IAMCR 2014: Abstracts for panel and paper

In July 2014, papers based on this project were presented at the IAMCR annual conference in Hyderabad. The abstracts can be read below:

Panel discussion

Ownership, power and old v new media: international approaches to policy and regulation – Political Economy section

  • Chair: Judith Townend, lecturer, Dept of Journalism, City University, UK and Research Associate, University of Westminster, UK
  • Dr Benedetta Brevini, lecturer in communication and media, University of Sydney, Australia [abstract]
  • Prof Daya Thussu, Professor of Communications, University of Westminster, UK [abstract]
  • Dr Winston Mano, Reader in Communications, University of Westminster, UK [abstract]
  • Professor Steven Barnett, Professor of Communications, University of Westminster, UK [abstract]

While politicians and policy makers have spoken eloquently over the last 20 years about the fundamental importance for democracy of a diverse media, the direction of travel throughout the world has been towards consolidation of media enterprises and further relaxation of ownership regimes. This trend has been exacerbated by a worldwide recession, thereby enabling politicians conveniently to marry the realpolitik of not confronting media power with industrial arguments around liberalisation and deregulation.

More recently, however, there have been indications that the political wind is changing. In the UK, a succession of senior politicians and former prime ministers attested with disarming honesty to the Leveson Inquiry about their failure to deal with burgeoning media empires, in particular Murdoch’s News Corp. In Italy, Berlusconi’s waning power suggest that his own media interests may be threatened. In Australia, renowned for its highly concentrated media, the findings of the Finkelstein Inquiry and Convergence Review led to a set of radical media reform recommendations which proved to be politically unpalatable. And globally, the growth of so-called “digital intermediaries” such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and ISPs are raising new issues about informational gate-keeping, global power, national identity, and the implications for democracy.

This panel will examine this confluence of political and technological change and the questions it raises about media ownership, regulation, convergence and digitalisation for policy makers around the world. It will assess the policy discourses in the countries listed above, to what extent concern is expressed or manifested about media ownership, and what public interest safeguards exist or have been proposed to combat undue concentration. It will compare policy approaches and outcomes, and in particular will analyse the extent to which the new global digital corporations are seen as benign or potentially malign influences by policy makers. It will seek to draw conclusions on where and how successful policy interventions have been made, and to differentiate the autocratic and democratic use of state power in those interventions.


Artisanal news: how can national and transnational media policy help sustain and grow an emerging hyperlocal sector? – Community Communication section

[Presentation – PDF]

Co-authors: Steven Barnett and Judith Townend (presented by Judith Townend)

The hyperlocal label is used variously, but can be applied to a new breed of local media platforms, independent of large media organisations and covering local, rather than national, geographical areas. Research conducted by the Creative Citizens project (Cardiff University and Birmingham City University) and the Media Power and Plurality project (University of Westminster) shows that while UK-based community, neighbourhood and hyperlocal sites differ in their self-perceived role, ambition, content and level of resources, they have the potential to fulfill an important democratic and civic role in the media landscape. This raises important questions about the role of media policy to help sustain and grow these outlets, an important supplement to traditional local media publications.

Such questions are particularly pertinent to the UK where current discussions around media plurality have been prompted by the Leveson Report, by an ongoing Government consultation, and a new report from the House of Lords communications committee. Despite the welcome focus on media plurality issues, little attention has been paid to the potential democratic contribution of hyperlocal and online community media. Based on the authors’ empirical data – which includes results from the most extensive survey of the UK hyperlocal sector to date – and analysis of policy and industry documents, this paper explores the potential policy options for sustaining this sector and enabling the development of new platforms. We look at existing explicit and implicit subsidies of the UK local media, including community radio grants, council spending on statutory notices in printed newspapers and VAT exemptions for printed titles, and consider how these revenues could be opened up to new digital players.

This national case study then opens up wider questions for international media policymaking. While access to tailored and specific content is crucial for people living in common geographical areas, it is also necessary at a global level. As initiatives such as Global Voices Online have shown, community and non-mainstream media allows the world “immediate and direct contact with citizens in crisis in local contexts”(Sigal 2010). The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) 2003-5 paid attention to media pluralism “media based in local communities”; focusing on language, heritage, environmental diversity and rural populations. Our paper re-visits this agenda in light of the subsequent emergence of a digital hyperlocal media sector in the UK and other countries. It asks whether national cultural and regional differences inhibit transnational generalisations, or whether there might be policy transfer implications for other countries wishing to develop community-based hyperlocal models.