PS: Media Reformers on the Map


Screen Shot 2013-10-26 at 9.57.51 AMDear all: This is a PS to our course. Once more my sincerest thanks and good luck to each and everyone!

Ida and I took a final look at the map you all created. While the media reformers you added do not represent a systematic, representative selection, here are some ideas our map points towards to.

First, Ida’s reflections:

The map indicates a relatively high concentration of individual media reformists and non-profit organisations in Europe and the Western world. Western issues revolve around the concepts of power, censorship, transparency and agenda setting in media. Media reform organisations in China and the rest of Asia battle content issues, legal issues pertaining to human rights, and censorship. This probably has something to do with their governments’ tendency to filter, restrict and censor certain content. Since Latin American and African countries struggle with freedom of expression, I was surprised to find that media reform organisations in third world countries are the least represented on the map. Whether this is due to backward attitudes, lack of resources or plain indifference, it seems that Europe and the Western world are pioneers in advocating media pluralism, freedom of press and ethical issues around the world.

I  promised to think of categories of reformers. Instead, I’m proposing some dimensions that could be applied to these organizations. Without me intending to form these, it seems I came up with these dualisms, or rather continuums between two approaches:

  • Insiders/margins. This is something Hackett&Carroll also discuss: Some reformers focus specifically on the media / comm tech, others discuss it as their work tangents the media. For example, human rights activists may address online hate speech but also other non-media issues…
  • Creators/observers. Some reformers create alternative content or services (community radio, bloggers, AdBusters, open access/source/knowledge), others monitor and act as watchdogs.
  • Professional/grassroots. Self-evident: institutional policy advocates vs. citizen initiatives.
  • Long-term/short-term. Self-evident: Reporters without Borders vs. SOPA/PIPA activism.

What would you add?

Please remember to check out the Policy Briefs and other material by 15.4. I will delete our Dropbox then.

Week 7: Engaged Scholarship


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This week is about the role of the researcher in this multi-stakeholder field of media reform, from several angles. [And, at the end, how to post your Policy Briefs. Thank you Ilona for pioneering!]

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From my perspective,  here’s a short thank you to all of you:

Please take a look at Dropbox. I have uploaded the entire book Communications Research in Action (edited by Phil Napoli & me) on real-life cases of scholar-activist collaborations in the field of media reform and internet rights. And here’s a list of some resources for those who wish to be engaged scholars.

Media activist and evaluation expert Catherine Borgman-Arboleda has written a great blog post (originally for an earlier version of this course) about why scholars and activists should collaborate.

“Why should you care about researcher and activist collaboration? To start, are you concerned about who reads or is influenced by your work? If we look at the number of research citations as a proxy for relevance, most research published in peer-reviewed journals is largely irrelevant! (One study found that papers published in management journals were cited on average of .82 times per year)  This speaks to the need to find other ways to make sure that academically-produced knowledge has other venues for distribution.

But effective engaged scholarship goes beyond dissemination, to thinking about how to make audiences understand research, and even more so how information can lead to a change in action or behaviour, that can lead to new approaches and innovation. Even if a scholar is less interested in contributing to political activism around media and communications and more concerned around building a career (and who isn’t, at least on occasion!) I’ve found that researchers often report that an engaged scholar is simply a better researcher. Researchers often report that the quality of their research improved through collaboration with practitioners.  They find that questions asked are often more relevant, precise and interesting. They notes that the process of talking through the “abstraction” and “jargon” that characterizes academic communication helped the clarity and quality of the writing

A central strand of my work over the last ten years has been about decreasing the divide between research and activism, and finding ways to make knowledge useful for and usedby practitioners. This focus began at the Center for International Media Action CIMA) , where I was focused on bringing together different sectors to strengthen the media democracy/reform/justice and communication rights movements. As I moved into actually doing  (rather than translating or facilitating) research and evaluation to strengthen social justice work (expanding outside the media/communications field), I’ve found myself struggling with this theme on a daily basis.  These issues of relevance and use can’t be just addressed through dissemination, but through actual co-production of knowledge.

In thinking about what might be useful for this course, I thought I might put together a list of key themes that I’ve found to important to consider for anyone interested in doing or supporting engaged scholarship and mobilizing knowledge for use in media and communications change movements.

-Collaborative research is not second nature. Experienced engaged scholars havelikened the process how porcupines make love, very carefully! Collaborative research in general takes more time, and that attention to process is important. Practitioner groups have much different (generally shorter!) timelines, and often many competing priorities that need to be attended to in advancing their agendas. Compounding this, they also generally have fewer resources, and don’t have the security of an institutional job, or access to the benefits a university can provide. Given this, academics need to think creatively about providing support in other ways besides just activities directly related to their research project – such as helping with fundraising proposals, or even in some instances providing transportation to meetings.

-Balancing power. Nearly all researcher/practitioner relationships are characterized by traditional hierarchical power imbalances, especially when scholars are working with marginalized groups. University researchers are often perceived, and often see themselves, as the “experts”. They have access to university resources, and are compensated for their work. It is important the contributions by both academics and practitioners are viewed as equal, although necessarily different, which requires more than just good intentions and paying lip service to equality.  It requires creating space and a process for activist communities to engage at their speed and level. This does not look like throwing them a report, or a proposal brief and asking for any comments within the week. The sharing of resources is essential, and shared compensation is one of the most fundamental means of addressing a need for parity. The traditional hierarchical power arrangements in academic/practitioner engagements can also  be counteracted by both parties collaborating on the planning and design of a project.

Engage groups on the margins. Groups that represent or reflect the interests of constituencies that could be considered new voices for a movement. Scholar-activists often highlight the importance of involving marginalized communities and other under-resourced groups. Moving beyond the issue of rights, this is where the new claims from for social change will come from, creating new ways of doing, new perspectives, new innovative approaches.

-Approaches to dissemination and mobilization of knowledge.

I’m always struck by how little time and how few resources are put into thinking about how research will be transformed into knowledge that is accessible to and used by the audiences who will act on it. There is this underlying assumption that we will write it and they will come. This is especially misleading when it comes to long reports written in obtuse and, let’s be frank, boring academic language, with the key finding buried 10 pages in. This final form/product that the research will take, and the strategy for dissemination are key components of any engaged scholarship research design.  It might be a colourful 1 page of research highlights with key citations that can be lifted for advocacy purposes, or a u-tube video, etc.  The questions that should drive planning for research mobilization are:

-How will the world be different because this research exits?

-Who needs this research in order to make change?

-What format will most engage them?

-How can it be presented in a way that will make it easiest for them to use?


Policy Brief – final assignment checklist

To think about:

  • Who is your audience?
  • How can you represent your knowledge so that it can be understood and embraced by your audience?
  • What is your “Theory of Change” informing your recommendations?
  • Do you have concrete suggestions for action?
  • Finally — the big question in engaged scholarship is to navigate the challenging waters between being engaged in an issue (which one might care for deeply) and being a scholar, doing rigorous research, whatever the outcome. So, although this is not perhaps exactly relevant for the final assignment, engage for a moment in a make-believe:  Whom would you represent, what would your stake be in the issue (do you belong to an organization, are you an activist-researcher,  are you an independent researcher packaging your work for anyone benefiting from it , are you commissioned to do the work)?

To do:

  • Finish the brief. Use one or some of the templates and examples as your guide (= form is important, including the executive summary).
  • Share your work with the rest of us via our Dropbox. Remember, the link here allows view-only. You need to use your invitation.
  • Deadline 9.3. at midnight. Before that let me know if you have any questions.
  • Allow me 7-10 days for feedback & final grade.
  • I will maintain the Dropbox until 15.4.2016. So please take a look at everyone’s briefs, and copy the readings you want to keep, by then.



Guest Post: Roundtable on “Breaking the Bubbles”


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By Ngoc Nguyen

Ngoc Nguyen, together with Anthony Novaro-Boni,  represented the MRIS course at the Development Day 2016 as a rapporteur.  Here’s her personal reflection on the session on Media and Development  – “Breaking the Bubbles”, on the multi-stakeholder roundtable discussion amongst the following participants: Anna-Liina Kauhanen (Jounalist, Helsingin Sanomat), Ullamaija Kivikuru (Professor, University of Helsinki), Kirsi Pere (Communication Officer, Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Pekka Reinikainen (Advocacy and Communication, Finnish Redcross), Anni Valtonen (Editor-in-chief, Maailman Kuvalehti), and Iikka Vehkalahti (Documentary maker and film producer, IV Films Ltd).

Each professional has his or her own unique way of thinking and approach towards development.

From Valtonen’s perspective, journalists and media development–oriented people tend to lie problems. The voice of governmental sector Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Pere states that the government aims to create Finnish policies to understand the development in a broad picture, for example where public money goes and how non-government organizations (NGOs) work towards the development. Kauhanen sees development from the perspective of a journalist; the development is about bringing all news to the public and creating a bridge between the government and the public. Her daily responsibility is to catch up with news, not only within Finland but also all over Europe. On the other hand, Reinikainen from Finnish Redcross is more about connecting the development with disasters. How does the development support situation of disasters if they suddenly happen? Besides immediate actions, plans need to be carefully prepared and in the end be reflected on what to improve in the future. Vehkalahti from IV Films Ltd perceives development from the visual perspective, how to shape a simple view for the audience about certain things. From the academic point of view, Kivikuru emphasizes the importance of stories. There are not only written stories on the media but also an uncountable number of unwritten stories that should have been explored and taken into consideration.

The roundtable discussion brings up an issue between development and distance.

Development is considered as a tool to solve conflict or crisis. It is more important to invest in developing than fixing problems when they unexpectedly happen. Nevertheless, distance issue causes difficulties in making the development. In fact, while stories come closer, it is easier to have them to be heard. People cannot be expected to be interested in something that happens very far away. Importantly, crisis is often seen in a short period of time. Long-term crisis should be foreseen and published on media more often.

What is media responsible for development?

Media is only a platform and everybody is a media of themselves and the society. Therefore, the responsibility is not for individual journalists or media experts. It’s everybody’s responsibility. Media nowadays becomes more objective, which reflects more on the reality and the audience’s perspectives. Instead of bringing up, media criticism should be back.

To conclude, “Let’s break the bubbles”, it is the responsibility of journalists, researchers, stakeholders, and everybody. For example, journalists expect to have coherent content from researchers. Researchers should be proactive in terms of what the audience expects and looks forward, when it comes to issues to be discussed. Without the corporation amongst parties, the development could not have successfully and transparently made.

Week 6: New or Upcoming Issues


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Exploring the work of OKFFI last week already gave us a glimpse of the mediatization of many facets of our lives, and of needs for new practices and regulation. This week’s post seeks to highlight some issues that may be novel to our field, and/or that may not be entirely new but that have become of uttermost importance, or that are issues facing us in the future. For each case, a media reform / internet rights effort will be highlighted:

NEW & NOW: Access

(Reading: W6: Mobile Leapfrogging.)

Access/right to information and communication has always been a site of concrete and discursive power struggles. (Think of the medieval times in Europe: Those who could read and write interpreted God’s will to lay people.) Ever since the the proliferation of the Internet, access to technology has become ever more crucial. For decades, we have discussed the so called digital divide, between the Global North and South (that still exists, see the Internet World Stats, as well as within countries (divides that are caused by age, geography, income).

But it seems that no matter how much more affordable technology and access become, some always have more access than others. As the reading (a policy brief for the New America Foundation) shows, Mobile Internet doesn’t allow quite the same opportunities than high speed broadband with the latest Mac.

This has been a concern for the SciDevNet – a news source for tech and science in development work.  Take a look at their amazing interactive visualization of what access and the lack thereof really meansPackaging information (hint hint!) is indeed a form of activism/advocacy.


NEW & NOW: Privacy

(Reading: W6: After Snowden.)

The rise of the so called Surveillance Society has been perhaps the biggest blow to digital utopians hoping for a more democratic, inclusive, and open world due to the Internet and mobile communications. As the technologist-anti-technologist Evgeny Morozov has famously noted, the very same platforms and apps that foster democratic action also can be used for control.

But it’s not only governments that take part in surveillance. That is made possible by intermediaries — different platforms and other service providers.

The Ranking Digital Rights is a new research-advocacy project that measures how well companies protect individuals.  It launched the inaugural Corporate Accountability Index early November 2015. In this first phase, the project has assessed 16 internet and telecommunications companies according to 31 specific indicators.

Reviewing the ranking results, good news is hard to find. The highest scoring companies, the internet giants Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Twitter, and the telecoms Vodafone and AT&T simply get a pass in securing users digital rights. But it is no surprise that corporate commitment to human rights pays off in practice. The companies that create policies to ensure digital rights, that collaborate with other stakeholders, and that assess their own actions and provide remedy, also fare well in securing users’ privacy.

The same could be said for the losers of the ranking: faring badly in one category means faring badly in most of them.  On privacy, as well as on the overall score, it was the Russian Ltd., with its VKontakte social network, email platform, and Agent messaging platform, that received fewer points than any other company in the entire Index. Given the national context of, this result is not surprising. For instance, Russian law requires all user data to be shared with authorities. As the project researchers note, ‘the line between government and private requests is generally blurry, creating strong disincentives for companies to disclose any type of requests for user data’.

Some unexpected results come from Europe. While data protection laws in the EU are stronger than those in the U.S. the two European companies assessed, Vodafone and Orange, disclose significantly less information about the data shared with the authorities than their American counterparts. In addition, the South Korean mobile platform company Kakao ranks relatively well, right after the big companies, and demonstrates that a serious regard to digital human rights is not only a Western quest by the giants. It can be effectively implemented elsewhere as well, by smaller, national telecoms. But, sadly, the most surprising observation is that not a single company of the total 16 shares any data or statistics on the volume or nature of content they remove, or on accounts being shut down in enforcement of terms of service.

SOON: The Internet of Things

(Reading: PEW Report on IoT, 2014.)

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been a buzzword for a while. One operational definition of it is:

[T]he seamless data flow between the

  • BAN (body area network): the ambient hearing aide, the smart t-shirt, Glass

  • LAN (local area network): the smart meter as a home interface

  • WAN (wide area network): Telematics, ITS, Connected Car

  • VWAN (very wide area network): the smart city as e-gov services everywhere no longer tied to physical locations

IoT is not an isolated issue but very much connected to other media reform/communication rights questions. As one interviewee of the PEW Report noted:

There will be absolutely no privacy, not even in the jungle, away from civilization. I don’t like this, but people have shown over and over again that they are willing to trade away their souls for a ‘$1 off’ coupon. Conversation, which includes not only words, but also movement, eye contact, hearing, memory and more, is such a holistic, pleasurable experience that people will not give it up easily.

Here’s how an expert from Demos Finland expressed the issue:


Another set of challenges is posed if we continue to think about the Internet of Things, or, as I think is more accurate, about the Sensor Revolution. If this phase isn’t thought through carefully, we will end up in a state of digital feudalism. All these developments, like the Amazon Dash Button, make our everyday lives so much more convenient and comfortable. But at some point we need to begin to question what this does to us as humans. If Tinder recommends a bride, and another site suggests the location at which we should get married… At which point do I make the decision? And the challenge is: Decision-making is a tough process and we’d love to avoid it as long and as often as we can.

The Internet is already almost like water. If it doesn’t flow, we’re in trouble. The discourse on [Internet] rights has taken interesting twists and turns, especially when much has been justified with freedom of expression. Those have been important discussions. But as radical as it may sound, I believe we must begin to bring some of the decision-making into the real of public policy, not only private enterprise. We need to guarantee access, and then we can begin to bring in the responsibilities that come with it, for organizations, businesses, as well as individuals.”

Some organizations are already looking into the future in terms of advocating good practices and sound governance decisions. The IoT Council is a Europe-based network-meets-think tank of over 300 experts from the academia and industry, discussing IoT and its numerous implications, from threats to privacy to ways to improve agriculture, disaster management, and other development issues.


SOON: Artificial Intelligence

(Reading: the documentary Transcendent Man.)


As science-fiction-like as it may sound, the biggest development debated right now is Artificial Intelligence. It is, as you will see, related to IoT, but takes the development even further. One of the most fascinating thinkers, futurists, is Ray Kurzweil. He has coined the term singularity:

The Singularity is an era in which our intelligence will become increasingly nonbiological and trillions of times more powerful than it is today—the dawning of a new civilization that will enable us to transcend our biological limitations and amplify our creativity.


There are differing views about timing, but many technologists expect AI to reach human capacity before 2060.  Kurzweil has made numerous predictions on the development of technology, and here’s what he predicted in 2005 for the 2010s:

  • The decade in which “Bridge Two”, the revolution in Genetics/Biotechnology, is to reach its peak. During the 2020s, humans will have the means of changing their genes; not just “designer babies” will be feasible, but designer baby boomers through the rejuvenation of all of one’s body’s tissues and organs by transforming one’s skin cells into youthful versions of every other cell type. People will be able to “reprogram” their own biochemistry away from disease and aging, radically extending life expectancy.

  • Computers become smaller and increasingly integrated into everyday life.

  • More and more computer devices will be used as miniature web servers, and more will have their resources pooled for computation.

  • High-quality broadband Internet access will become available almost everywhere.

  • Eyeglasses that beam images onto the users’ retinas to produce virtual reality will be developed. They will also come with speakers or headphone attachments that will complete the experience with sounds. These eyeglasses will become a new medium foradvertising which will be wirelessly transmitted to them as one walks by various business establishments.

  • The VR glasses will also have built-in computers featuring “virtual assistant” programs that can help the user with various daily tasks.

  • Virtual assistants would be capable of multiple functions. One useful function would be real-time language translation in which words spoken in a foreign language would be translated into text that would appear as subtitles to a user wearing the glasses.

  • Cell phones will be built into clothing and will be able to project sounds directly into the ears of their users.

  • Advertisements will utilize a new technology whereby two ultrasonic beams can be targeted to intersect at a specific point, delivering a localized sound message that only a single person can hear.

Many of the above predictions are here already. Many companies are indeed investing on AI and the examples of the uses are present in our everyday lives. There are plenty of debates about the benefits and risks. Some claim that the people creating the technology are the problem, not AI themselves. Others predict that AI may take over the human race. It’s then no surprise that Cambridge University (UK) has just established a centre for AI Ethics. That will be the new frontier of advocacy and policy.


Assignment and an Important Tip:

Please post below, as a comment, the 250-word (tentative, draft) abstract/executive summary of your Policy Brief! (Understandably, you will still work on your brief until the deadline. But just give us a glimpse of what you envision will be the result.) Remember to note for whom you are composing the brief.

A Tip: I received a very smart question about what the recommendations should be. Can one suggest something that is not directly derived from research or equivalent? A policy brief is most often, if not always, based on empirical evidence. It can be academic research, or, more applied work. In your case, you are most likely gathering research that exists about your topic. (Doing your own, original research within this timeframe would be rather difficult.) That said: Very seldom do academic research efforts offer direct policy  solutions. You, writing the brief, are the expert distilling the take-aways, suggestions for solutions, options for action,  from the research. As noted, there are cases and contexts in which your suggestions might be more general (“Finland should invest more on Open Knowledge public-private partnerships”) or more specific (“The Ministry of Education should create an anti-bullying online campaign for 2017, for all ala-aste level students, entailing the following elements: XX YY ZZ….”). It depends who you represent and  for whom you are repackaging the information. In addition to the resources in the instructions, here are some more examples and templates:

In sum

What do these new issues have to do with media reform? Once again: the borders between communication and other aspects of life are blurring. Now, more than ever, we need to have a broad look at information, communication, the media, and knowledge.
What do policy briefs have to do with it? Given the exponentially complex set of issues, and stakeholders, creating solution-oriented knowledge, and packaging it appropriately to relevant recipients, will be a major task for researchers in the future.



Guest Post: “Lack of professionalism in journalism is a MR problem”


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By Anthony Novaro-Boni

Anthony Novaro-Boni represented the MRIS course at the Development Day 2016 as a rapporteur. Here’s his personal reflection on the session on Media and Development  – “Breaking the Bubbles”.

In my opinion, one of the most important ideas to highlight from the development day is the lack of professionalism from some journalists. It seems that nowadays, profit and popularity are more important than truthfulness, sincerity or involvement in real problems. Most of the time, they take what they find, without any sources or maybe one or two, and publish it. They do not try to deeply understand, to think about what will happen on people’s minds with these ideas or which “phenomenon” it will create. Then, if the news are wrong, they will remove it or apologize. It shouldn’t work like that.

As an example of this immaturity of journalists and media, during the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, a TV channel was following the Special Forces for the operations. While terrorists were in the Bataclan (theatre and concert place), some people were hiding themselves and chatting with the Special Forces. The TV channel was telling where these people were in the building and how the army would enter inside (their strategy). The terrorists could watch the news. It shows how they didn’t care about people’s lives, they only tried to increase their audience…

Another issue of this lack of professionalism can be about people ideas and minds. If a popular media publish or say something, most of the people used to follow it will believe it and appropriate it as liable, even if it is wrong. We got a real example from Cologne (Germany): during the New Year’s Eve, hundreds of girls were sexually abused and media said that all the aggressors were refugees. After investigations, the Police admitted that on the 58 offenders, 55 were note refugees. This is an additional proof that media can be leaded by pre-edited ideas (as we know, all media are ruled by specific ideas: religion, politics, capitalist…).

Moreover, with the increase of social networks (Facebook, Twitter), the flows of media can be really high and fast. As a journalist said during the debate, she chooses some news but cannot verify all the sources and make sure that it is right. For me, if a journalist is not sure about something, he shouldn’t publish it. The mission of journalism is to give us processed news, not to copy and paste.

Then, one thing about this idea of lack can be the knowledge expressed by the journalists. Each one should be supposed to know everything or almost everything if the field that he is working for. However, when you hear some journalists talking about politics of legal affairs, they are only remaining what we already know or contrariwise, they use many specific expressions that the major part of people will not understand.

In my mind, journalism is not completely affected by these issues but it is increasing. As students from university, we learn how to be objective, how to think by our own and try to disentangle fact from fiction, to do not make hasty conclusions. Knowledge and professionalism are the best weapons against mistakes.

F2F Session 17.2. Recap & Final project Instructions


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1.Session recap, with the Special Guest Star Teemu Ropponen of OKFFI


2. Final Project, in stages

Instructions can be found here.

(a) Due next Wed 24.2. at midnight: Think about your TOPIC, FOCUS, and AUDIENCE and post it to our Padlet digital sticky note board. (Password emailed to you, tip: the acronym for the course, 4 letters, in caps).

NOTE that I will create the collaborative  platforms as soon as I’ve seen your initial ideas on Padlet. So: those who didn’t attend today F2F can screen the session, think of a general idea, post it to Padlet,  and connect&collaborate with others next Wed. It seems that hate speech/cyber violence were the most popular topics.

(b) Due Wed 2.3. at midnight: A tentative abstract / summary of your Policy Brief (250 words).

(c) Due Wed 9.3. (midnight). The final Policy Brief (see the instructions for detailed instructions and templates).


3. Grading Rubrik

You will receive an individualized run-down of your grade at the end of the course.

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Week 3. “Old Issues”


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It is probably not hard to envision what the mass media era challenges for democratic communication were. These are the questions you most likely have encountered in some classics of communication and media/cultural studies: concentration of ownership, dumbing down of content resulting in distrust in media and political systems, lack of diversity in media portrayals, and harmful effects of media (as opposed to the idea of active audiences).

This may be a crude simplification but let me try to express the overall picture by adding on to the basic analytical axes we have discussed.

Mass Media Era – Defining Concept is Diversity; the core focus is media organizations

  Macro Meso Micro
Local Lack of policy support for localism (news) Lack of diversity in local media (classic case: standardized format radios taking over community –orientated radios) Underserved, underrepresented citizens
National Lack of policy support for diversity (deregulation, ownership concentration). Intensified competition with same/similar content Underserved, underrepresented citizens/ voices/issues
Global “Americanization/ Westernization” of the global media landscape. Rise of copyright regimes to support the media as products. Dominance of global media conglomerates, based in the Global South. Underserved, under-

or misrepresented voices/issues,

both locally as well as in international news


Digital Era – Defining Concept is Access (to technology, to free expression) vs. Safety; the core focus is nations vs. citizens

  Macro Meso Micro
Local Lack of policy support for local services (e.g. broadband access to areas that are not commercially viable). Affordability (lack of) of services in remote locations Underserved citizens – you need online connections for everything
National Re-emergence of state control over communication – restrictions of freedom of expression; misinformation; surveillance “Intermediary liability” – global platforms interacting with national government – and Net neutrality Underserved, underrepresented citizens/voices/issues. National filter bubbles.


Digital unsafety

Global Platform Imperialism; restrictions of freedom of expression; misinformation; surveillance “Intermediary liability” – global platforms interacting with national government – and Net neutrality. Underserved, underrepresented citizens/voices/issues. Global filter bubbles.


Digital unsafety

Food for thought: Do you agree? What would you change or add? Please comment below if you have suggestions – omissions, additions, other criticism?

Let’s now examine a couple of “old-school” issues through a couple of activism/advocacy cases:

Ownership Diversity

As noted during Week 1, vertical and horizontal concentration of ownership were the main concerns of (Western) media reformists in the 1990s, early 2000s – something that brought the movement from grassroots to advocacy. A core book is McChesney’s “Rich Media, Poor Democracy” (2000). This infographic illustrates the issue we all know so well. The Free Press was founded to gather together different organizations for systematic policy advocacy.

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A very different example of an umbrella organization that deals with ownership (and content) diversity, active since is 1983, is AMARC, the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, “an international non-governmental organization serving the community radio movement, with almost 4 000 members and associates in 130 countries”.

But the challenges of big media are not over (Freedman told us about that last week, as he does this week with his scholarly article on media ownership, in Dropbox).

Just some examples: As we discussed, the big 5 dominate the digital landscape. Some call it Platform Imperialism (see the excellent article in Dropbox). In terms of legacy media, the U.S. is battling the Time Warner’s pending merger with Charter Communications. The latter has even signed a MOU with civil rights groups to ensure better content diversity.

Access Info Europe (Defending and Promoting the Right of Access to Information in Europe) campaigns for more transparency in ownership, noting that

In only 9 of the 20 countries can the public find out who the actual owners of the broadcast media are from reporting to media regulators or to company registers.

… and the Council of Europe has even composed a draft resolution about it.

But the digital era has heightened another aspect of ownership, namely authorship and copyrights. As Larry Lessig, a law professor and activist notes in his book “Free Culture” (free for you in Dropbox), the more media production was industrialized, and the more mass markets grew, the stricter the copyright regimes. Lessig’s book is a classic. And his advocacy-action organization, Creative Commons, has created an alternative licensing system for artists wanting to collaborate and offer their work for free to others to recycle.

Henry Jenkins, then, showcases how fan culture in the era of user-generated content, and big mass media moguls, clashed. (Fan culture could be called activism, too. The text, “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars”, can be found in Mandiberg: Social Media Reader, Dropbox) The report on piracy in emerging economies (Dropbox) also shows how piracy is an important part of certain economies.

Content Diversity

Content diversity has been another classic issue of media reform. The idea that market-driven media is only concerned about ratings, and purchasing-power of its audiences, has sparked many a community/alternative media outlet. Even more importantly, pirate radios and later blogs, Facebook groups, Twitter, and so on, have enabled communication that in mainstream media, in certain contexts, would be banned.

One of the most everlasting themes is gender diversity (or the lack thereof)  in media portrayals. And by everlasting, I mean — literally. The Global Media Monitoring – Who Makes the News project was coined for the 1995 UN Beijing World Conference on Women. It started with some 70 countries where journalists, scholars, and activists monitored news for a day. The research has since become the largest longitudinal research effort with over 100 countries participating – but its main purpose is to inform policy-making (and it’s always featured at the UN session of the Commission on the Status of Women). The coordinating advocacy organization is WACC.

The 2015 results are just in, showing that little has changed and the online world hasn’t really made a difference. Just one of the facts that doesn’t seem to change: only 20% of experts in the news are women. Even the Nordic countries, the flagships of equality policies, do not fare any better than other countries in the world:


Hundreds and hundreds of activists and organizations all around the world have addressed this challenge. Just to highlight one: Women’s Feature Service, based in New Delhi, has been working to change this disparity since 1978. Its mission is to create awareness about women’s lives, rights and concerns and generating professionally edited stories on them for the media every week.

But in the enlightened online world, where everyone can participate freely, this problem shouldn’t exist. Or, maybe in conventional news sites, but not in most digital platforms?

You guessed it: Wrong.

Perhaps the most blatant case, the one you probably have heard of, is that of Anita Sarkeesian. She’s a gamer-activist who has begun to review video games from a feminist perspective. Her observation is that gender roles and portrayals in games are severely stereotypical:



This may sound like an obvious statement. One may also dismiss this as silly complaint: She’s talking about gaming, not the news. However, the rape, bomb, and death threats Sarkeesian constantly receives because of her vlog on gaming are very real and vicious. There are also hundreds and hundreds of YouTube videos mocking her. Her experiences are shared with many women journalists who publish online. (It’s interesting that scholars haven’t written much about this. Only this week, I saw a call for papers on online misogyny.)

These are just some examples. Issues related to gender are plentiful (see the Gender and the Media Global Agenda for Scholars, in Dropbox.)

The Old and New World Meet, and Clash

Finally, I will leave you with an example that I find to be the most poignant about the clash of the mass media and digital media era: the Pirate Bay and the Pirate Party. The former is a Sweden-run torrent (file-sharing) site, the latter a movement – that became a network of political parties – based on the free sharing ethos of online world.

If you only can, I suggest you take time from your busy schedules to screen this documentary about how big conglomerates came after the Pirate Bay. It shows many interesting aspects of the changing media landscapes and the ideas of ownership and free expression; and how technologically savvy individuals can affect and upset big media. It also shows how media governance has had a hard time to keep up with the changing landscape, and values. Take a look – perhaps we can discuss this for a moment on the 10th!



  1. Old assignment continued.

Please update the map of last week: Do the activists/advocacy organizations you mapped deal with ownership/content issues? Make a quick note of that on the map. If not, find and add at least one organization/individual that does.

  1. New assignment, anticipating the sessions on strategies and tactics (10.2. & 17.2.):

Please create a Storify showcasing an interesting/successful/dreadful (!) case of an activist action or campaign trying to reform ownership and/or content issues. (So here’s the platform.)

The idea is to highlight some strategies and tactics in a form of an online storyboard. Please add a few sentences to summarize the smart or awful strategies and tactics you have identified.

You can use the Beautiful Trouble book (Dropbox) as your inspiration. Perhaps you can also identify some theories of activism mentioned in the book.

Here’s a one minute tutorial if you haven’t used Storify before:


In order to create you will need to sign up for a Storify account. Use any email and screen name you like.

Please post a link to your story below, as a comment. Please do so before our next session, 10.2., 14hrs.

  1. Option: Your opportunity to be an engaged scholar and media activist!

Instead of the Storify assignment (or any other remaining online assignment) you can write and pitch a journalistic story about any issue related to media and power that you know about and/or have researched — but that doesn’t make the news!

MediaPowerMonitor is a newly launched  community of writers (journalists and researchers) writing bluntly and crisply about power and media. It seeks journalistic contributions of 500-700 words long about media reform and justice issues. At any point during this course, and instead of any assignment, please feel free to submit a story about an issue you think deserves attention. You can email it to me at:  I can’t guarantee your story will be published — that depends on the editorial board — but I am certain you have untold stories  about media power to share, so please do so.

See you next week! University Main Building Room 7 at 1415. In the agenda: Strategies, tactics, and the final project intro.

If you can’t be there, let me know — and check out our blog the following day for the recap and instructions on how you can catch up.

Week 2. Advocates and Activists – Stakeholders in Making Change Happen


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Media activism/advocacy — or, in other words, Media Reform — has been addressed as a social movement of its own right, and has begun to be studied as such, only fairly recently. 

  • Hence, scholars from various disciplines — from legal studies to cultural anthropology — study it. So can you — choose your specific angle.
  • Hence, definitions,  classifications, theoretical frameworks are still vague…
  • …And they will probably remain so. Media landscapes change faster than ever. New issues, or old issues in new forms, emerge constantly.

It is good to keep in mind that in real life, all kinds of borders and classifications are never definitive. For instance, the broad movement concerned with globalization certainly entails sub-movements specifically focusing on media-related questions.

Through the Media, About the Media

IndyMedia, a case many of you might know, is a good example: Was it  an in and of itselfScreen Shot 2016-01-25 at 4.43.44 PM an alternative media outlet challenging mainstream media agendas, or was it a vehicle of the so called ‘counter-globalization’ movement? Well, both.

Still, it is useful to have a broad framework in mind when mapping the communication-related activism, and related research. Activism can be about the media and/or through them.

Circuits of Stakeholders

Somewhat more theoretically, we can follow Steward Clegg’s (1989) idea of the circuits of power. Originally, Clegg theorized about the context in which power is being used and in which it potentially appears. He views power as a process that has several circuits. The first is the overt, or macro-level, circuit of (political) decision-making. The second is the systemic-economic circuit of power that contextualizes policy-making decisions (this is what we can see within organizations). The third, social, circuit describes cultural meanings, membership and belonging – elements that also provide context to the macro-level circuit (and what we can experience as individuals in our everyday lives). We can perhaps understand media reform activism and advocacy through these levels: pertaining to national/international legislation, to individual (media and other) organizations and to individuals’ rights and responsibilities.

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 4.45.37 PM

Old vs. New; Diversity vs. Rights

Even if the break-down into circuits seem straight-forward, issues related to media and communication technologies seem sometimes divided by some invisible watershed in history. You may have noticed this during your studies. There are ‘mass media’ scholars from journalism, cultural studies, political economy, sociology; there are ‘science and technology studies’ folks that analyze networked cultures. (Media law people seem to cross borders more easily.)

Similarly, in Media Reform movement the ‘old media issues’ of ownership concentration and biased content, and their relationship, often remain separate from questions of access, intellectual property rights, privacy, net neutrality, online freedom of expression, and so on. 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.

In other words, the movements that were born in the mass media era  were mostly about the democratic deficiency of lack of media (ownership, content, localism) DIVERSITY. More recent movements are (once again, think of the UN UDHR) framed as digital human RIGHTS.

Here’s how I have summarized the dilemma from the perspective of media governance:

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 5.53.11 PM

But, again, these differences described above do not really exist, do they?

In terms of biased, ‘narrow’, content, we know the power of legacy journalism, but also viral hate speech online. Lack of accountability in terms of media ownership, and the power of the big corporations is no longer an issue of only the News Corp and Disney.

As a news story from last week highlighted, five companies rule the digital world. Or, as the Economist put it a few years ago, a Game of Thrones battle of sorts is happening in ‘new’ media business. Many have noted their commercial power 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.

Remember Context

Another dimension to the question of stakeholders.

While many issues, from censorship to surveillance, are no longer national, nations and regions still matter. Media Governance — that is, who gets to control the media — is both a global and a local matter.

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.

As this outline of media governance shows, a part of the governance does happen in multi-national contexts:

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 5.57.50 PM

Yet, much of media regulation is nation-bound. National mass media systems differ from authoritarian, to free market driven, to public service-oriented ones (where some of the media, often broadcasting, is supported by public funds). And old mass media regulatory frameworks often influence attempts to nationally regulate the Internet and mobile communications.

In addition, much of the history of consumption, of political participation, of economic structures still influences the present. They affect global challenges and bring about specifically local issues.

Frames of A & A

Finally, yet another dimension to media reform stakeholders and actions is how the stakeholders themselves position their work, and the core philosophy behind it. Before going any further, one distinction about terminology, commonly used: Activism often refers to grass-roots, not-so-institutionalized, often (but not always, think of counter-globalization activism, again) smaller-scale activity. Advocacy is used in the context of more established and organized forms of civic activity, such as lobbyist groups (however radical).

Hackett & Carroll (Chpt 4) and others have mapped different movements or ‘frames’ of action and towards more democratic and diverse media. Labels are just that: names. They may vary depending on the scholar mapping the field. To follow the categorization H&C use, one way of defining the frames is as follows:

–       The frame of the free press is concerned with the basic freedom of speech, and all forms of censorship.

–       Right to communicate follows that train of thought but sees right ti communicate as a human right and extend the idea of free speech to the right to communication in public for a, i.e., there should be such platforms for all who wish to express themselves publicly.

–       Media democratization stresses the importance of democratic processes in media decision- and policy-making; very often challenging the specifically corporate and commercial media culture. Media reform is a term often used synonymously, or somewhat more broadly to entail all kinds of considerations regarding media structures, not only questions directly related to policy-making.

–       Cultural environmentalists parallel toxic media culture (violence, one-sidedness, hypercommercialism, and so on) with environmental movement: the desired outcome would be a humane, healthy media output (less emphasis on democratic processes within media structures).

–       Media justice refers to activism that views media issues as a part of other global social justice questions. It often addresses matters of race, class, gender, and so on.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 5.22.11 PM
















The figure above also shows the movements in terms of their ‘radical, reformist’ position, as well as their position regarding individuals vs. communities (e.g., the free press ideology is often based on the idea of the individual freedom of speech; media justice issues often pertain to ‘minority’ or underserved communities).

Arguably, these are  categories that do not fit each and every situation. Violations regarding the freedom of the press, for example, may in real life be directly connected to the power struggles between minorities and majorities, some collective solidarities not being allowed to be voiced.

Also, for instance: Where would surveillance and privacy issues fit into the model? (The Cultural Environment frame seems like a good candidate, although it traditionally focused on media violence, and such. But our new media environment is ‘polluted’ in many ways.) Or, is there a frame for (anti-)copyrights? Is it simply about media democratization?

Nevertheless, mapping of the frames does give a broad outlook on philosophies that have driven media activism and advocacy in the past decades. And perhaps you can, suggest new frame/s based on your own work?

The other axis in the figure refers to the strategies of change that are dominant within each frame. Should one promote legislative changes, regulatory procedures within existing systems? Or should one call for a more fundamental transformations, perhaps changes of entire media systems and decision-making governing them, or more support to alternatives to the mainstream media?

Take note: all of the above influences the nature, and actors, of all kinds of media reform movements.


Hackett & Carroll (Chpt 3) note that three kinds of groups potentially engage in struggle for more democratic media:

(1) Those within and around media industries – journalists, other media professionals, librarians, communications researchers. Today, we can add information technology specialists (just think of Manning, Swartz, and Snowden) into this group;

(2) Those who are very dependent on media in relation to their ‘cause’ (anti-globalization movements are a great example, again; but organizations that see the power of ICT4D could be); and

(3) Those ‘diffuse’ sectors who occasionally mobilize for better media when they feel that media pose a threat to their cause (e.g., a classic example would be children’s protection/rights activists that might oppose violence on TV, be concerned about children in social media, and so on).

H&C wrote their book a decade ago. Give it a thought: To what extent iss their view still accurate?

I suggest that we can add at least a few other groups in the mix:

(4) Semi-professionals. As mentioned by many, citizen journalism, for example, has flourished in the past decade. Is it media reform — reforming the news media landscape? Could we call organizations such as Wikileaks a media reform group? How about crowd-sourced crisis mapping platform Ushahidi — that clearly performs public service?

(5) Foundations. Many international foundations understand the power of the media in the processes of democratization — or maintaining democracy. For instance, the Open Society Foundations (global; former Soros Foundation) Mapping Digital Media project seeks to provide information and data for activists, advocates, policy-makers and other stake-holders. Nominet Trust (UK) ranks most inspiring social media innovations, and so on.

(6) Consumers/Users/Netizens? How much can we change by our individual actions?

Any others?


Given these many media landscape shifts, how should we should conceptualize, support, and act towards ‘media democracy’? Multi-stakeholder modeling has been offered as the solution by scholars and change-makers alike.

The idea of using a multi-stakeholder approach to conceptualize media-related issues and processes is nothing new. Multi-stakeholder modeling has been used, for instance, in tracing technological diffusion in media industries, by mapping developments in organizational, industry and environmental levels, or discussing how to frame media ethics. Also, the field of media management has embraced the concept of ‘multi-stakeholderism’ over the last decade. For example, McQuail, 2000 (whom many of us might have read) has discussed the many ‘pressures’ that a media organization faces from actors, ranging from competitors, news agencies, owners, and unions, to those that have legal and political control; from diverse pressure groups and other institutions; distribution channels and audiences to pressures created by events and constant information and culture supply.

Yet, Internet Governance, and the UN-driven IG Forums  has brought the need of multi-stakeholder dialogues in the forefront of policy-making, as well as media reform mobilizing. The challenges are so great that without the collaboration of governments, the industry, and the civil society, there is no way to democratize the net. Here is a wonderful account on multi-stakeholderism in Internet Governance by Consumers International.

Opposing Views

But how to organize and mobilize? Collaboration is not ‘second nature’ to most of us. (That is why one of our sessions is focused scholars as media reformers.) Different stake-holders have different interests, and events like IGF seem disappointing to many. Another case in point? Christina Dunbar-Hester provides an interesting analysis (in Jansen Chpt 13, Dropbox) on how radical media democracy activists, policy advocates, and scholars find themselves in relation to a particular issue. And some question the dominant ‘story’ of what media reform is as a movement, framing it around US-centric, policy-centric, blind to other social justice struggles.

Real Voices

Let’s hear it from those who do media reform. Here are the voices of some stakeholders from around the world.

(1) From old to new: Media Reform Advocacy Embracing New Challenges. Here’s is a MRIS interview with one of the key stakeholders in the field, Tim Karr of The Free PressTim is the Senior Director of Strategy for perhaps the most impactful, and most well-known, media reform organization in the world.  US-based, and initially US- focused, The Free Press has brought together different organizations working for media democracy, and organized highly successful National Conferences for Media Reform to strengthen collaborations.

Tim talked to us about his definition of media reform, and of ways to make change:

Please see also his TV interview on Corporatocracy and the Internet, his and C.W. Anderson‘s insights on the Egyptian revolution and how the tools for freedom of expression can also be used as tools of repression, and his great blog on current affairs around media and comm tech.

(2) New issues that unite: Internet Rights, Globally. Media democratization is a global movement, in many ways. Here is a video produced by a Brazilian documentary project on the freedom of the Internet It includes interviews with bloggers, activists and academics – including Amira Al-Hussaini of Global Voices, Matisse Bustos Hawkes of WITNESS, and Rebecca Mackinnon — filmed during a Global Voices SummitGlobal Voices is a network of bloggers and other media activists around the world, making a difference with their alternative news stories. Its sister project, Global Voices Advocacy, is a network specifically concerned about freedom of expression and access to information.

Also, explore this thorough, and global, list of  of organizations and initiatives around Internet Freedom, compiled by  Rebecca MacKinnon — she is the author of the Consent of the Networked, and the co-founder of Global Voices.

(3) An academic-activist speaks out. Those who already checked out last week’s “In the news” email from me may have encountered Prof. Freedman’s blog post about how How to Fight Media Power. The big trend in the field of policy-making and social change work,  is “evidence-based policy-making” or K2P – knowledge-to-policy. Now researchers have an apt opportunity to be activist-advocates — or do they? Power plays into scholarship on media and media reform as well… Prof. Freedman has embraced the role full-on, but we will address opportunities as well as challenges in a few weeks.

Assignment: More Voices!

  • Read the W2_readings from our Dropbox that support the above briefing:
    • Hackett & Carroll Chapters 2 and 4: Framing the change issues and agents
    • Dunbar (in Jansen, Chapter 13): , and
    • Hintz & Milan: multi-stakeholderism and grassroots movements
    • EXTRA READING UPLOADED, just FYI, for those who are especially interested in ICT-driven social movements (that are not necessarily media reform movements).
  • Mapping. The above ‘real voices’ are limited (and very Western). Let’s crowdsource some interesting examples of media reform actors (activists, advocates) around the world!
    • Here is a link to a Google Map that I have started. You can edit it via that link. Please add three (3) organizations/groups/individuals with a short description, and a related link (if applicable) to the map!
    • If possible, can you “categorize” the actors you map in any way (mass media reform, Internet Rights, frames by H&C)?
    • Also, please identify yourself with your first/screen name in the beginning of your tag, e.g., [Minna] so I can see who has contributed what. This map will be a great resource for us all in looking at different cases of stakeholders around the world!

Week 1: A Long Journey, and our journey begins.


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Welcome to look at the media and communication technologies through the lens of reform, advocacy, and activism.

This first week is a hefty descriptive introduction, painting the big picture (or pictures) with a broad brush. We will discuss the idea of media reform (what and why), as well as some global benchmarks and the re-birth of the movement(s)  in the 1990s (the how of the recent past). This is to lay out a foundation of more detailed, nuanced scholarly discussions to follow. However, please also note that a part of the course focuses on very concrete strategies and tactics, as well as related hands-on work. This introduction will hopefully serve both the theory and praxis dimensions of the course. You will have plenty to read/watch, but the assignment for next week is an easy one, to balance your workload.

  1. Basic Definition: Media in Need of Reform

Social reforms can happen and be supported through the media.  In other words, people and civic organizations that strive for social change may use the media as a vehicle to further and support their cause. But sometimes the media themselves need attention. Individuals and organization  may work on misgivings and defects of media systems, content, reception and access.

In this course, we concentrate on the latter issues and stakeholders: problems and related movements regarding the media themselves, and scholarship supporting that work. While Media Reform is not an unified movement, its topics are clearly linked to a better — more democratic, inclusive, open, just, egalitarian, transparent — world. It is essentially about redistribution of (symbolic and economic) power that is directly or indirectly related to mediated communication.

Here is a 5-minute refresher crash course by the journalism visionary Dan Gillmor: He highlights the power of communication (technologies) throughout the human history — and the battle over control:

And here are some important issues, in your own words (from the questionnaire):

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 10.58.20 AM

  1.  Communication and Democracy in the Global Context

Most media reform stakeholders and activities in the past decades have focused on national contexts — mass media, after all, were structured around national systems. But the philosophical grounds are shared in many countries. Ever since the Greco-Roman tradition of public communication as a tool for problem-solving and decision making (think Aristotle & Socrates) the ideas and ideals of communication and democracy have been closely linked. The rise of mass media in the 19th century took that idea to another level when information could be shared, at least potentially, not only by the elites, but by vast groups of people, regardless of economic or social standing. No wonder the printing press was influential in educating and activating the proletariat.

Later on, in the 20th century, many countries chose to establish a public broadcasting system to ensure several components that had to do with the media’s relationship with democracy: universal access to media contents; diversity of all kinds of contents (famously, the trinity originally attributed to the BBC: public media should inform, educate and entertain); as well as a variety of voices and viewpoints, also those of minorities. In the academic contexts, the normative model of the public sphere by Jürgen Habermas was often used in defense of such thinking: a democracy needs a diverse functioning media to guarantee a public sphere where citizens (virtually) meet to debate (rationally) and agree (consensus) on common issues.

The above discourses on media and democracy have a Western conceptual history, but with globalization have become prominent in international contexts. The idea of Development Communication often included the idea of (more) universal access and, hence, establishment of vehicles of public service media.

To illustrate this: here’s a 3 min. poignant video about the role of the media in international development — something that is increasing in importance for the Global North and South alike:


As we know,the  Internet and mobile communication multiplied opportunities and challenges. The new platforms also made many media reform issues increasingly borderless, global. The array of slogans of transformations includes: Globalization of media markets and conglomerization (often vertical integration) of media companies; fragmentation of audiences and their transformation into prosumers; deregulation of media policies; commercialization of media structures – and an incredible proliferation of platforms, contents, and producers of media.  All this affected traditional media as well as networked and mobile communication.  In terms of the global outlook, the idea of democracy and democratization now embraced the concept of ICT4D.

The context of the United Nations and global debates on the role of the media reflect the above development:

Freedom of Expression is defined already in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1946, Art. 19.

The discussions on Right to, and Freedom of, Information entered the 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.

Read more here from a short summary article on the historical developments above.

Much of the recent debate has focused in the Internet and Human Rights. In late 2009, Finland declared broadband access a legal right. The UN followed in 2011 in declaring the importance of access:

Given that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all states,”

– Frank La Rue, a special rapporteur to the United Nations,  in his report to the UN Human Rights Council

But while human rights seem universal, they can also been seen as relational and contextual, even when we think about the Internet. For instance, the question of access may include challenges of corruption and concentration of ownership, as some African activists argue.


  1. Yesterday: Media Reform Revived as a National Project, and beyond

While the UN was discussing the media in terms of global development and justice, the 1980s and 1990s revitalized debates about the need for democratization of the media, especially in the United States. Undoubtably, media reformists (broadly understood) have existed as long as the media, whether as community radio projects or culture jammers, all around the world. However, the increasing commercialization and globalization of the media landscape brought grassroots activism into policy advocacy sphere, most vocally in the U.S.. Many groups, from consumer advocacy organizations to women’s media collectives, decided to mobilize their supporters. Here is a short article by one of the key players, Robert McChesney , from 2002 that explains the situation well. The quote highlights the tone:

The role that US news media have played in narrowing and warping the public discourse since September 11 provides dramatic evidence of the severe limitations of contemporary American journalism, and this nation’s media system, ,when it comes to nurturing a viable democratic and humane society. It is now time to act upon that anger to forge a broader, bolder and more politically engaged movement to reform American media.

What happened was quite remarkable. A Philadelphia-based small pirate radio collective Prometheus Radio challenged the ever deregulated corporate media ownership rules by suing the U.S. Federal Communication Commission — and won. Behind the case were hundreds of organizations and individual researchers who collected evidence and gathered citizen support for more diverse media landscape.

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 12.12.30 PM

This victory sparked the interest of activist and scholars around the world and legitimized media reform as a living (albeit very broad set of) movement/s. With the rise of online communication, media reform issues that had been about broadcast media and print journalism, begun to shift to questions of Internet. More about this shift next week, as well as during the sessions on “old” (3.2.) and “new” (24.2.) issues.

4. Back to Power: Media Reform as an Object of Study

As the diversity issues you highlighted in the questionnaire show, Media Reform is not, and cannot be, a unified concept with a grand theory. At the same time, much of journalism, critical studies, media sociology, media economics and policy studies, and most other fields concerned about the media and communication technologies all, in essence, trace different dimensions of communicative power.

In universities, the early and mid 1990s witnessed a surge of thinking and public debates around the democratizing power of the Internet. The most hopeful utopias of deliberative online communication and formation of active ‘subaltern counter-publics’ (term by Nancy Fraser) were countered with fears ranging from trivialization, fragmentation, even disappearance of widely and commonly shared issues, to viral distribution of non-democratic, “harmful” content.

Now the same debates are re-emerging once again in era that is witnessing the explosion of “social production” in a multitude of digital platforms. Most scholars agree that participation via informal networks including social networking sites and microblogging has played a major role in democratic and democratizing processes. Yet, we face  issues such as privacy/surveillance, copyrights, and the digital divide (access to digital communication, as well as competence to communicate and participate). Click Here to Save Everything is not a solution, as the anti-techno-utopian thinker Evegeny Morozov muses.

One thing seems certain: We are living in an increasingly mediatized, and networked world. Many scholars, and an increasing number of practitioners and ordinary citizens around the world, have begun to collaborate in bringing awareness to what Hackett & Carroll (Chapter 1) call the Media’s Democratic Deficit. Their list includes:

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. As Matthew Hindman’s recent research shows, web traffic, too is very concentrated, and the most popular blogs are written by a handful of professionals, often connected to mains stream media outlets.

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 (Intellectual Property Rights).

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.

One could argue, then, that studying media reform and related movements could be defined as studying any attempts to address, and better the democratic deficit related to the media and communication technologies, some important aspects of which are listed above.

5. Summary: Media Reform and Related Movements Work for a More Just Media

In sum: Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 7.49.28 AMThe media are powerful proponents and/or opponents of democracy – and that’s why people care. Different media forms and forums are used by social movements to advance their causes.  At the same time, the media themselves entail social justice issues, the issues of democratic deficit, that interested scholars and specific civic organizations seek to address. Forming an unified movement is a challenge, especially in the international context, as issues are diverse, and ever more complex in our society. What ‘just’ means, for different stakeholders, is another matter.

As noted above already: On the variety of issues and kinds of  movements, e.g., Media Reform vs. Internet Right, please come back next week to find out more.



(1) Please go to our Dropbox and read texts marked W1. 

These texts will give you a sense of how the short history of what we could label Media Reform is concerned about — whether we discuss legacy media or Internet Rights. They also highlight different levels of reform, from the grassroots to the U.N.

  • Hackett & Carroll, chapters 1 and 3 (for now): An overall background discourse on Media Reform as a (set of) movements.
  • McChesney, at least chapter 7, but those interested in journalism, check out chapter 6 as well: Robert McChesney is the Grand Old Man of Media Reform, a professor as well as an advocate. You need to “read” his voice.
  • Pickard’s article on key past global and institutional (the U.N.) macro-level attempts of media reform and the politics of policy-making…
  • Please also read my very short account of the current WSIS+10 process, here.

(2) Please introduce yourself below as a comment.

A “light” assignment for the first week, for us to get used to the routine 🙂

  • Let us know who you are in terms of our topic: Why are  you taking this course and what “media reform issue” or issues, broadly defined, have you encountered in your own life? (We as scholars and professionals often discuss issues of social justice  and reform in a general manner and from a societal/organizational standpoint. Advocates and activists are most often personally invested in the issues they engage in. Share with us if/how the media’s democratic deficit has impact you as a scholar/professional/ordinary citizen/media consumer in any way.)
  • Note that when you post for the first time I need to moderate your comment. As I live in New York, I might not be online when you are — so allow some time for your first comment to appear. Your subsequent comments will post immediately.
  • Do note that this is a public platform for anyone to access and read  (in theory). Would you like to preserve your privacy, please use any screen name you want. However, when you post for the first time you will be asked to submit your email address. Please use the email you registered to this course with. I am the only one to see the email address and can then identify you with that email.
  • Due Wed 27.1. at midnight.