THE ROLE AND FUNCTIONING
OF PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING IN DENMARK
by Jorgen Flindt Pedersen, former
Managing Director of TV2, Denmark
The main tendencies in Danish attitudes to
the electronic media over the years have been to protect our national
institutions against foreign competition with the purpose of enhancing
Danish cultural values.
This policy was enacted from the very beginning,
when radio started nearly 80 years ago with the foundation of DANMARKS
RADIO as a public institution with a monopoly on wireless broadcasting.
And this policy is still very strong in the
new media landscape of today with analogue and digital broadcasting.
But to be correct I have to say that
it is not undisputed and a big share of the present members of parliament
have more liberal viewpoints and are pushing for more deregulation.
No one though seems to favour total freedom in this field
everybody seems to wish to uphold some forms of public ownership
and financing to protect national values and to prevent total commercial
influence in this very important field.
The policies and the structure today are
very much a national compromise, but in its essence created by the
left side of our parliament.
Let me give you a brief history.
When television came to Denmark in the early
fifties it was obvious that the terrestrial transmission rights
should be given to DR, DANMARKS RADIO, which held the monopoly on
radio. There was no real debate about that. Neither was there debate
about the financing. It should take place by the help of a rise
of the license fee. Commercial television was by most Danes seen
as very trivial and vulgar and without cultural values typical
American, which at that time was a bad word - and many opinion makers
feared the influence of commercials on the mind of the people, they
feared a development in a materialistic direction, which they did
not want the Danish society to venture at.
When it became possible during the seventies
to receive foreign television across the boarders and by satellite
they nurtured the illusion that it was possible to prevent I simply
by law of parliament.
Not realising that they were up against forces
stronger then gravity / human curiosity.
They fairly soon realized their mistake and
decided to take another and more active road in what was seen as
a national and cultural fight.
To be proactive instead of reactive.
In Sweden the solution had been to create
a duopoly. To have two stations within the same public framework
to compete with upcoming private stations.
In Denmark a different model - and indeed
very sophisticated model was chosen. A model, which in itself
was a long step towards commercialisation, but kept under public
control and ownership.
That was the creation of the TV 2/DENMARK.
The station was founded by act of parliament
in 1986 and I had the privilege to manage it from 1993 to late
It went on air in 1988 and within a year,
it was number one in Denmark. Probably a world record.
It is a hybrid form between public broadcasting
and commercial financing.
The chairman of the board and the overwhelming
majority of board members are all nominated by the minister of culture
for four years. She can choose who ever she wants, but more and
more the ministers have decided to take political considerations
and listened to the wishes of different political parties instead
of appointing people with a special knowledge about broadcasting
In that respect TV 2 now has more or less
the same political nominated board as DR, where the parties are
represented in proportion to their strength in parliament.
But and that is very important it has
not meant greater political influence. Neither at the TV 2 nor in
I would like to dwell a bit on this point.
In both instances the foremost power of the
board lies in the economic field and in the very important task
of appointing the managing director.
The managing director has in both these public
institutions the responsibility for the programming and the board
has no right to interfere in how it is conducted from day to day.
It is very much the same system, as we know
from the Danish print media. The editor-in-chief is sovereign as
far as the content is concerned, and the publisher and the board
are not allowed to interfere.
This is seen as very important paradigm,
and the role of the board is to protect the professionals from outside
pressure from the government, from political parties, private
corporations or from any other strong pressure group or individual.
Today this system really works. From my own
experience I can tell you that I have had no attempt from my chairman
or other board members to try to influence my programme policy.
I have had a few attempts from cabinet members
or other strong forces, but they have been very easy to withstand,
because the ideology in the Danish society is so clearly in favour
of independence for editors and programme directors.
I a country with a long tradition for interference
in the workings of the media I would in the law try to get so many
guarantees as possible for the independence of the management. I
would specify that the members of the board was their for professional
reasons only, to overlook the economy and to uphold the law, and
I would keep out full time politicians and secure that the board
only take relevant artistic and managerial considerations , when
they appoint the topboss . I would make it a breach of statue for
the management to take orders from members of government or any
other strong pressure group.
But the freedom and independence for the
management is never without boundaries. Neither is it so in Denmark.
They are limited by some definitions in the law about the duty to
create public service television.
Though I admit that this concept is very
vague and very often defined by what is possible instead of by high
It is a very difficult concept and one
of my board members illustrated this. He a professor in economics
continued meeting after meting to talk about public relation considerations,
when he obviously meant public service. Doing public relations would
have been very bad.
In our governing laws public service is defined
by the words quality, many-sidedness and variety.
That means that public service stations in
Denmark cannot send obvious trash programming, that they cannot
be one-sided and that they cannot only care for a few special interests.
It has been very important for myself and
my colleagues at DR to fight for the position that public service
is not only restricted to news, information and cultural programming.
We also see it as a duty to bring quality, many-sidedness and variety
into drama, entertainment and sports. These fields are too important
for the whole cultural consciousness of the population to be left
to commercial stations with foreign ownership, only motivated by
Therefore much money and manpower has been
allocated to develop national drama and entertainment concepts and
to buy sports rights. As far as the last subject is concerned the
situation has become very difficult as you probably all know
and it could in the future be a field, which is more and more has
to be left to the pure commercial stations.
It is so expensive and takes to big a share
of the programme budget.
An important consideration has also been
that if the public service stations did not broadcast entertainment
fewer viewers will be attracted to the channels and to their news
and information programming.
Then we ran into the danger of becoming ghettoes.
For only a minority of the population.
A minority with many other means of getting
informed about what is going on in our society.
While the big majority will get less information.
DR, which is financed totally by a licence
fee like the BBC in Britain. NRK in Norway, SR in Sweden and YLE
One in Finland has defined public service as programming which
will not be provided to the viewers, if only the market should decide.
DR also uses the words "duty in the service of the people".
But I think it is fair to say that DR to
keep its share of the market and to get continued funding has to
provide some programmes, which could be found on the commercial
Some years ago they lost many viewers and
one could hear DR-bosses talk about their public service developing
in the direction of "a lot of service with no public".
And then they changed management and direction. With a lot of success
as I will demonstrate later.
Now let me concentrate for a while on the
construction, function and role of TV 2/DENMARK It offers in my
view a model, which in many respects could be of interest also in
this country, where you consider the development of a strong national
and democratic media structure.
I mentioned earlier on the composition and
the role of the board and the independence of the management.
Let us now have a look on the important economic
foundation of TV 2.
As one my predecessors once expressed it:
We must all accept the governing facts
of our entire trade. The purpose of broadcasting may well be to
generate culture, but TV culture is never generated in an economic
vacuum, nor is it brought to the people without the good help of
money. TV is money long before it becomes culture.
In the beginning TV 2/DENMARK had to rely
more on public funding than today. Now nearly 80 % of its revenue
stems from commercials.
The commercials are in special slots between
the programmes and are not allowed to interrupt a programme.
There are also restrictions on advertising
for beer, alcohol and medical products.
And recently TV 2 has agreed to restrict
advertising in connection with children programming to avoid legislation
The restrictive Danish advertising laws have
meant that the commercial stations have decided to broadcast from
In the beginning TV 2 saw DR as the main
competitor and that is reflected in a very comprehensive news coverage
and in strong departments for actuality and sport.
But more and more we had to realise that
to maintain our leading position on the market for TV advertising
we had to be aware of the taste of a younger audience. That does
not mean programmes of a lower quality but with a different scope,
and it can certainly be argued that it would be wrong to leave the
young audiences to the money-people only.
But of course the danger is that suddenly
it becomes difficult to see the distinction. At the moment that
situation has not arrived. TV 2/DENMARK is still very strong in
its political coverage and the number one station in covering national
events like our elections. (Later I will give some exact figures,
which underline the differences.)
TV 2 does a lot of very strong documentaries
and fortunately, they reach a bid audience, and the buyers of advertising
space see it as sign of seriousness, which they like to have combined
Another very important feature of TV 2 is
that instead of in house production most of the programmes except
for news and sport have according to the law to be commissioned
from private production companies.
That has meant that the organization is relatively
small, 500 people for instance compared with DR , 2000 people
and it has been possible to keep production costs at a very reasonable
level. It has also meant an ability to take quick decisions and
react both to events as well as to the market. Also the degree of
innovation has been rather high, because we have chosen a flat strucvture
with a high degree of trust in any staff member.
The third and not the least important feature
It was very much a political decision to
establish 8 regional stations within the TV 2-system, each of them
autonomous with their own respective managements, boards and bodies,
representing the people of the region, but with their financial
means allocated by the central TV 2 board. They carry regional advertising
but the money goes into the central money chest and they all get
the same amount back, regardless of how much revenue they have created
and the size of the region.
The chief executive of TV 2/DENMARK has no
responsibility for the administration or the programming of the
regional slots, which are allocated by the central board, where
the regions are represented by two members.
The regions have three slots in prime time
and more and more they concentrate on news. In the same time they
function as production companies and deliver to the central station.
In all the regional aspect has meant that
TV 2 has been very close to the Danish audience and able to register
what happened even in the far corners of the country.
From a democratic viewpoint is also very
important that the local politicians and other powerbrokers can
be held responsible on TV:
So you see it is a complicated and intricate
system I have now and then after long negotiations compared it
with the EU but I must say that is has proved workable and successful,
very much indeed..
As I now can demonstrate for you with a picture
of the market situation in Denmark.
TV 2 became very fast the market leader and
has upheld that position for more than ten years.
What is most important is to notice how successful
the national or one could even call it nationalistic - media policy
Put together DR and TV 2 with four stations
has got 70 percent of the viewing. This figure has been stable for
a long time and means that the goal of protecting national values
most certainly has been reached. About 60 % of the programmes are
of Danish or Nordic origin.
Even the attempt foreign owned commercial
stations to circumvent our national legislation by broadcasting
from London has not changed the dominant position of DR and TV 2.
Quite recently to be able to compete for
the younger audiences TV 2 has launched TV 2 Zulu and it looks
like it is going to become a success even though the production
budget is quite small.
The philosophy is once again to be aggressive
as a public broadcaster and not let the private stations reach a
market share in any target group, which could make them leader of
the market either separately or put together.
I can also be seen that their income and
thereby the ability to invest in programming is less than half of
the public service institutions.
That means that the outlook for the future
is still rather optimistic.
If we look at the financing in more details,
I can show you how DR and TV 2 share the license fee
And how TV 3 and TV Denmark get an amount
from cable and satellite fees, which are bigger than what TV 2 takes
in from license. And they will get even more, when their penetration
increases. They try very hard to achieve that goal by buying up
sport rights in football and soccer. TV 3 has been very successful
as I can show you now.
My last overhead will prove that there are
still very big differences in the programming of private commercial
and public stations. That it is quite a different product. But behind
the figures lies the fact that information today is not what it
used to be.
Documentaries are more narrowly angled and
personorientated than in my heydays and docu-soaps are called information.
The ability to reach an audience is God in
modern day television and our public service stations have been
very clever in developing the tools for that purpose. As the Danish
Film industry has been very successful not only in Denmark, but
on a global scale. There are a lot of good synergies in the cooperation
between TV- and filmmakers and it is very much to be recommended
to develop that kind of cooperation.
The government has allocated money to DR
and TV 2 with the purpose of investing in movies and now we see
a lot of good results. Both in the cinema and on the screen. Lars
von Trier is just one name.
Let me say a little about the problem of
mixed funding in a political perspective. For hard core liberals
it is very controversial. And for the EU- authorities it is indeed
a problem, when private companies complain about unfair competition.
Fortunately in a protocol to the Amsterdam-treaty
the head of states have approved mixed funding. Not unconditionally.
But it has to be seen how the EU court in the future will interpret
the text from Amsterdam. But some form of mixed funding has to be
allowed. Otherwise the protocol would be meaningless.
TV 2 has also been accused of unfair competition
by our competitors and a case is resting. Also our very successful
internet activity has been under fire from the print press. It now
seems that the station has to prove that we use our license fee
money for specific public service purposes like having regional
stations and a big news operation. This we can do very easily.
If we look into the future the favourable
position of the two public stations will continue. DR and TV2 have
been allocated to digital terrestrial channels each one to the
present mainstream channel and the other for more interactive use.
The funding is still unsolved, but it has
been very important once again for the public stations to be
active players on the scene.
So to sum it up: A political majority has
until now decided that in our country a small country television
cannot be left to the market forces.
That television is a very political and strategic
important commodity and it is important to keep some hands on that
It is done in an indirect way so one could
say that it has been given to the professional and journalistic
environment in Denmark as a public trust.
As far as I can see, it has worked very well
and the system could certainly be recommended for countries with
a strong will to uphold their own cultural values instead of just
giving in to total commercialisation, which in a very short time
will be dominated by big media-conglomerates.
Some sort of cooperation with the private
players is a possibility in Denmark also because the
Investments are so big but there is always
a danger that the cure will work, but the patient die.
Therefore in the end it is important to have
well defined goals to repeat and repeat that the outmost goal
is to provide information to the viewers and not only to provide
eyeballs to the advertisers.
To give to the viewers not only, what they
want, but what they deserve. Because we more than ever need a democratic
society, built on enlightened citizens.