Public Service Media: Exit Through the Back Door?

[Originally posted at mediapowermonitor.com]

Recent turbulence at the Polish public broadcaster was seen by some observers as another political football game. Public broadcasting will survive any market or policy changes, however tumultuous they are, they say. But public TV has fallen out of political favor in many countries now. Even well-established broadcasters in western countries are likely to be dramatically downsized.


The real test: finding the back door

Poland has been featured in global news in the past weeks. A controversial law was passed that allowed the replacement of the directors of Polish public TV and radio with political appointees.

The Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) notes that this may well be the first step by the Polish government in curbing all free media and commercial outlets. CIMA also reminds us that just a few years before Poland, Hungarians witnessed a severe media crackdown.

Many might indeed disregard events in Poland as symptomatic to relatively young public media countries. Most experts have contended that that public service broadcasting (PSB) has existed as a principle, as well as as an institution, for almost a century in many Western European countries. It has been an essential tool in building nation-states and European democracies. This is why, it has been argued, PSB and its version including digital platforms, public service media (PSM), will survive even tumultuous changes in media markets and in government policies.

Or perhaps not: One of the first countries to disregard public service ideal of independence and plurality was Italy, a PSB country by long tradition. During Silvio Berlusconi’s regime of four governments, the Prime Minister had the power over both his commercial media conglomerate as well as the public service broadcaster RAI.

Lately it seems that public service media have truly fallen out of political favor in many European nations. It may have seemed shocking when the original Greek public broadcaster ERT was abolished in 2013 following a government decision (ERT did reopen in mid 2015). But now we have heard the news from Poland, and also Iceland. The centre-right Independence Party of that Nordic country proposes “selling certain State assets”, including the State’s share in Iceland’s national television and radio broadcaster, RUV.

Serious re-envisioning of the possible future of public service media is happening in mature public service countries such as Finland. While a parliamentary working group will announce their vision around mid 2016, a ministerial working group on media markets has recently suggested that the Finnish public broadcaster YLE should drastically reduce its own operations and act as a distributor and purchaser of Finnish productions.

This so-called public service producer model has been proposed in the U.K. a few years back. But now things in Britain may just resemble the situation in another country. The columnist Peter Preston noted in The Guardian about the most revered public broadcaster in the world, the BBC, and its ongoing charter renewal process:

“Would anything very much about the recent history of BBC governance – or now, amid the churn of change – pass muster in Warsaw? Freedom can turn to sausagemeat anywhere you look.”

Indeed, CIMA reports that according to the watchdog organization Freedom House, already six EU countries – Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Romania, and Slovakia – rank as merely “partly free” in terms of press freedom. Is it that, while proponents of independent media and scholars of democracy happily continue to believe in the sanctity and eternal life of PSB, conservative political and other powers-that-be have no nostalgic love to spare to those ideals? The worst scenario is that not only public broadcasting but broader communication rights are slowly making a quiet exit through the back door.

 

Media Governance? Basic Perspectives

This is an introduction to Week 2 of ICM 835.

As this is our first content session, here is a road map to how we can understand the basics of MG.

We start from the perspectives that most often use the very term Media Governance, that is, fields that are interested in policies (whether their implementations, e.g., laws = legal studies, or policies as a larger part of societies = social scientists, esp. political scientists and political economists). The look is often that of the macro-level — societies — but implications pertain to the meso level (individual organizartions) as well as the micro level (us individuals).

Definition

Discussion on the definition of this buzzword by Karppinen & Moe, in their critique of ‘Media Governance’:

‘Media governance’ has been one of the most influential notions in the field of media and communication policy in recent years.

Media governance as an umbrella term … “covers all means by which the mass media are limited, directed, encouraged, managed, or called into account, ranging from the most binding laws to the most resistible of pressures and self-chosen disciplines.”

As such, the term encompasses both policy and regulation, to depict “the sum total of mechanisms, both formal and informal, national and supranational, centralized and dispersed, that aim to organize media systems according to the resolution of media policy debates” …

Scope of governance:
  • Macro-level – societies
  • Meso-level – organizations
  • Micro-level – individuals

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  • Local
  • National
  • International
Governance and its Off-Springs – the Policy Perspective
Dr. Des Freedman of Goldsmiths College, London.

Dr. Des Freedman of Goldsmiths College, London.

As Des Freedman (Week 2 readings) notes, governance is the umbrella concept under which policies (specific to different aspects of our media and communication landscapes) are formed. Regulation, then, forms a specific set of tools to implement policies.

Philosophies – The Policy Perspective

Phil Napoli (Week 2 readings) highlights the three main foundations, or views, or philosophies that tend to inform media governance and policy-making. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but in real life, one of them tends to dominate in a society:

  • Free Speech
  • Public Interest
  • Marketplace of Ideas (see the video):
Key Areas – The Policy Perspective

Phil Napoli’s text also highlights the basic areas of governance:

  • Content
  • Structure
  • Infrastructure

[Minna’s note: in the mass media era, the idea of diversity was at the core of media governance debates: diverse voices as represented in media contents and diversity of ownership vis-a-vis monopolies. The Internet has brought us questions of infrastructure and access, but also brought back issues of censorship and surveillance in the era of seemingly infinite amount of content and content-creators.]

Assignment of Week 2

Due 2/6 by midnight. Individual assignment, submitted via email to aslamam@stjohns.edu

In our mediated world many unexpected, not-so-evident issues relate to media governance. Also, there are many contradictory developments that policy-making needs to tackle.

On one hand, we hear about our digital footprints that will exist online until eternity. The EU and Argentina have instituted policies about ‘the Right to Be Forgotten‘, i.e., the right of a citizen to demand that information about him/her must be erased (see the fact sheet about this recent case Google vs. a Spanish Citizen — the right is by no means without controversy.)

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 1.13.15 PMOn the other hand, we have the problem of the Web erasing itself, as depicted in this recent article by the New Yorker – for you to read for Week 2 assignment. I chose it precisely in that it describes a complex, many-sided, and not-so-evident media governance issue — that has several serious implications regarding societies and democracy.

Your task is the following:
  1. Read the above mentioned article.
  2. Read the texts shared on BlackBoard / Facebook, marked W2 (by Freedman & Napoli).
  3. Reflect on the NYer article from a policy-making & legal perspective:
    • Identify a key governance issue/problem/dilemma mentioned in the article (you can be broad or focus on a specific issue discussed in the article);
    • Identify its scope or scopes – can you see what it might mean for a society, for an organization, and for an individual (lay person); can you see whether it’s more of a local, national, or international question;
    • Think of the key area or areas the issue addresses; and
    • Come up with a policy suggestion as well as a proposal for a concrete regulatory measurement

Write a short, 1-3 paragraph account of the above and email it to me.

This assignment means getting our hands dirty right away; diving into the practice of analysing governance and translating it into policies and regulation during our 2nd week. Please dare to try, even if it feels foreign at this stage. For this reason, your submissions are individual and emailed to me directly. I will share a compilation of good responses (anonymously) with you after 2/6.

Teaser for Week 3

Media governance can also be looked at from a more cultural perspective — socio-cultural norms and values inform governance and policy-making. Bree, Andrew, & Frank pointed this out already on our Facebook conversations. Week 3 will be about exploring this aspect.

{learning} Digital Dissidents_ICM820

After looking at our online generosity, we now look at online rebellion. This post is an intro to the theme you will explore via a documentary.

The dividing line between helpers and dissidents is ambiguous if not arbitrary. Often, a specific issue inspires a community that both aims for socio-political and cultural change, as well as offers support (helper) functions. An example of this could be the YouTube-based It Gets Better project, an  initiative that seeks to offer support for Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer youth.

Similarly, there are different modalities of ‘digitally enabled social change’. For example, in their research, scholars Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport suggest this continuum of online activism from e-mobilization to e-tactics to actual e-movements:

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Digital Dissidents for Democracy

In terms of major aspirations of radical structural change, and acts of resistance, we all are familiar with the the  powerful examples of the Arab Spring, and brave individuals and groups (not only “We Are All Malala” but  also “We Are All Khaled Said”). Yet, political Internet activism has long roots, for example in the Mexican Zapatista movement.

Social media have recently brought different opportunities, and challenges, to E-mobilization, E-tactics, and E-movements. Here’s an insightful account by Rasha A. Abdulla,  associate professor in the department of Journalism and Mass Communication at the American University in Cairo: The Revolution Will Be Tweeted. Read her account of Egyptian Spring — and if you’d like to ask any questions, please post below!

2012-06-28 09.16.42Movements have gone global because of digital media. Arguably, the Occupy Movement, for example, has used an interesting mix of communicative tools and media, from hand gestures to online and mobile organizing — but certainly spread around the world because of social media. (Here’s a fascinating account of the birth of the movement). Occupy Sandy broadened the movement from protesting to doing hands-on disaster relief work. It also spurred a collaborative documentary project.

Other times, social media platforms feature more spontaneous political reactions and protests, such as the infamous YouTube Muhammad video and its tragic aftermath — and the related Twitter response #MuslimRage that followed, as a protest to a mainstream media story  (a condensed account with a great discussion and a slideshow on HuffPost).

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[Source: http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/19/opinion/obeidallah-muslims-rage/]

This excellent article from The Guardian showcases an array of examples of political digital humanitarianism (my term, but I’m sure you know where I’m going with it). The blog iRevolution, mentioned in the article, is one of my go-to sources of all things techie assistance from disasters to revolutions.

Media Reformers

But we have also discussed how, sometimes, digital platforms are not only tools for democracy, but tools for surveillance by non-democratic regimes (as Evgeny Morozov notes).

And that leads us to a very particular form of digital community-building for social justice, the one by those communities that are concerned about our digital (human) rights, and reforming the media themselves, for a more democratic world (the terms often used are Media Reform and Media Justice).

Here’s a short and simple video I did (for a group of Freshmen students) on digital human rights; here’s a related blog post.

In some cases, and countries, media reform efforts take an organized, official form. An anti-copyright movement transforms into a political party, as in the case of the Pirate Party that is active in numerous countries.

Although internet access and digital divide are often considered as basic questions of infrastructure, and hence most often considered as the responsibility of national governments (and activism seeks to change those policies), there are numerous free wireless and mesh network projects that help underserved communities to gain access.

In other cases, issue-driven global communities are formed to counter corporate-driven Internet. Some advocate for, and create, open source code (see Katrina’s great comment on this as a reply for the Digital Helpers assignment); others wish to create a global community that wants to share their creative work with a self-defined licensing, not by corporate-owned copyright.

Back to Basics: Internet Freedom

Yet others are fear for diminishing freedom of the Internet itself. Apart from blatant censorship 2012-07-16 13.52.43and dramatic government responses such as the recent one in Syria, there are more ‘subtle’, yet no less important, challenges. Here’s a short video by the journalist/researcher/global internet freedom activist Rebecca MacKinnon (once more — she’s a favourite — in the Oslo Freedom Forum). Using the Nordic telecom company  TeliaSonera as a poignant example, she’s discusses her concern about the ways in which commercial imperatives and business practices may, in fact, endanger free online expression.

Here is an extensive list, compiled by Rebecca, of global and national organizations(communities?),  that work for maintaining the freedom of the networks. (Perhaps you’ll find inspiration from the list for your country case?)

And Personal Democracy Media, the TED-like organization of practitioners, scholars, activist, policy-makers already mentioned earllier, offers great video lectures on Net Policy & Activism. The videos showcase how important media policy-making has become in terms of democracy (and possibilities of community-building), and how it thus become a great interest to media-focused activism.

Hacktivism

Yet, there are also are those who wouldn’t be interested in participating in global deliberations, but who use direct digital actions to make their voices heard; those whom some call cyber-terrorists, others hails as freedom fighters: The Anonymous and other hacktivist groups. Here’s a great article by the anthropologist Gabriella Coleman on the nature of the Anonymous as a community — “Our Weirdness is Free” (see also her article in the Social Media Reader, in Dropbox) And here’s a Wikipedia timeline on the activism of The Anonymous.

These are all concrete examples of the transformative power of digital media. But they still are relatively isolated experiments, digital communities for social justice only in the making. So the question becomes: Are we, postmodern individualist humans, capable of working together for true freedom and equality? Now that we know more about the world, and connect more easily with others, than ever before in human history — can we really accept others? Or are online communities temporary and fleeing constructions?

Technology isn’t good or bad — it is what we make of it. And as one of the founders of the Pirate Bay, the file sharing site that helped to spark the founding of many European Pirate Parties (political parties), notes:

“You can’t beat politics with new technology all the time. Sometimes you have to actually make sure that politics are in line with what people want. A lot of people are giving up on politics and thinking they can solve issues with technology. These kind of arrogant behaviours towards the rest of the society are a bit disgusting,”

Media Freedom in Europe – a new map by Ushahidi

Great news — a project to map media freedom, with Ushahidi:

Index on Censorship and Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso are joining forces to map the state of media freedom in Europe. With your participation, we are mapping the violations, threats and limitations that European media professionals, bloggers and citizen journalists face everyday. We are also collecting feedback on what would support journalists in such situations. Help protect media freedom and democracy by contributing to this crowd-sourcing effort!

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