{research} Re-Framing Public Media as a Global Project: New Models

{This is my part of a paper to be presented at the IAMCR 2015 conference, Montreal, in the Panel: Globalization, International Development, and the Public Service Media Debates. My co-author Susan Abbott will add to this her own original research — stay tuned for the full paper to be published later this year.}

  1. Introduction

Media and communication development have been part of the international agenda for decades. Notably, after the fall of the Berlin Wall media development, that is efforts to promote, support, and nurture an independent, democratic media as part of wider efforts to improve governance, the state of a society, and economic development, media, journalism, and communications program became more mainstream. The efforts of civic groups working on media reform, media development, and Internet rights, have continued the advocacy efforts of previous generations, notably the MacBride Commission and its successors, by calling for global standards and policies aimed at improving the democratic quality of media and the ability for all citizens of the world to access information.

In this regard, efforts by global civil society advocating for the inclusion of free expression, access to information, and access to key technologies, in the new United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, stands out. In this context, the continued advocacy of public service broadcasting has for some international players been paramount to their larger efforts, i.e. UNESCO has endorsed public service broadcasting and supports it as a cornerstone of democracy and inclusive knowledge society in non-Western contexts (UNESCO 2014).

Yet, as noted by Voltmer (2013), public service media (PSM) all around the world are threatened by commercial competitors and governmental pressures: They need to find new ways to ensure their independence and inclusivity. The urgency of finding new strategies is relevant to (1) ‘mature’ PSM organizations in globalizing marketplaces, as well as (2) contexts where state media are being transformed into public service media (e.g., former Eastern Europe, some Asian countries, many Latin American countries), or (3) where public interest media (including PSB, community, and local media) face severe commercial competition and/or need to be revitalized.

Given the above challenges, it is essential for those advocating the existence of PSM, to rethink how build a model of PSM that is accessible and inclusive, contextually sensitive, technologically and financially viable, institutionally independent — and globally meaningful. In this paper we will outline why PSM needs to be a global project:

  • We will first discuss the need for new models, based on existing country-based analyses (Abbott 2015, Clark & Aufderheide 2009, Tambini 2015), as well as on a survey conducted with 162 public service media researchers around the world.
  • We will then discuss examples and models that in the light of some core proposed revisionist PSM models (e.g., Bajomi-Lazar et al. 2012; Boev & Bukovska 2011).
  • Finally, we will summarize these discussions as a matrix of new models that can be used to frame PSM as a global project.
  1. Need for new models: Some insights

Mapping Digital Media Project

A global look at challenges of public service (and state-administered media) comes from the so-called Mapping Digital Media (MDM) research project of the Open Society Foundations (2009-2014). Comprising 56 countries, the purpose of the project was to assess the global opportunities and risks that are created for media by the following developments: the switch-over from analogue broadcasting to digital broadcasting; growth of new media platforms as sources of news; convergence of traditional broadcasting with telecommunications.  MDM has addressed broad PSM-relevant issues—from spectrum allocation to other legislative approaches, audience structures, and financial aspects of national media markets around the world, but it has also dedicated both special reports, as well as a designated section, in each report to the role of publicly owned media in the country in question.

Tambini (2015) has examined the country reports and assesses the state of public service media around the world as varied and complex. The unifying challenges everywhere seem to be that digitalization has fundamentally changed the existing role (or establishing a new) institutional public broadcaster/media organization. Similarly, audiences for state-administered and public service media are in decline everywhere. This crisis has resulted both in innovation and reinvention of public service mission and programming, as well as its decline. Tambini (2015, 1420) highlights some regional differences:

Only in Europe are the institutions of independent PSM in a strong position. There, the norm of the mixed broadcasting system may be becoming more prevalent with the incorporation of state-administered broadcasters from Central and Eastern Europe into the conventional PSM model, and regulatory changes such as the Communication on the Application of State Aid Rules to Public Service Broadcasting (2009). In the Middle East and North Africa, PSB independence faces numerous challenges. The absence of the model in the rising powers of Brazil, Russia, and China makes the question of PSB in India and South Africa of great importance in global terms.

Yet, the third common global challenge Tambini identifies is the lack of “open and transparent debate” (op cit., 1421) and policy-making regarding public service media and its evolution.

Survey: Public service media researchers

The MDM results are echoed by scholars who study public service media around the world. Between January and mid June 2015, 162 scholars answered a questionnaire, the main purpose of which is to establish a roster of PSM scholars.[1] In addition to their contact information, the participants also responded to a few questions about the field and its research needs. Given the prominence of public service broadcasting/media in the media landscapes in Australia, Canada, Western Europe, and New Zealand, it is no surprising that the majority of the respondents come from, and focus these countries/regions[2] — and that naturally affects the kinds of challenges and opportunities identified in the answers.

Similarly, it should thus be noted that these answers have not originally been gathered for formal research purposes  — but for the purpose of establishing a network. Therefore they are not pre-designed to be categorized and quantified. Presented here are just crude, preliminary thematizations and summaries of responses to two survey questions around challenges and new PSM models. That said, some themes and issues seem to emerge from these observations and insights. In addition, the respondents are scholars who have looked at different aspects of PSB/PSM in great detail.

One of the questions in the survey asked the respondents to list the three most significant issues for the development of public service media in their country. 142 out of 162 respondents answered this question – some with one issue, some with two, three or more.

  • The two most often mentioned issues, practically equally important, were the funding of PSM and the independence of PSM from government pressures – both issues were each highlighted by over 40% of the respondents.
  • The urgent need to re-define and clarify the remit, mission, values and visions of what public service really means was almost equally important.
  • 25% of those who answered the question considered a relationship with audiences, a social contract of sorts, a significant issue for public service.
  • The same goes with digitalization in terms multi-platform, cross-media presence.
  • Other notable themes (appr. 10% each) were: supporting talent, innovation, professionals of PSM; and re-thinking management and organizational structures of PSM.
  • PSM in the international media landscape, PSM and other media (competitors) in general, PSM and diversity/pluralism, and PSM and journalism were mentioned surprisingly seldom, ten or so times each.

Another question, relevant to the focus of this paper, pertained to examples of successful public media in one’s country or elsewhere. The respondents were asked to identify one example, and explain why it exemplifies a good public media experience. Only about half of the survey respondents answered this question.

  • Interestingly, the largest amount of answers, almost 30%, highlighted a public service institution, mostly the BBC (UK) or ABC (Australia).
  • One-sixth of the answers highlighted an online service, a digital portal, many of which were not institutional public service but rather projects that served the public outside of a formal PSM remit.
  • Institutional public service niche programming for ethnic minorities, for children, or regarding art and culture were also mentioned fairly often. (Educational or political programming was mentioned in only a couple of answers.)
  • Community media (not related to institutional PSB) was mentioned in some 10% of the answers.

The essence of “what works”, by researchers, seems to highlight the sense of the strength of certain institutional arrangements for PSM, as exemplified by the ABC and the BBC. (It should be noted that the respondents might in their work mainly focus on institutions rather than alternative models.)

Summary of the challenges from the above described research efforts indicates that any model, let alone a framework that might have a global scope, needs to address the following:

  • Digitalization has changed the playfield. That is the fundamental issue to consider. This means that the values of public service media need to be carefully crafted.
  • Fragmented audiences need to be gathered together. The relationship between public service media and the rest of the society needs to be reinforced or reinvented.
  • Institutional public media  — when it has the resources — seems to still fare well in serving the public. Funding is clearly the key concern here.
  • Independence of public service media needs to be safeguarded – whether the threat comes from government budgets or political pressures regarding content.
  • Policy discussions around PSM need to opened up and reinstituted.
  1. Suggested models – an overview

Any new models of public service media clearly need to respond to some main concerns and challenges outlined above.

When envisioning models for the increasingly global media landscape, it is good to remember that historical developments have shaped models for public service media – and will continue to do so. Jakubowicz (2014, 213-214), offers a genealogical societal perspective by depicting three main models of the creation of PSB or the transformation of state broadcasting to PSM, as applying to different country contexts. The paternalistic model is based on the idea of public enlightenment, giving PSM a normative role (as in the classic BBC model of public broadcasting); the democratic and emancipatory model emerged when state broadcasting organizations were transformed into PSB in the 1970s and 1980s, when state broadcasting became obsolete as state monopoly (a development in some European as well as non-European countries); and finally, the systemic approach where PSB has been considered a part and parcel of a political change, transition to democracy (as in many former Eastern European countries). These models are now those that need revision, whether in their countries of origins or as models for emerging PSMs.

Bajomi-Lazar et al. (2012, 374-375) offer three Institutional revisionist frames to the way PSM should be redesigned in the drastically changed media landscape. The Liberal Approach believes that the role of PSM is to correct market imperfections, i.e., to fill in the gaps in content and services that the free market – the commercial competitors – do not find profitable to offer. This approach is very much synonymous to the Market Failure Perspective (e.g., Berg et al. 2014) on PSM: The role of demand is emphasized and the purpose of PSM is to serve those underserved by the free market. The Radical Democratic Approach, in contrast, focuses on the distinctiveness of PSM in its mission to serve the public interest. This means that PSM should to (continue to) offer news and journalism, music and culture, drama, children’s programming, as well as events that bring the nation together. As a new alternative, Bajomi-Lazar et al. (op cit.) propose an ecological mission for PSM in which public interest media could be reinterpreted, and serve as an ambassador for, ecological, sustainable lifestyles.

Very much in line with the ecological mission is the idea that PSM should be based on human rights treaties and legislation, and that it should in particular guard issues related to human rights, both in its content and as an organization (Boev & Bukovska 2011). The treaties would function as legal benchmarks for assessing the core qualities of PSM that, in this model are: a high degree of participation of all interested parties; non-discrimination (including equality and inclusiveness); and the role of PSM as empowering rights holders to claim and exercise their rights. They also include an institutional component, namely accountability (the state should be accountable for its policy in support of PSM while PSM institutions should be fully accountable for their actions). A special feature of the model is that it includes a number of new stakeholders in the work of the PSM: Not only the institution, the national government and regulator, but also audiences play a crucial role in creating and monitoring of PSM. In addition, international human rights bodies as well as communities of human rights activists/advocates are stakeholders here.

Perhaps the most radical, networked model of public service media has been offered by Aufderheide & Clark (2009). They note that ‘Public Media 2.0’ (Aufderheide & Clark 2009) will not be tied to an institution but can be both de jure and de facto: a commercial TV channel or a social media group may function as public media equally well as an official institution. Public media, thus, should be citizen-, or user-centric. Consequently, public media can differ for citizens depending on specific issues, and/or, local, national or international contexts.

  1. Matrix of possible models?

How do the challenges, and proposed models, meet? Can there be one or more models that could address public service media as a global project? The following matrix sums up the identified challenges of PSM – and how they are reflected by alternatives.

Figure 2. Matrix of selected alternative models of PSM

Liberal approach Democratic approach Sustainable approach Human rights approach Networked approach
Digitalization – new remit Old remit of the mixed markets. The original remit. Yes. Yes. Not one remit but many
Digitalization – technology Challenged (‘distorts the market’) Must be present in all platforms Possibly – not explicitly mentioned. Possibly: could also support new communication rights, including access. Founded on new tech.
Audiences – relationship to society Serves the underserved. Serves everyone. Focuses on the ecosystem, holistic. Focused on the individual = rights-based. Multi-stakeholderism; international Citizen-user –focused.
Institutional arrangement – financing Public – no solutions beyond that. Public – no solutions beyond that. Public – no solutions beyond that. Public – implicit possibility of the model: international contributions? Mixed – each “node” of the network with its own model.
Governance –

independence

Independent but “filing the gap” mandate might be limited due to political agendas. Independent (in theory). Independent. Independent – multi-stakeholder approach would spread power over governance. Independent – a network is harder to control.

These models, alternative as they may be, still very much rely on the core institutional model established in the West. This is not surprising: The idea of public broadcasting/media has been very much founded in the Western idea of the public sphere, related to deliberative democracy (as in civil, reasoned, inclusive debate) — and this “imposes a normative standard that is inappropriate or irrelevant for much of the globe” (Benson 2015, 275).

Aufderheide & Clark (2009), with their Public Media 2.0 model, provide a true alternative to the institutional model. As Benson (2015) also notes, a Castellsian “network society” model offers flexibility in (understanding) different contexts. At the same time, empirically a functioning networked public service media model requires ways of fast (and cheap) access to sources, competence to navigate (and to create) content, as well as a robust media ecosystem — and doesn’t address sustainability of its nodes. The social media platform you use for acquiring regional news and participating in related debates shuts down – what then? Alternative non-profit and crowdsourced news outlets may inspire thinking of how funding of public service media might be diversified in certain contexts.

More models from outside of the West, or with a global scope, need to be researched as they may provide insights, especially in terms of audience engagement and co-production (that the institutional model has not necessary embraced or been able to cultivate, due to political and resource constraints). For instance, the non-profit organization Witness with its YouTube channel and now an online Lab has both reported on human rights, and trained citizen reporters to do so all around the world. Similarly, the citizen journalism site Global Voices[3] is a truly global hub for alternative news around the world, with regional and topical (politics, culture, human rights, digital activism) segments. It gathers information from vetted, committed sources and also entails activist networking / grant-making and advocacy arms. One of the respondents of the researcher survey highlighted yet another different model: China’s Worker Generated Content that resists the constrained communication environment of the country:

WGC is an empirical subcategory of user-generated content, but it transcends UGC’s parameters where they are set by logics of capitalist and state surveillance. WGC highlights issues of social class, collectivity, and needs-based communication; it is a harbinger of new class-making processes that are based on bottom-up and horizontal communication.[4]

In conclusion, as another surveyed PSM scholar noted, having researched media development and public service: We know little and it seems that challenges related to PSB/PSM and media development are not documented or made public:

The most pressing issue is a need for more knowledge sharing about challenges in media development projects associated with public broadcasters or transitions to public broadcasters from state broadcasters.

  1. Conclusion

What could next steps be in envisioning more appropriate public media models for ever globalizing media landscapes? The least we, as scholars, can do is to react and respond to Tambini’s (2015) observation that globally, debates about public media are not open. We need to make them more so. One constructive framework on how to think about new, more global public media models, and enrich the debates, could be taken from Waisboard’s (2015, 187-193) three strategies of how to pursue “de-Westernization” of media studies:

  • Analyze neglected issues.  — In this paper, we have established that we know quite little about existing alternatives, public media de facto, whether in the global North or South. Similarly (albeit not discussed in this paper), drawing from non-Western theorization of globalization and the media might help in reframing of public service media of the future. These are just two of the issues that have not so far been much researched within the public media researcher community.
  • Conduct comparative research. — The MDM project gave an overview of 56 countries — but the section on public service media was one of many. Clearly more regional and global comparisons can shed light on new models and the needs of different contexts.
  • Analyze trans-border, global questions. The MDM research as well as the network questionnaire depicted in this paper has given some indication of possible trans-border issues for public media. This needs to be systematically researched further.

References:

Aufderheide, P & Clark, J. (2009) Public Media 2.0. Dynamic, Engaged Publics. Center for Social Media. Washington, D.C.: American University.

Bajomi-Lazar, P., Steka, V. & Sukosd, M. (2012) Public service television in the European Union countries: Old issues, new challenges in the ‘East’ and the ‘West’.  In Just, N. & Puppis, M. (eds.) Trends in Communication Policy Research: New Theories, Methods, and Subjects. Bristol: IntellectBooks, pp. 355-380.

Benson, R. (2015). Public Spheres, Fields, Networks. Western Concepts for a De-Westernizing World? In Lee, C-C. (ed.) Internationalizing “International Communication”. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Pp. 258-280

Berg, C.E., Lowe, G.F., & Lund, A.B. (2014). A Market Failure Perspective on Public Service Media. In Lowe, G.F. & Martin, F. (eds.). The Value of Public Service Media. RIPE/Nordicom. Pp. 105-126.

Boev & Bukovska (2011) = Public Service and Human Rights. Council of Europe Issue Discussion Paper. CommDH(2011)41. 6 December 2011. Available at: https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?id=1881537

Jakubowicz, K. (2014). Public Service Broadcasting: Product (and Victim?) of Public Policy. In Mansell R. & Raboy, M. (eds.). The Handbook of Global Communication and Media Policy. Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 210-229.

Tambini, D. (2015). Five Theses on Public Media and Digitization: From a 56-Country Study. International Journal of Communication 9(2015), pp. 1400–1424.

UNESCO (2014) = Free, Independent And Pluralistic Media. The Post-2015 Development Agenda. A Discussion Brief. March 15, 2014.

Voltmer, K. (2013) The Media in Transitional Democracies. Cambridge, UK & Malden, MA: Polity Press.

Waisboard, S. (2015). De-Westernization and Cosmopolitan Media Studies. In Lee, C-C. (ed.) Internationalizing “International Communication”. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Pp. 178-200.

[1] The project, by the RIPE network and funded by the Open Society Foundations, is still ongoing. Please see the questionnaire here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/19muPteWnSWxf3zPOAxfRrjng_IrZshFmNLjFEkash50/viewform?usp=send_form

[2] The respondents do not form a representative sample. The participants have been approached via numerous existing research and media development networks, and they have in turn recommended others. There has been a special effort to find and reach out to non-Western researchers.

[3]  http://globalvoicesonline.org/

[4] From Worker-Generated Content in China to Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution: http://snurb.info/node/1943

{book project} Public Media: The 4th Estate in 4 Sectors

The first step of the book project: How to conceptualize the dimensions of  “Public Media” for Social Change?

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 11.12.10 AMInitial Thought: Public Media as the 4th Estate?

The “Fourth Estate” describes the journalists’ role in representing the interests of “the people” in relation to the business and political elites who claim to be doing things in our names.

The idea of the news media as the Fourth Estate has a chequered history. It began life as a term of abuse for the scurillous and ill-principled scribes of the press gallery at the Palace of Westminister. Conservative Anglo-Irish MP Edmund Burke coined the phrase as a way of mocking the gentlemen of the press.

However, in the intervening centuries, the Fourth Estate has come to mean taking a principled position (…)

The intellectuals of the 18th and 19th centuries who gave us the conception of the Fourth Estate as a civil watchdog to keep an eye on those in power also provided the philosophical argument for defining the public citizenry and the nation-state as two separate entities with differing interests.

Today, governments that claim to act in the “public interest” must face daily scrutiny of their actions. They must be called to account when overstepping the bounds of what citizens will support, or when taking actions that are clearly not in our interests. We rely on journalists and the news media to do this job on our behalf.

– Martin Hirst

Public media, in its very essence, should represent the people, and various segments of the people, in a variety of way — right? So  the ideal and ideal of the 4th estate, the representative of people vis-a-vis decision makers and power elites seems like a fit for a core dimension or characteristics for what might define public media. Supply of information on common issues, and scrutiny of power, it seems to me, are some of the essential factors of social change: what needs to change, how can change happen, by whom?

Admittedly, the 4th estate or the watchdog function (in its many forms) is just a part of what public media is, can, should or could be. For example: public service broadcasting, in the Western European tradition, entails the Reithian Trinity of information, education, and entertainment (sometimes referred to as ‘full service’). But (as the above quote highlights) the 4th Estate is an evolving concept. In these times where much of content is a mixture of what used to “news-like” or “entertainment” in content as well as in production and form (just read a few blog posts about gamification of news and education) it seems very limiting to think about the concept of 4th Estate simply as professional, traditional news content.

At the same token, the power of the popular culture and entertainment, and the relationship between communication and education, in relation to social change, have been discussed for decades.

Whatever the content, at the core of public (interest/service) media seem to be empowerment by access, content — and increasingly, participation and co-creation.

Following Thought: Public Media in its Various Formations

Social change, social justice, democracy… Big concepts that, in real life, will need plenty of support, much scrutiny. Add Appadurian global flows that permeate culture and the media, finance, people, technology and ideas. Public media seems like more of an ideal than ever.

On thing seems certain: Public service broadcasting (PSB) can’t handle all this alone. Its legitimacy continuously being challenged, by governments and commercial competitors alike (and there’s a vast amount of research on this, especially in the RIPE@ collection by NORDICOM). The main arguments relate to the role of public organizations distorting the market place as “subsidized” legacy and digital competitors.

Different kinds of alternative models have been proposed, many of them focusing on public media de jure, i.e., institutional public service organizations. For instance, Bajomi-Lazar et al. (2012)  offer three revisionist frames to the way PSM should be redesigned in the drastically changed media landscape. The Liberal Approach believes that the role of PSM is to correct market imperfections, i.e., to fill in the gaps in content and services that the free market – the commercial competitors – do not find profitable to offer. This approach is very much synonymous to the Market Failure Perspective  on PSM: The role of demand is emphasized and the purpose of PSM is to serve those underserved by the free market. The Radical Democratic Approach, in contrast, focuses on the distinctiveness of PSM in its mission to serve the public interest. This means that PSM should to (continue to) offer news and journalism, music and culture, drama, children’s programming, as well as events that bring the nation together. As a new alternative, Bajomi-Lazar et al. propose an ecological mission for PSM in which public interest media could be reinterpreted, and serve as an ambassador for, ecological, sustainable life styles. A related frame to the ecological mission is that of public service organizations as human rights proponents. (More examples, here.)

The big unresolved issue is: What, in fact, could public service media be? Aufderheide & Clark have tacked this afresh, from the perspective of an individual, with his/her many needs of media. They expand the idea of full service to what I’d like to call abundant service. All of this, available as the figure indicates, in many devices and platforms, seems like an enormous task for any one organization:

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 1.00.49 PM

They also note that the individual may belong to many different kinds of publics. Again – a tough task for one organization:

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 1.01.11 PM

In the light of above, it is perhaps symptomatic that public media de jure has been often offered a specific, limited role, whether from the market failure or the distinction perspective.  But how to define that distinction, from the perspective of serving as a support mechanism for democracy and social change? In that regard, how to move from the individual focus (of the above model) to mechanisms that support collective publics of many kinds? A fair assumption would be that different publics may need different content and form/platforms to function as their 4th Estates. They must depend on contextual matters — or issues, location, access… We need public media de facto that can be manifested in many ways.

Since we exist in the landscape of existing institutions as well as platforms, and ever globalizing media landscape, I then came up with this simple matrix that combines the geographical dimension with the functional-organizational dimension of a media outlet. The reason I title the latter with the dual meaning is that the function of the organization is very much connected to the form, content, and strategies the organization takes.

The Matrix also gives a few examples. They are just that: The matrix would require tons of related research to have empirical backing. Also, some of the examples are deliberately (seemingly) anti-public service. This is in purpose, to highlight the existing landscape and to identify needs and opportunities for new forms of public media de facto. At this point, the matrix is simply a note, a stepping stone.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 1.37.30 PM

Final Thought: From a Matrix to an Ecosystem

When I look at the above matrix it’s clear to me that many of the its sections are in-between organizational or geographic borders (or fit in several slots). In addition, most of them share same social media platforms. And, as I have already advocated, there’s more room for collaboration.

It thus follows that eventually, I want to suggest a public media ecosystem: actors that all serve “the public”, actors that (I propose) are interconnected, and that also could collaborate.

In everyday parlance, or at least in the circles of marketing and advertising, the concept of social media ecosystem seems to be commonplace. Here the focus is on how that system captures consumers.

As C.W. Anderson has argued, in discussing the buzzword “media ecosystem in relation to journalism research:

The ultimate understanding of the news consumer in the more environmental approaches to news ecosystems is of an organism at the center of a webbed environment of overlapping influences—but a citizen who is sick due to a lack of proper nutritional sustenance.

While critiquing the focus on citizens, and calling for understanding of the many processes embedded in journalism to understand its challenges; he also gives a somewhat skeptical description of media ecology‘s focus on technology as the center of the media ecosystem. His argumentation is valid for news production research — but the ultimate challenge for me will be to determine, what the basic parameters are for a lively, diverse and dynamic, organic and healthy model for a public media ecosystem.

It will be a fascinating project to find examples of if and how different  segments of the media matrix can be merged into an ecosystem, and what roles different actors can play. We know already that in some countries, commercial players have public service obligations, and that many thinkers have positioned PSB  at the center of the abundance -=- as public service commissioner/programmer or navigator of public-service-oriented content. One could also argue that the cases of Wikileaks, and Ed Snowden  — as controversial as they may be — already point to that direction of projects by semi-structured groups and individuals meeting legacy media nationally and globally.

{book project} The beginning

I just read this wisdom from the most popular Medium post of the day:

Psychologist Gail Matthews at Dominican University found that you are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals just by writing them down.

So here we go: I have just started my work on my next book:

“Public Media for Social Change” (working title).

Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 10.22.56 AMThe project is, in fact, a part of a bigger effort to rethink access, content, and impact in the new global media/comm tech landscape.
Background:
As a scholar, I have worked in public broadcasting as well as studied public service media around the world. For almost a decade now, some colleagues and I have been discussing the necessary shift from public media de jure (institutions) to different models of public media de facto. In this new environment, we feel, old institutions can’t respond to the societal challenges alone, or remain sustainable. New networked forms may be to temporary and too niche-focused to grain the kind of traction needed for social change. Yet, at the same time, commercialization of the Net and simultaneous government pressures threaten free expression and necessary knowledge for citizenry. Hence, new models and ideas of collaboration and multistakeholderisms are needed.

Book project:
I aim to collect success stories where institutional meets the situational, old media meets new platforms, different stakeholders collaborate, in the quest for sustainable social change. These are examples beyond social media-fuelled organizing or protests; more about the community-building, citizen-focused inclusive communication that aims to connect people to learn, discuss and debate common issues (the original ideal of public media).

I hope these cases, from around the world, will lead to a grounded theory of new models of public media de facto.

The manuscript will be ready by late Spring 2016.

(I have earlier written about public media and multi-stakeholderism, and am currently working on an article re: public media in the light of human rights and information and communication rights, as well as another one on the connections between public media and media reform and internet rights movements.)

Related initiatives:
I’m a member of the RIPE network of public service media professionals (managers, strategists, scholars). Until the 2012, the network focused mainly on Europe and North America. Since its conference in Sydney (@2012), RIPE has begun to make a real effort to globalize public media conversations. The Open Society Foundations have supported that process with some grants.

One of the grants projects is a global network of academic and applied researchers working in the field, an initiative I am helping with. This will first be realized as a pilot, a contact repository  for people to find like-minded scholars for exchange of information and future projects. Here’s a newsletter update where we are after a couple of months of network-building. The pilot repository will be completed at the end of this year.  After that, we hope to collaborate with others, the EBU included, to extend the repository to all kinds of institutions and organizations, projects, policy-makers, advocacy organizations, etc.

Stay tuned for more.

Media Governance – Cultural Perspectives

Featured Image -- 52Week 3: Times have changed (or have they?)

This week, we are going to look at governance with a broader, cultural lens. Media policies and surrounding politics, policy-making, and regulation often get examined via empirical analyses by political scientists,  media economists, and legal scholars.  But politics, policy- and law-making are not separate from cultural values and contexts.  In addition, governance is also always about power. Many scholars and other thinkers are looking at the power dynamics between different interest groups of mediated/communication and power from a cultural perspective. Here are some broader frameworks/perspectives:

Context #1: Cultural Flows

Thanks to Andrew, Bree & Frank (and Michelle Obama’s dress code) for making me add this segment. The core idea of cultural flows is founded on theorization around globalization. It’s partly economic (how media products = ideas travel around the world) but also how cultures change because of that (the key thinker, Arjun Appadurai, is an anthropologist after all). The political scientists Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart have looked at different theories of the impact of global cultural flows (they call it Cosmopolitan Communication)and map them as follows (summary below by the media anthropologist John Postill) :

1) Convergence of national cultures around Western values (LA effect): cultural imperialism/Americanization thesis (we all know this: some call it Disneyification);

2) Polarization of national cultures (Taliban effect): people can resist and reject alien media messages and values;

3) Fusion of national cultures (Bangalore effect): hybridity, multidirectional flows prevail (think of world music, for instance);

4) Firewall model of conditional effects (authors’ proposed theory), i.e. national cultures are far better insulated from the impact of cosmopolitan communication than previously thought (letting in content/values that is easily acceptable, leaving other things out).

What does the above has to do with media governance? Culture defines what is tolerated, accepted, supported. And we have seen clashes: #JesuisCharlie.

Context #2: Technology

Global communication flows are naturally related to technology that allows quicker, faster, more borderless flows than ever before. In addition, local/national cultures change from within; power dynamics change. No longer do we live in the era of mass communication, dominated by few media outlets and corporations. Instead, we are in the middle of the culture of convergence, as Henry Jenkins (also the author of one of W3 readings) explains below:

Jenkins’ chapter highlights what first happened when the mass media logic (and regulation) meets the unleashed creative power of people.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 5.17.46 PM

Changes in Governance

The above changes are intertwined and have broader consequences. In other words, as insinuated last week, cultures have changed, and aspects of media governance with them. Here’s my simple summary table. Please critique, comment, etc. below as comments to this blog (this is NOT part of your assignment, but I’d love any feedback!)

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 4.52.11 PM

Or, the main difference could be described as “The Multitudes of the Social“:

And yet…

Change is not a-historical. Cultures (as even Norris & Inglehart insinuate) resist change, or don’t change completely, overnight. Diversity of voices, conversations, in mass media as well as new platforms — in the public sphere — is still a challenge – as it was in 1999 when your W3 reading by Jacobs was written.  Access to content (and production) divides us according to our economic and now also generational standing. Hate speech and flaming (whether based on gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation) can spread like wildfire. And, while diversity of content online is practically infinite, our consumption is perhaps even more ‘narrow’ than during the mass media era: We often live in information filter bubbles formed by our choices to search for/read/follow content and sources that are only to our liking (see the below examples of Scott and David):

Assignment of Week 3 (due 2/13 at midnight):
  • Read the readings marked with W3  — access them on Facebook or Blackboard.
  • Join the debate on Blackboard under Assignment Discussions — detailed instructions posted there.

{discovery, research} Bridges Global and other forms of collaboration

Screen shot 2014-06-13 at 8.50.03 AM This post is inspired by the brand new venture, Bridges Global, by my friend Elizabeth Soltis. Her organization provides workshops and other kinds of training regarding empowerment, leadership, and collaboration, including:

  • Partnership Negotiation:  Practicing Nonviolent Communication
  • Service Excellence:  Exceeding Client Expectations
  • Trust and Innovation:  Developing Accountability and Creativity
  • Complaints:  Transforming Breakdowns into Inspired Action

 

In terms of media and development, social-media induced collaboration and participation have become crucial aspects, in many regards, as the below graph shows: Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 8.36.35 AM [Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oscarberg/ under Creative Commons license.]

 

Doing Good Together Online

In this field, we need much more research and education to harness the potential of participation fully. While collaboration is more possible than ever, it also causes challenges. Clay Shirky, in Cognitive Surplus, outlines three important aspects of online participation for common good:

  • Motive (think of, e.g., passionate fans — how to create that kind of motivation?);
  • Opportunity (This does not only mean access to technologies that allow participation. Shirky writes: “While treating one another well…we can create environments where the group can do more than the individuals could do on their own”); and
  • Culture (for Shirky, this means the trend dominating online communities: The opening up of knowledge, bypassing old definitions of who is an expert, the collaborative spirit).

But not so fast. As Shirky  also notes, there are different values of participation: Some forms of participation are motivated by mere joy and fun, some participate to engage with friends, some participate to make the world a better place. One question is, what kind of participation value due we want to and need to create? This may be very different for a brand of sneakers and a non-profit fundraising for micro-loans. Also, we should perhaps not expect the creation of ‘Cognitive Surplus’ from everyone, in every situation. There are questions of access, skills, even (self)censorship as to how we can and do participate. For instance, Henry Jenkins et al. (a team of famous scholars of fan and online participation) argue in their new book titled Spreadable Media (pg. 194) that:

[T]he nature of participation in the digital age is a complicated matter. For even those groups who have greater access to digital technologies and have mastered the skills to deploy them effectively…our capacity to participate can be complicated by issues of who owns the platforms through which communication occurs and how their agendas shape how those tools can be deployed. And, even if we get our messages through, there is often the question of whether anyone is listening.

Scholar-Activist Collaborations The other aspect is: How do we collaborate to support (democratic) media development in today’s comlex media environment? The past decade has seen a notable increase in public interest–oriented civil society activism and advocacy around media-related change. These activities represent a distinctive, developing social movement. These efforts have become a developing point of intersection between scholars and activists. And there are numerous examples, some of them known world-wide: Robert McChesney is the co-founder of  Free PressLawrence Lessig is the co-founder of  Creative Commons. Until lately, the practices of engaged research by academic researchers in collaboration with movement actors has been sparse, and such collaborations have been subjected to relatively little attention. Communications Research in Action: Scholar-Activist Collaborations for a Democratic Public Sphere (a volume is a collection edited by Phil Napoli and myself)  highlights the multitude of ways in which scholars can participate as members of the MR movement/s. This (latter) kind of collaboration is needed to promote (the former) opportunities for collaboration and participation to everyone.

 

[More about participation, collaboration, media development, and governance to follow!]