{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 –


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.


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.

{research} Re-Framing Media Reform: Part 1

Interested in media reform and Internet Rights movements? Ever wonder whether there is synergy, overlap, and possibilities of collaboration?


Read and comment in this draft journal article in the works, that I’m writing with Yann Ilunga.


 My will be posted here in 4 parts:

  1. Movements: Three Challenges;
  2. Movements and Frames;
  3.  Digitalization and Its Discontents Documented (on the  Mapping Digital Mediaproject); and
  4.  The Case for a More Universal Digital Movement? (assessing the need to unite and further globalize media reform and internet rights activism and advocacy).


The core question is: Is there a need to Re-Frame Media Reform and Internet Rights Movements in the era of Digitalization?


The dilemma is discussed conceptually, as well as illustrated by the findings of the Mapping Digital Media (MDM) project (2009-2013). The project studied global opportunities and risks created by the transition from traditional to digital media in 56 countries and created also 19 thematic reports.


{Part I: Movements: Three Challenges}


Immense changes are reshaping the media landscape, affecting the way citizens are informed, governments and corporations are made accountable, and societies fulfill their potential. Mass communication exists in the same ecosystem with the Internet, social networks, and mobile communications. Digital communication is influencing other global issues, ranging from health (e- and mHealth) to education (MOOCs and other virtual learning) to national and global security. Media regulation meets with telecommunication laws and copyright regimes; copyrights and privacy laws become issues that affect freedom of expression. The recent years have brought about the question of how the policy-making realm can ensure that participation is ‘safe’ and will not be used against the participants in unintended ways, by corporations in the form of unsolicited data-gathering for commercial purposes, or by governments in the form of surveillance (e.g., Morozov 2011[i]).


These changes also naturally affect traditional media institutions by bringing new opportunities, but also ethical, procedural, and financial challenges. In particular, journalism that upholds pluralism and diversity, transparency and accountability, editorial independence, access to information, public service values, and high professional standards. In addition, from the perspective of individuals, one of the defining characteristics of the contemporary media environment is the extent to which it can facilitate a greater array of – and deeper forms of – audience participation (Carpentier, 2011[ii]).  There are new questions about ‘user agency’ (Postigo, 2012[iii]) in the world where production is not only in the hands of institutional players, but potentially everyone. Finally, the question of how to evaluate, challenge, and possibly change media policies, systems, and practices, becomes ever more complex when mediated participatory actions can take local, national, global, or issue-driven, borderless forms (e.g., Clark & Aufderheide 2009[iv]).


Given the above rapid changes, it could be argued that there is a momentum, and even urgent need, for those fighting for a more democratic and just media and communications systems, to rethink how to frame  — how to define, understand, and act upon — their principles, philosophies, actions, and allies. As contemporary theories of social movements posit:


[S]ocial movements are not viewed merely as carriers of extant ideas and meanings that grow automatically out of structural arrangements, unanticipated events, or existing ideologies. Rather, movement actors are viewed as signifying agents actively engaged in the production and maintenance of meaning of constituents, antagonists, and bystanders or observers. They are deeply embroiled […] in what has been referred to as ‘the politics of signification’.[v]


To be sure, ‘Media Reform’ is a not a monolith movement, with unified frames of action (Napoli, 2008[vi]). The term would probably most likely evoke references to the U.S.-based media policy battles, and victories of the early 2000s, of Free Press, the Prometheus Radio Project and other bigger and smaller organizations that seek to influence media policy-making locally and nationally. The U.S. has, indeed, a long tradition of different kind of media-focused advocacy and activist organizations. They range from those who identify themselves with the Media Justice (see, Regan Shade, 2014[vii]) stand of media reform and discuss race, gender, sexuality and class in relation to media and communications technologies, to advocates who lobby for specific technology policies, to hackers who create tools to keep the Internet more free. But as the new Media Reform Map illustrates, organizations focusing on reforming (parts of) local and national media systems exist, and are very much alive, all around the world. At the same time, many Internet-based movements do not define themselves as national, and sometimes a national policy dilemma will evoke global reactions, as in the case of the U.S. SOPA-PIPA legislative proposals (e.g., Benkler et al. 2013[viii]).


Should individuals, informal and formal organizations concerned in ‘media democratization’ (Hackett & Carroll 2006) find common frames of action?  For those concerned in media policy-making, or, more broadly, in media governance (e.g. Freeman 2008[ix]) this new brave ne world is a challenge. Official media and communications policy-making needs to comprehend the totality of changes and challenges – and all related interconnections. The same goes for traditional media organizations whose activities are no longer The civil society – the reformists, the activists, the advocates – are facing increasing challenges and opportunities of mediatization of our everyday lives – and related possibilities of awareness-raising, engagement of more constituents, and new modes of participation.  At the same time, new questions, or challenges, are manifold:


  1. What are the key issues;
  2. Who are the stakeholders; and finally,
  3. What is the scope of the concern, the power regime, that should be monitored, regulated, held accountable? Local, National, Regional, or Global?

Challenge 1: Diversity vs. Human Rights


The researchers of the Media Reform Movement in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., Hackett and Carroll (2006[x]) note that most individuals and organizations working in the sphere are concerned with one or more aspects of the media’s democratic deficit:

1)    Public sphere failure: People have insufficient access to relevant civic information.

2)    Centralization of power: The political economy of media industries is about concentration and media monopolies.

3)    Inequality: This has to do both with access (social class: can one afford a broad band access, for instance?) and with media representations (including ethnic/religious minorities, gender, and age).

4)    Homogenization: Multiple platforms do not automatically translate to diverse content, see (2).

5)    Undermining community: In several senses: media contents are homogenized (same content is recycled everywhere, and local media outlets die); media marketers try to find and create consumer segments (fragmentation); and regardless of globalization of communication and information sharing, the lack of the sense of a global community.

6)    Corporate enclosure of knowledge: Commercialization of privatization of common cultural products, public commons of knowledge.

7)    Policy-making behind closed doors: As our lives become more and more mediatized, media policy making matters more and more to our everyday lives. Yet, ordinary citizens are seldom invited to engage in related debates.

8)    Eroding communication rights: Apart from digital divides, the web and mobile technologies also pose challenges such as privacy and surveillance.

Regan Shade, depicting the U.S. and Canadian media reform movements (2014, 152[xi]) adds to this list by naming a multitude of media policy issues that are of concern to the different individuals, groups, coalitions, and so forth, that are trying to influence decision-making around the media and communication technologies. She maps the issues, ranfing from data retention to public and community broadcasting, under four main categories: Infrastructure, Content, Privacy/Surveillance, and Intellectual Property/Copyrights.


Despite of the multitude of issues, there seems to exists a basic disconnect between the core issue of the ‘mass media reform’ and the Internet activism. The question that has engaged media reformists of all kinds during the mass media era often on the media system and the diversity it manifests, whether in terms of media ownership, content, or exposure. The movement the ‘old media issues’ of ownership concentration and biased content. In other words, the movements that were born in the mass media era were mostly about the democratic deficiency as a lack of media (ownership, content, localism) diversity.  With centralized, often nation-based media systems where few produced for masses, this approach made a great sense. And, even in the multi-platform, era of user-generated content, ownership concentration still is a key concern for media reformers. Some even talk about a new form of media concentration, a kind of ‘Platform Imperialism’ (Jin 2013[xii]).


However, more recent movements of the digital era are often framing their activism and advocacy in terms of human rights, or communications rights. Many have noted the power of not only media organizations but platforms in terms of commercial dominance, but also their role in providing access and human rights — resisting censorship — as well as their role in fundamentally shaping how we communicate, what we know, what we share.


One can trace the evolution in communication rights starting with the emphasis on the freedom of expression in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) to the more inclusive forms of communication such as the right to have access to information or the right to communicate (e.g., Joergrnsen 2014[xiii]). With the normalization of the Internet in daily life, the rights-based approach to ICTs becomes more critical on a global as well as national level. The recent years have witnessed political movements around the world (some of them loosely connected) that have been organized with the help of media technologies and user-generated content. Also growing public interest and concerns about our rights in the cyberspace (the above mentioned privacy, copyright, freedom of expression) point to the relationship between rights and the political/social order. And access not only to diverse content but to production is key to this kind of political participation, or participation in the other parts of social, economic, and cultural dimensions of many societies. It is no wonder that several countries, for instance Finland, have decided to legalize broadband access as a human right. The United Nations has taken the same stance in November 2011. Given the shift from the era of mass media scarcity to the digital era of plenty, the right to communicate, the access to content and production possibilities, as well as other related rights


In sum, the ‘old media’ activists lobby for more regulation for media ownership and for better journalism, and criticize the commercial advertising culture — while the ‘new media’ activists build mesh networks for those in need, crowdsource to do whistleblower work, and help bloggers working in undemocratic circumstances to remain anonymous with circumvention tools. Yet, the two approaches might need one another. For instance, social media networks and other Internet giants have created de facto global monopolies in several areas of our daily lives. At the same time, the diversity of the content in the Internet does not translate to the diversity of reception: For instance, a handful of websites tends to dominate national news consumption (Hindman 2009[xiv]). As Napoli (2011, 246[xv]) notes, “with all of the information outlets currently available, focusing on source and content diversity is becoming less important than understanding the information that is actually consumed by media users.” One of the key challenges, then, is to reconcile the mass media era focus on the system – diversity – and the newly re-emerged focus on the rights of the individual.


Challenge 2: Multiple Stakeholders


The second question is clearly intertwined with the first one. Given that our societies and personal lives are increasingly bound to media and communication technologies, who are, or should be, partners, allies, constituents in the movements that seek to build a more just and democratic media and communication environments?


To start with, as Anderson (2013[xvi]) notes about understanding news journalism in the digital era, we need to look at the networks, organizations, social groupings, and institutions that populate the larger “ecosystem” in order to come to terms with the shifting technological, cultural, and economic structures of digital-age media. Or, from the perspective of media policy-making, as van den Bulck (2012: 229) posits:


The development of media policies seems to be becoming more complicated through shifts from traditional state policy-making to governance and even multi-governance and through an exponential growth in potential stakeholders. Disentangling and analyzing this intricate web is becoming ever more important yet also more complex.


The concept of multi-stakeholder collaboration has few precise definitions, but is often used in the context of international decision- and policy-making, as well as other forms of governance intended to counter elitist, centralised formations of power (e.g. Cammaerts 2011[xvii]). ‘Multi-stakeholderism’ has an implicit promise of participation (op cit.), and, accordingly, the potential for the incorporation of more diverse perspectives and more publicly visible values. For the media reform movements of all kinds, this idea may be crucial: Multi-stakeholderism as the principle denoting a participatory framework for diverse actors in and across the arenas where public media is being governed, produced, distributed, and consumed.


At the same time, in the complex new media environment, multi-stakeholderism has also its complex dark side. Many feel that often the inclusion of non-governmental organizations in decision-making, in particular in the Internet Governance Forum, is a formality without real impact and there is a deficit in the number of participants from developing countries, especially from civil society, in crucial moments when the IGF agenda is decided and political decisions are made. In addition, due to the complexity of issue, alliances shift case-by-case. For instance, Google can be both an ally (e.g., protesting against online copyright legislation) and an enemy (providing information to the U.S. government and other governments).


But, there is hope. It seems that one constituent is slowly gaining power. As Hasebrink (2012[xviii]) notes, audiences have long been the neglected party when thinking about media governance.  The importance of public participation in media policy deliberations, is evident in a report from the Council of Europe in 2009 (Scifo 2009[xix]): In terms of internal organizational governance, recommendations urge media organizations on every platform to redefine their relations with their audiences and open their processes to real conversation in order to build and maintain a constant dialogue with clear and accountable procedures. If official policy-making is beginning to see multi-stakeholderism as a real model, this could be an opportunity for media reform activists and advocates to engage larger parts of civil society for meaningful action.

Challenge 3: The Scope


The principle of media reform as a global issue could be seen already in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1946, Art. 19 – in the question of the freedom of expression. The discussions on Right to, and Freedom of, Information enteredthe debate in the 1960s — when the role of governments and states were questioned and the rights of individual citizens to information were brought forth. Around the same time, the lesser developed countries begun to bring up the Right to Communicate:  They wanted to challenge the Western domination of mass communication. Active partners in the conversation were UNESCO, proposing the New World Information and Communication Order and the so called UN McBride Commission (1980).In the 1990s, the idea of the Right to Cultural Identity was added to UNDHR — and challenged in fora such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) , and later in the World Trade Organization (WTO) in terms of copyright agreements. (A fun fact: Here’s the fake website by anti-globalization activist that describes what GATT/WTO does). At the same time, the UN recognized the increasing importance of the Internet and organized two major meetings on the issue: The World Summit on the Information Society.  It soon became clear, also with the beginning of the UN-driven Internet Governance Forums, that Communications Rights was the term several stakeholders started to use as an umbrella term for the new challenges of the networked era.


Many would argue that already the notion of the NWICO was a global media reform movement of sorts[xx]. Others would point to Internet Freedom fighters, or even to consumer advocacy organizations such as Consumer International, that often form local-global alliances. It goes without saying that multinational media and technology conglomerates as well as international organizations, such as WTO and ITU, and supra-national bodies such as the EU, influence areas beyond nation-states.


But while many issues, from censorship to surveillance, are no longer national, nations and regions still matter. Media Governance is both a global and a local matter. The seminal study by Hallin and Mancini (2004[xxi]) showcases three distinct systems in the West; the model has recently been revisited by non-Western scholars (Hallin & Mancini 2011[xxii]) that prove the nuances of a multiplicity of media models – and still point at some similarities.


In other words, much (media, as well as other) policy-making bears the history of the sovereign nation-state. The mass media era and is still media sector-specific and nation-based. Issues such as net neutrality, and intermediary liability of platforms (e.g., MacKinnon 2012) – that, potentially, can affect all forms of media from streamed public service television content to Twitter campaigns – are still a matter of national regulation, and power. It is no wonder that global non-profit, civil society watchdogs outside of the formal governance systems, such as Freedom House[xxiii], Reporters Without Borders[xxiv], or research efforts such as Mapping Digital Media by the Open Society Foundation[xxv], are monitoring this circuit of power nationally and urging for some regional and global standards on media freedom.


Similarly, national regulation may have an international reach. This is, for instance, the case with many U.S.-based sites and services that are be popular also elsewhere in the world. The realization of national and global circuits of power intertwining in very concrete way has not been lost to the civil society.  The situation has fuelled Internet-based global movements ranging from privacy activists to Internet Freedom groups. Perhaps the most powerful example of grass-roots-driven, and social-media-facilitated participation in the policy realm was activism around the anti-counterfeit and anti-piracy legislation initiatives SOPA, PIPA (U.S.), and ACTA in 2012. The many forms of activism – from corporate responses such as the platform shut-down by Google, to vlogger commentary on YouTube – highlighted the mediated nature of participation and activism around policymaking  (Powell, 2012[xxvi]), and manifested itself in infinite forms all around the world, connecting the local and the global. For media reformers, the scope of their work is indeed an extension of multi-stakeholderism. Are there allies in other countries that experience similar challenges? Are there frames and strategies elsewhere that have worked and that could be translatable to other contexts?


The next blog post will revisit the existing prominent frames of action of different media reform movements and expand on these challenges for different approaches to reform.


[i] Morozov, E. (2011). The Net Delusion.

[ii] Carpentier, N. (2011). Media and participation: A site of ideological and democratic struggle.

[iii] See, e.g., Postigo, H. (2012). The Digital Rights Movement. The Role of Technology in Subverting Digital Copyright.

[iv] Clark, J. & Aufderheide, P. (2009). Public Media 2.0: Dynamic, Engaged Publics.

[v] Benford, R. & Snow, D, (2000). Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment, p.

[vi] Napoli, P. (2008). Public Interest Media Advocacy and Activism as a Social Movement

[vii] Shade, L.R. (2014). Media Reform in the United States and Canada.  In Mansell R. & Raboy, M. (eds.). The Handbook of Global Communication and Media Policy.

[viii] Benkler, Y., Roberts, H., Solow-Niederman A., & Etling, B. (2013). Social Mobilization and the Networked Public Sphere: Mapping the SOPA-PIPA Debate.

[ix] Freeman, D. (2008). The Politics of Media Policy.

[x] Hackett, R.A. & Carroll, W.K. (2006). Remaking media: the struggle to democratize public communication.

[xi] Shade, L.R. (2014). Media Reform in the United States and Canada.  In Mansell R. & Raboy, M. (eds.). The Handbook of Global Communication and Media Policy.

[xii] Jin, D.Y. (2013). The Construction of Platform Imperialism in the Globalization Era.

[xiii] Joergensen, R.F. (2014). Human Rights and Their Rope in Global Media and Communication Discourses. In Mansell R. & Raboy, M. (eds.). The Handbook of Global Communication and Media Policy.

[xiv] Hindman, M. (2009). The Myth of Digital Democracy.

[xv] Napoli, P.M. (2011). Exposure Diversity Reconsidered.

[xvi] Anderson, C.W. (2013). Media Ecosystems: Some Notes Towards a Genealogy of the Term…

[xvii] Cammaerts, B. (2011). Power dynamics in multi–stakeholder policy processes and intra–civil society networking.

[xviii] Hasebrink, U. (2012). The Role of the Audience Within Media Governance: The Neglected Dimension of Media Literacy.

[xix] Scifo, S. (2009). The ways in which public, in all its diversity, can be involved in consultative programming structures.

[xx] Nordenstreng, K. (2013). How the New World Order and Imperialism Challenge Media Studies.

[xxi] Hallin, S. & Mancini P. (2004). Comparing Media Systems: Three Models of Media and Politics.

[xxii] Hallin, S. & Manicini, P. (2011, eds.). Comparing Media Systems Beyond the Western World.

[xxiii] See, http://www.freedomhouse.org/

[xxiv] See, http://en.rsf.org/

[xxv] See: http://mappingdigitalmedia.org

[xxvi] Powell, A. (2012).Assessing the Influence of Online Activism on Internet Policy-Making: The Case of SOPA/PIPA and ACTA