VRT Chair: Media in a society in transition

One sometimes hears comments about the ‘post-truth’ society, with a struggle for truth but also growing social divisions, and where there there is increasing polarisation around issues such as migration, the environment, and the organisation of the market economy. Many countries in Western and Northern Europe have a high level of urbanisation, face the challenge integrating migrants and refugees, and also face labour shortages due to the aging population and relatively low birth-rates. Many people feel that politicians no longer represent them, and are becoming disconnected from the system. This has led to movements such as the “Gilets jaunes”, or various citizens’ protests against climate change. In itself, this is not negative, but it does point to the fact that the system of representative democracy is under pressure. 

And the media do not always deal well with this. Social media seem to be a catalysing factor for the idea that the individual is always right. Commercial news media often opt for clickbait in the form of snappy titles whose main aim is to generate traffic to the website. Politicians are increasingly becoming their own media. Their communication with the electorate is becoming more direct, not in order to be more transparent per se but rather to avoid probing questions from journalists, and thereby undermine the power of the fourth estate. The internationalisation of media markets means that we also face increasing consumption of media products that are not as close to our own society and that generally pay little attention to our culture, identity and language.

The role of public broadcasting, many have argued, is even more important in a society in transition. However, it is not easy to take on this role in society given the fragmented use of media, the internationalisation of media markets, media concentration, and the internal challenges faced by public broadcasters.


In the face of the challenges outlined above, there is a need for more fundamental research into:

  • The social context in which public broadcasting operates;
  • Changes to media usage in relation to technological evolutions;
  • The evolving media market and evolutions in media policy.

This chair will focus precisely on these issues. The project seeks to reinforce academic research into public broadcasting through a joint effort that brings together expertise from the VUB – on public broadcasting, society and transitions, media policy, media markets – with expertise at Ghent University on media usage, technological trends and media markets. Is it still possible to make a theoretical case for public broadcasting as a means of realising certain public interests? Which trends suggest that we are rethinking a theory which had not fundamentally changed since the 1930s, shifting away from the philosophy that public broadcasting is there “to inform, to educate and to entertain”? And how, then, do you rethink this model? How can media within a certain context even contribute to reinforcing political, social and cultural citizenship?






Prof. Lieven De Marez

Lieven De Marez is Associate Professor in 'Media, Technology & Innovation' & ‘User-focused innovation research' in the Department of Communication Science at Ghent University. Within the department, he is the head of the multidisciplinary research group Media, Innovation & Communication Technology (mict), affiliated with imect, the world’s leading centre for R&D and innovation in the field of nano-electronics and digital technologies. Within imec, Lieven is the founder of the digimeter and a methodological innovator who helps keep a finger on the pulse of the digitalisation of our media consumption. 

Prof. Tom Evens

Tom Evens is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Science of Ghent University where he teaches subjects related to media economy, media policy, and business models. Tom has a Master’s in Communication Science (2005) and Business Economics (2006), and received his doctorate in 2013 with a political-economic analysis of the television industry. He has expertise in the economic and policy aspects of the media and technology markets, and has published widely in these fields in academic journals, chapters and monographs. He is also the author of “The Political Economy of Television Sports Rights” (Palgrave, 2013, together with Petros Iosifidis and Paul Smith), “Platform Power and Policy in Transforming Television Markets” (Springer, 2018, together with Karin Donders), and “Media Management Matters: Challenges and Opportunities for Bridging Theory and Practice” (2020, Routledge, met Ulrike Rohn).\[TE(1]