The Political Independence of Public Service Broadcasters


Chris Hanretty


December 18, 2009


In this thesis, I demonstrate that the degree of political independence that a public service broadcaster has depends on the degree of legal protection given to it, and on the size of the market for news in that country. The latter affects broadcaster independence by creating more standardized and professionalized news, which in turn reduces politicians’ incentives to intervene in the broadcaster. The former affects broadcaster independence by making it less likely that such intervention will be effective. I demonstrate these claims in two ways. First, I conduct a large-N statistical analysis of 36 public service broadcasters (PSBs), in which I demonstrate that legal protection news market size are statistically significant predictors of PSB independence (as I operationalize it), and that other suggested explanatory factors — party system polarization and bureaucratic partisanship — have no effect. Second, I carry out a comparative historical analysis of six European PSBs—Radiotelevisione Italiana, Radiotelevisión Española, Radio Telefís Éireann (Ireland), the British Broadcasting Corporation, Danmarks Radio, and Sveriges Radio and its associated companies (Sweden) — and substantiate the claims made in my statistical analysis. In particular, I demonstrate that where the market for news was bigger, broadcasters capitalised on pre-existing journalistic experience, adopting the house-styles of press agencies and learning from journalists’ associations. Conversely, where the market was small, that experience could not be drawn on, and broadcast journalism attracted political intervention.


The version of record is open access. You can access it here.

Replication data

You can find replication data at the Harvard Dataverse.


Hanretty, Chris. 2009. “The Political Independence of Public Service Broadcasters.” PhD thesis, Fiesole: European University Institute.