compulsory. So it´s band aid instead of recovery process.

The private media corporations (Viestinnän keskusliitto) have been calling for Finland to follow the BBC Trust´s example in having an independent body supervising YLE. When the reform is prepared by a parliamentary committee, this is very unlikely to happen.

Although I am somewhat skeptical to the total agenda of the anti-YLE campaign of the private actors, I would strongly support an independent supervisory board. I believe it would strengthen YLE´s role as a supervisor of the ones in power, which would need to get its legitimacy not from decision makers but from people directly. It would make clearer that we as citizens have rights to proper critique and information and this might someone work against those in power. That sometimes the benefit of the state and the benefit of the people are not equal.

An independent body would also widen YLE´s stakeholder basis, help its directors in creative thinking and in the end - provide better public service media for us and help us in doing our share in a democracy better.

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