Ars Electronica 2007
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Goodbye FM/AM
Digital Broadcast - Chances and Risks for Community Media

'Michael Schweiger Michael Schweiger / 'Sandra Hochholzer Sandra Hochholzer

One point of departure for the Radio FRO Conference 2007 is the recommendation of the Ministerial Committee of the European Council (made at the end of January 2007)(1) that emphasizes the role of free media and free broadcasting in democratically shaping public opinion and urges the member states to promote them more strongly. It reflects on human rights and the right to freedom in a social sense and above all in the sense of freedom of the media. The elementary rights—the right to freedom of shaping and expressing opinions—call for an abundance of input from diverse sources, which is not conceivable without free access to information and to media. The media variety that was originally created through free media now threatens to be lost to media concentrations of various kinds as a consequence of market logic.(2) Media concentration does not mean here only “concentration of media ownership,” but also that codecs are being created by expert groups(3) or corporate consortia, defining standards on the market that are equivalent to keys. These keys then serve to regulate access, at the same time creating new markets, licensing markets, rights administration markets, etc.

A second point of departure is the ongoing worldwide digitization of broadcasting and the planned obsolescence of analog media. The EU Commission plans to switch off analog TV frequencies by 2012. Austria has committed to discontinuing analog broadcasting by 2010. What are the new developments in digital broadcasting?

Here, other European and international organizations play a decisive role. DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) is the well-known name of the EUREKA research project E! 147, and has become as its result an industry standard(4). DVB (Digital Video Broadcasting) with all its various sub-divisions(5) is the outcome of an alliance of 250–300 companies that has developed a standard, originally limited to Europe, but today anchored worldwide(6). As an EU program, EUREKA’s(7) aim is international competitiveness for the EU, meaning it represents technology promotion that has neither a democratic set-up nor democracy as an explicit goal.

EUREKA uses public funds to create a framework for cooperative research. But who is in charge politically of deciding in which direction technologies should be developed, what they should be able to do or offer, and who should be involved in these decisions? These are the questions we should be asking.

Digitization means digitization of transmission; production has long been digital. There are various technologies available for digital transmission, however, and DAB is only one of many. Some of them promise interactive options, such as DVB-C (MHP)(8), and others, such as DAB or DMB—both technologies in the ultra short-wave range—advertise better signal quality. DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale—digital AM radio for short wave, medium wave and long wave) places priority on the ratio of cost to range covered, and DRM+ (over 30 Mhz) with its high audio quality is a direct competitor of DAB. All of these standards were developed by corporate consortia and are competing against each other.

The multi-channel capabilities of DAB make it an interesting candidate for multi-language programming. What makes DVB-H special is that mobile phones are already multimedia-capable today and could be used in future as DVB-H receivers. This effectively turns the mobile phone into a universal media device, an example of the convergence of media and technology.(9) And DRM or DRM+ offer greater ranges coupled with lower energy use, while also using the latest audio codec.

Regardless of which standards end up prevailing(10), digitization will in any case create costs; for example, for access to and for multiplexing. Free broadcasting must be protected from the negative aspects of digitization(11), and this goes for any future standard.We can take developments in the DVB-H field as an example of things to come: the mobile carriers prevent uncoded and thus free reception of DVB-H programs(12). This also shows what is meant by digital added value: digitization – keys – added value.What does this mean for free TV initiatives such as OKTO (Vienna) and CODY (Linz)? How does free broadcasting, no matter whether radio or TV, get onto DVBH platforms if reception is only available by contract? What implications does this have for open access?

As the RTR (Rundfunk und Telekom Regulierungs-GmbH) underlined on March 23, 2007 in Linz, digitization of broadcasting is ready for kick-off in Austria, but it is not being pushed there as it is in the EU because there is no market. Now is the time for digital broadcasting to position itself, to get involved in shaping future broadcasting technology and to find its own place there. The European Council emphasizes that free media guarantee free access to information in order to bring a variety of opinions back into public discourse. Since free media are not market-oriented, they make their own demands on technologies.(13) The market on the other hand, insofar as it exists as a “free market”(14), does not produce any public discourses; at best, it defines the prices, at worst, its inherent logic of instrumental reason gives rise to social techniques that tend more to prevent discourse than to foster it.(15) The conference is designed to explore how free broadcasting as part of the free media can make an undeniably important contribution to democratization in view of the trends sketched above. The central question that remains is how to ensure and improve open access. The prerequisites would be adequate long-term and transparent financing and a legal underpinning for free broadcasting as a third broadcasting sector, as well as taking all the precautions necessary to cushion the potentially negative consequences of digitization—e.g. “must carry” regulations, reservation of bandwidth for free broadcasting and free media, etc ... The European Council’s reference to the fact that “fringe groups” are being neglected by the “mainstream media” is not new(16), but it is important because it places the demands made by VFRÖ(17) and IG Kultur and other free networks in a transnational context. The discussion will once again be closely tied to technical developments in the field of electronic media. The fact that the demands have in some cases stayed the same shows that the work of free media is a never-ending creative and subversive battle for public perception.

Translated from German by Jennifer Taylor-Gaida

A Radio FRO project in collaboration with Ars ELectronica.

(1) https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?id=1089615&BackColorInternet=

(2) Three additional European Council documents are also significant here: Recommendation “CM/Rec(2007)2,” the Recommendation “Rec(2003)9” cited therein and the Report of the Media Division of the “Directorate General of Human Rights” on transnational media concentrations in Europe, “AP-MD (2004)7.”zurück

(3) (MPEG = Moving Pictures Expert Group)zurück

(4) Cf. Hans J. Kleinsteuber, “Die Zukunft des Radios”, Relating Radio—Beiträge zur Zukunft des Radios, pp. 94 ff.zurück

(5) Depending on the transmission method, there is either DVC-T (terrestrial)—H (handheld) or—C (cable); see also http://www.dvb.org/about_dvb/history/index.xml or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DVB.zurück

(6) http://www.dvb.org/about_dvb/history/index.xmlzurück

(7) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EUREKAzurück

(8) DVB-C is DVB via cable; MHP stands for Multimedia Home Platform and is used to transmit and display interactive content. True interactivity is only possible via cable (DVB-C—MHP) and via GPRS or UMTS, i.e. DVB-Hzurück MHP.

(9) Cf. Oliver Hauf, Die Informationsgesellschaft: Anatomie einer Lebenslüge, Peter Lang Verlag Frankfurt/Main 1996, p. 84ff, pp. 34–45; see also: Joan Kristin Bleicher, “Die Rolle der Medien in der Wissensgesellschaft,” Knut Bleicher, Jürgen Berthel, Auf dem Weg in die Wissensgesellschaft, pp. 204–217, esp. p. 214f.zurück

(10) RTR and “Digitale Plattform Austria” emphasize that the standards for digital broadcasting are not yet fixed—see: http://www.rtr.at/web.nsf/deutsch/Rundfunk_Digitale+

(11) Cf. http://www.freie-radios.at/article.php?id=171zurück

(12) http://derstandard.at/?url=/?id=2892550—end of May 2007zurück

(13) Cf. sektor 3/medien99, pp. 7–10 and pp. 41–45.zurück

(14) Cf. Noam Chomsky, in Noam Chomsky / Heinz Dieterich, Globalisierung im Cyberspace, p. 41f and p. 25ff.zurück

(15) Cf. http://www.freie-radios.at/article.php?id=171zurück

(16) Cf. sektor3medien99 p. 61ff, eds. Gerald Raunig, Martin Wassermair, IG Kultur Austria.zurück

(17) http://www.freie-radios.at/article.php?ordner_id=27&id=194—end of May 2007zurück