Rules of others | MEDIEUGE

It is no longer possible without, but with is also problematic: Critical observations about the relationship between public broadcasting and social media platforms.

The goal conflict cannot be denied, the dilemma remains insoluble; two worlds collide here. When radio and television set out to find their place in the new networks, the basics are at stake: by whom and what rules is the platform constituted to the public – and what role can and should public broadcasting play?

We are dealing with two unequal actors. On the one hand, the platforms operate an infrastructure that is essentially designed to make money with data-driven advertising. On the other hand, there are media with a social (rather than a commercial) mission, which due to their size can not avoid using the platforms Google, Facebook, Instagram or Tiktok.

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The Otto Brenner Foundation recently published a workbook by Henning Eichler on “Journalism in Social Networks”, supplemented by the question: “ARD and ZDF under the spell of algorithms?” A question that arises not only in Germany but everywhere where there is a strong public broadcaster.

The extension of the mandate from ARD and ZDF to the commercial platforms has been approved by the Supreme Court.

“We need to be where people are,” the author often heard to justify ARD’s and ZDF’s different platform activities. The public broadcaster may refer to its mandate. In the case of the Swiss SRG, the license requires that “content, formats and technology” of the offers be developed “in accordance with the media usage habits of the young target groups”. In Germany, the extension of the mandate from ARD and ZDF to the commercial platforms has even been approved by the Supreme Court.

It does not ask whosebut how Public radio and television should manage platforms like Instagram or Tiktok.

In Germany and Switzerland, ARD and ZDF and SRG use the commercial platforms very intensively. The author of the study spoke “273 public service offerings on the various platforms, 75 of which are created exclusively for social networks without further linear distribution”. SRG was already at this level in 2018. At that time, the Federal Council counted 236 Swiss TV accounts on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. A value that should hold up today.

Success or failure can often only be measured using the data that the platforms themselves collect and make available.

For a large proportion of these accounts, broadcasters produce original content. On the one hand, the media must adhere to the given technical framework and, on the other hand, follow the unwritten rules of platform logic if they want to achieve a great reach with their content. Success or failure can often only be measured using the data that the platforms themselves collect and make available. And sometimes they can make mistakes. But there is no other.

At the center of his work is Henning Eichel, the question of how much the algorithmic and commercial logic of the platforms affects the work of journalists. No one doubts that there is such an influence, yes an addiction and thus also a balance of power at the expense of the media. The responsible authorities at ARD and ZDF, where Eichler requested his investigation, are pragmatic. There is no other way but to play by the rules of others. A widespread view and insight within the public service editorial offices.

In practice, the requirements and temptations of algorithmic distribution often have a stronger effect than many would like.

The dependence on the distribution of the content is clear. An interviewed editor finds that control is “completely out of hand” here. Fact: On the one hand, third parties have no (or limited) influence over where and how their content is displayed on a platform. On the other hand, the algorithms that control the distribution are in the dark.

No one escapes this black box. Nevertheless, the editors of ARD and ZDF are trying to alleviate the dependence on the algorithms. “We do not accept this logic, but decide independently what kind of topics we do, how we implement them,” Patrick Weinhold, editor of “Tagesschau” (ARD), is quoted as saying. Other statements also go in the direction of thinking topics and their journalistic implementation independently of the platform logic and according to social policy guidelines.

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