Three points on media policy

Three points on media policy
Presentation by Milan F. Živković, Head advisor for media policy in Ministry of Culture of Croatia at the SEE Media Observatory conference in Tirana.
Real issue for media policies is regulation in the public interest versus regulation to serve purely private ones.
Central regional conference of the SEE Media Observatory:
“Media and journalism in South East Europe – Captured by particular interests or turning to serve the public?”
Tirana, 12-13 June 2014
Session 1: Media policy development and implementation: who rules and why legislation doesn’t work?
Presentation by speaker: Milan F. Živković, Head advisor for media policy, Ministry of Culture, Croatia
Thank you for the opportunity to speak at this panel. I wish to make three brief points:
1. There is always certain media policy and there is always something deeply political about it.
Complaints and arguments about non-existent, missing media policies are not uncommon. In my country, for instance, there is a widespread notion that Croatia has never had any coordinated media policy. I guess that some of the country cases to be presented at our conference will find it a problem as well. Paradigm often runs like this: “There has never been a media policy, but rather a series of events, mixture of pressures by the European Union directive from one side, and by certain economic-slash-political boogeymen from another, that shaped our forlorn media landscape”. 
Although to a certain part that may be true - because media policies are seldom formulated, proposed or democratically discussed, and because those pressures and interests behind are more than obvious to an analytical eye - media policies are in place, their actors are on duty, and their goals are being fulfilled. Public service broadcasters are being trimmed to the dwarfish size, airwaves are let to commercial purpose for a bargain, newsrooms are cut, journalists unemployed, digital dividends are being accumulated, and the publics, what about them, they're being knocked out from the public spheres long ago that abstraction was even conceived. If those outcomes sound familiar, they are not the results of not having a media policy, or media policy “not being implemented”, but rather the consequences of indeed operating and quite efficient one.
However unformulated, publicly undiscussed or - to put it briefly - undemocratic as the policy may be, it is always a policy. To use the words of Des Freedman, from the opening of his seminal work, The Politics of Media Policy, “media systems do not emerge spontaneously from the logic of communication technologies or from the business plans of media corporations, neither from the imaginations of creative individuals”. No, they are always created with a purpose. There are always stakes raised, losses being moaned and the serious clashes involved. 
2. The goal of the dominant media policy for the past decades in Croatia was to take over public communication by the forces of the market.
I guess there is lots of evidence that the same may be the case elsewhere, even for a longer period of time, but in my country - soon to be defeated on the football field by the Brazil national team - the victory of market-oriented media policy was celebrated already at the beginning of the nineties, the decade often being described as “statist” or even authoritarian in terms of media policy. The promise of market freedoms, obviously, had not borne fruit of informed citizenship. On the contrary, the “public sphere” shrank indeed. But the alliance of so called progressive forces - many journalists, centre left political opposition, civil society and the academia - said: “Come on, that can't be result of the market failures. The problem must be in our local, twisted, variety of the media market, and especially, the old elephant of political power in the newsroom.” So we decided to give the market a second chance. We may call it media pluralism or by other decent names, but basically it was a part of an effort, as David Harvey, famously put it, “to bring all human action into domain of the market”. Obviously, once again, we used the government as an instrument to do it. Unfortunately, the elephant of state control over the journalism was so big, and we were so close to it, or too small in perspective, that we weren't able to notice something much, much bigger: the iceberg of the market logic rolling behind it.
3. The idea that the choice for media policy is either state regulation or free markets is misleading.
All media systems are shaped by media policies, regulations - even if we call it “deregulation” - subsidies, tax cuts, copyright protection, spectrum policy, labour market policies and so on. The “free market” itself was introduced by the state, and it simply cannot operate without extensive government regulation. Or, at least it cannot be competitive market without it. Market is not anything given or “natural”.
The false contrast between the state, just another word for corruption, and the market - as equivalent for optimal outcomes - is misleading. But it did serve its purpose well, when the market forces were searching for rhetorical link between the first stage of so called transition - namely, accumulation by dispossession and procreation of market institutions - and the later euro-integration stage. As noted by the Croatian economist Mislav Žitko, the genuine trouble with such “market versus state” rhetoric cannot be resolved by “more state” or just general advocacy of stronger regulative role of the government, because the troublesome is the “alternative” itself. To the extent the state is depicted as a simple homogenous corpse, fundamentally unable to govern or “pick winners” in its corrupt manner, the market is considered an eternal mechanism for “optimal outcomes”, and by the end of the day the whole debate is restricted to religious crusade to discover the “pure market.” 
So, dear colleagues, allow me to finish with classic Bob McChesney's statement, that the real issue for media policies, around the neoliberal world and beyond, “is not regulation versus free markets, but, to the contrary, regulation in the public interest versus regulation to serve purely private ones.”
Thank you very much for your attention.
Media Policy and Reforms