Dissertation Abstracts

The Legitimation of Public Service Broadcasting in Norway and Sweden

Author: Larsen, Håkon , hakon.larsen@sosgeo.uio.no
Department: Department of Sociology and Human Geography
University: University of Oslo, Norway
Supervisor: Anne Krogstad
Year of completion: 2011
Language of dissertation: English and Norwegian

Keywords: Cultural Sociology , Public service broad , Public sphere , Scandinavia
Areas of Research: Communication, Knowledge and Culture , Theory , Comparative Sociology


Public service broadcasting (PSB) played an important role in creating and maintaining a national culture and identity, a unifying public sphere, and a well-functioning democracy in Norway and Sweden in the 20th century. Due to the processes of economic and cultural globalization and digitalization of the broadcast media, broadcasters are facing serious challenges to their legitimacy as publicly funded media institutions. The arguments employed in legitimizing the continued importance of PSB in the public sphere, the media institutions, and cultural policy in the face of these challenges are at the core of the dissertation.

The analysis is based on a combination of discourse and repertoire theory. Theoretically, it draws on normative theories on the role of PSB in promoting democracy, culture and a well-functioning public sphere, in addition to theories on democracy and the public sphere per se. The data consist of newspaper articles, government reports, organizational documents, qualitative interviews, and a questionnaire. The analysis is contextualized with references to the national cultural repertoires of Norway and Sweden, each embedded in social, historical, economic, political and cultural practices.

The thesis consists of a lengthy introduction and three published articles.

In the first article, I analyze the public debate on PSB and ask to what extent PSB was debated, what characterized the debates, and which discourses on democracy were activated. Three discourses, each influenced by a theory of democracy, were present in the debate: the fellow citizen discourse corresponding to a deliberative model of democracy, the pluralist discourse corresponding to a pluralist model, and a consumer discourse corresponding to a neo-liberal model. The issue is more debated in Sweden, and the Swedish debate is influenced by the fellow citizen discourse to a higher degree than the debate in Norway.

In the second article, I examine how NRK and SVT reflect on their mandate in an age of convergence, digitalization, and globalization, and how they legitimate their role in relation to the classical PSB aspects of democracy and enlightenment. Empirically, the study is based on interviews with people holding important positions within the broadcasting institutions, together with a close reading of the broadcasters’ strategy documents and annual reports. The study shows that SVT leans on the traditional PSB rhetoric, focusing on its democratic role and its dedication to enlightening and serving the public in arguing for its continued importance, while NRK focuses more upon its role in sustaining the Norwegian language and NRK’s adaptation to the processes of digitalization and convergence, presenting itself as a digital media house.

In the third article, I analyze the rhetoric that is employed in the white papers on PSB and overall cultural policy. In both countries, the emphasis is on the need to secure an inclusive public sphere, a vibrant democracy, and a national culture. The rhetoric differs in the sense that the Norwegians focus on PSB as a tool for achieving cultural policy goals, while the Swedes focus more on why the idea of PSB is important in itself.

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