Soft Power, Hard News: How Journalists at State-Funded Transnational Media Legitimize Their Work

Kate Wright, Martin Scott, Mel Bunce | Sage Journals
Published: May 2020

How do journalists working for different state-funded international news organizations legitimize their relationship to the governments which support them? In what circumstances might such journalists resist the diplomatic strategies of their funding states?

We address these questions through a comparative study of journalists working for international news organizations funded by the Chinese, US, UK and Qatari governments. Using 52 interviews with journalists covering humanitarian issues, we explain how they minimized tensions between their diplomatic

role and dominant norms of journalistic autonomy by drawing on three – broadly shared – legitimizing narratives, involving different kinds of boundary-work. In the first ‘exclusionary’ narrative, journalists differentiated their ‘truthful’ news reporting from the ‘false’ state ‘propaganda’ of a common Other, the Russian-funded network, RT. In the second ‘fuzzifying’ narrative, journalists deployed the ambiguous notion of ‘soft power’ as an ambivalent ‘boundary concept’, to defuse conflicts between journalistic and diplomatic agendas. In the final ‘inversion’ narrative, journalists argued that, paradoxically, their dependence on funding states gave them greater ‘operational autonomy’. Even when journalists did resist their funding states, this was hidden or partial, and prompted less by journalists’ concerns about the political effects of their work, than by serious threats to their personal cultural capital.

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Public Broadcasting: The Latin American Exception

The Political Economy of Communication 7(1), 105–109.

Martín Becerra


An edited version of a talk at the panel The Future of Public Broadcasting: How to Win Back our Hearts? Forum Media and Development, Berlin, November 2018.Download full report

Public Service Broadcasting in the Digital Age

Journal of European Television History and Culture. Volume 8 – Issue 16 – 2019. Special Issue

Jérôme Bourdon, Mette Charis Buchman and Peter B. Kaufman (eds.)


This special issue proposes a reexamination of public service broadcasting (PSB) in the light of the most recent technological, political and economic developments. Traditional public service broadcasters, ideally designed to serve citizens rather than consumers to inform the national conversations in

well-informed democracies, face the double challenge of commercialization (since the 1980s) and digitization (since the 1990s). The question of their survival in this context has been posed again and again. The need for a redefinition seems inevitable.Full article

Public Service Media & Digital Innovation: The Small Nation Experience

Ruth McElroy & Caitriona Noonan

This chapter from Nordicom’s 2018 publication Public Service Media in the Networked Society, emphasises the role of public media in providing minority language services in small nation states. 
Credit: Nordicom

This excellent paper explores the way Irish Language Broadcaster,TG4, and Welsh language broadcaster, S4C, use digital platforms to achieve objectives that are core to their public service mandate, while negotiating the “asymmetry of power in the network society”. They note that

significant structural issues remain, which require the intervention of policy-makers to ensure “linguistic vibrancy and media plurality”.Download Chapter (PDF)

Public service media, universality and personalisation through algorithms: Mapping strategies and exploring dilemmas


Sage Journals


This contribution compares personalisation strategies of public service media (PSM) and how these are reconciled with PSM’s core values, especially universality. To this end, it combines mapping of a sample of PSM with in-depth analysis of Flemish VRT and Norwegian NRK.

Find out more and access the full text via the Sage Journal website. University/Institutional login may be


[Text sourced from Sage Journals]


Measuring the reach of “fake news” and online disinformation in Europe.

Comprehensive factsheet by the team at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) highlighting top-level usage statistics for the most popular sites that independent fact-checkers and other observers have identified as publishers of false news and online disinformation.

The factsheet was compiled by  Richard Fletcher, Alessio Cornia, Lucas Graves and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen. The report focuses on Italy and France as both are widely seen as facing particular pressure from for-profit and ideologically/politically motivated online


Follow the link below for the full report.


Thumbnail Image: RISJ

Reinventing Public Service Broadcasting in Europe

Prospects, Promises and Problems

Johannes Bardoel & Leen d’Haenens

University of Amsterdam; Catholic University of Leuven; Raboud University Numegen

Media, Culture and Society, SAGE Publications, 2008, 30(3), p.337-355


New information technologies, liberalising policies and rapidly changing societies – from mono- to multicultural – entail serious consequences for the prospects of European public service broadcasters in a network society. The European concept of PSB as a comprehensive and universal service

is challenged by both EU and national authorities at three levels: 1) mission and program task (comprehensive or complementary programming?), 2) organization (central organisation or a ‘distributed public service’?) and 3) financing (license fee, advertising or ‘state aid’?). There are pressures towards a more ‘pure’ model of public service broadcasting and/or towards de-institutionalisation of PSB and ‘distributed public service’. Recent pleadings for (eg, in the Netherlands) and practices (eg, in New Zealand) of new PSB policy directions will be evaluated. The paper deals with the question whether the European full-fledged PSB model is still realistic or a more small-scale public service à la the American PBS would be a more viable prospect.

To read the full article, see Sage Publications here.

Media System, Public Knowledge and Democracy

A Comparative Study

James Curran, Shanto Iyengar, Anker Brink Lund, Inka Salovaara-Moring

Goldsmiths University London, Stanford University, Copenhagen Business School, University of Helsinki

European Journal of Communication, SAGE Publications, 2009, 24(1), p.5-26


This article addresses the implications of the movement towards entertainment-centred, market-driven media by comparing what is reported and what the public knows in four countries with different media systems. The different systems are public service (Denmark and Finland), a ‘dual’ model

(UK) and the market model (US). The comparison shows that public service television devotes more attention to public affairs and international news, and fosters greater knowledge in these areas, than the market model. Public service television also gives greater prominence to news, encourages higher levels of news consumption and contributes to a smaller within-nation knowledge gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged. But wider processes in society take precedence over the organization of the media in determining how much people know about public life.

To read this recommended article in full, click here.

Beyond Broadcasting: The future of state owned broadcasters in Southern Africa

Written in 2009, this recommended article, supported by FesMedia Africa, conveys the complicated changes facing state-owned broadcasters in Southern Africa. 

These changes include those influenced by the “digitisation of production, distribution and consumption of public interest news and current affairs” and their impact on key broadcast players across the region.

The report is split into sub-reports about the media landscape in individual states and the influence of technological, regulatory and conceptual changes to broadcasting


For full access to this open-source article, click here

Riding the Wave

Public Service Television in the Multiplatform Era

Mary Debrett

La Trobe University, Australia

Media, Culture and Society, Sage Publications, 2009, 31(5), p.807-827


Despite their funding dilemmas, public service broadcasters are finding new legitimisation in the digital era. Re-asserting their mainstream status in the fragmenting marketplace, PSB institutions around the world are identifying new ways of delivering public service goals via interactive, on-demand media

services across a range of platforms. By repositioning as media content companies, PSBs are forging new kinds of relationships with the public as viewers, users and producers, connecting communities, while also delivering an array of pluralist, personalised services. However, such changes inevitably bring new problems – conflicts with established practices, increased costs, new enemies in the marketplace and the temptation of new commercial revenue streams. Grounded in a series of industry interviews taken from across six case studies and referencing recent literature and policy documents, this article analyses the impact of public broadcasting’s digital rebirth on traditional public service principles.

Read this recommended article in full