By Rasmus Kleis Nielsen
The opinions expressed are his own.


Western media industries are going through a rapid and often painful transformation today with the rise of the Internet and mobile platforms, the erosion of the largest free-to-air broadcast audiences, and the decline of paid print newspaper circulation.

Despite all these changes, the important and sometimes neglected ways in which governments provide support for the media have remained largely unchanged for decades.

There is a real need to reform our 20th century support arrangements to make sure they effectively serve our needs in the 21st century. Public sector support for the media should not be industrial policy, propping up specific ailing incumbents, but democratic policy, aimed at ensuring that timely, accessible news from a diversity of sources is available to the entire population.

Most media companies prefer not to talk about the support they receive from their government, but all developed democracies intervene in media markets in direct and indirect ways to serve a range of public interest goals.

The most important intervention in much of Western Europe is licence fee funding for public service broadcasting, based on what is basically a ring-fenced tax on households that own television or radio receivers. The United States also provides funding for public broadcasting, but on a much more limited scale and through direct federal and state appropriations.