Public service media without a public: the interplay between public service broadcasters and their public in post-Communist society
Taking the Baltic country of Latvia as a case study, this PhD project explores public broadcasting audiences in post-Communist societies. Significant audience losses over the past two decades suggest there is a huge gap between public service television and the public in Latvia, but in this respect Latvia is not unique among post-Communist societies in Central and Eastern Europe. While commercial broadcasting dominates media landscapes across the region, public broadcasters desperately struggle for public support. The starting point for the construction of a theoretical framework for this investigation is Albert Hirschman’s influential theory of ‘exit, voice and loyalty’ (1970). While Hirschman’s concepts have previously been utilised to examine individual and collective reactions to the failure of a range of systems, for instance, a unsatisfactory public school system, his approach has not been yet utilised for the purposes of studying a deteriorating public broadcasting system. Current post-Communist media studies have prioritised research on texts and institutions and the reception process is underexplored. Therefore, my study puts the focus on the examination of discourses of audiences and, through qualitative audience research, aims to gain empirically based knowledge on how audiences perceive the idea of public service broadcasting and what their definitions of public service broadcasting are, how their relationship with public service television is negotiated and how audiences’ responses towards public service television fare in a spectrum of actions ranging from exit-type to voice-type reactions, and, finally, how audiences experience public service television within their everyday lives. The scope of the study has been limited to the public’s interplay with public service television. The project seeks to look at discourses among ordinary people discussing their relationship with public service television, and to examine sense-making processes; therefore a qualitative data-gathering technique – focus group interviews – has been chosen as the most appropriate focal method of the research. Participant observation as a complementary method has been chosen to situate the use of public service television in the context of daily family life. The study will employ an ethnographic perspective to obtain a more detailed insight of perceptions and actions which family members develop in response to public television.