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
|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
|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.
|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.
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:
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
New assignment, anticipating the sessions on strategies and tactics (10.2. & 17.2.):
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.
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: email@example.com 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.