Thursday, 14 November 2013

Recent trends in media regulation


 
Kristofer Jäntti blogs about the CAMRI/FACE workshop in London


Traditional broadcast media is facing financial challenges from both reduced public funds and the increased importance of the media, as well calls for public guidelines for regulation in the wake of Snowden-gate and the UK phone-hacking scandal. Last week Communications scholars from Finland and the UK held a workshop discussing the future of European public broadcasting as well as the prospects of increased public oversight. These changes have consequences for democratic society.

The financial crisis and the ensuing austerity measures as well as increased digitisation has led to public discussion about the future funding of public broadcasts. In Finland the public broadcaster’s (YLE) future has secured through replacing the tv license fee with a progressive ‘media tax’ levied on on every citizen irrespective of whether they own a television or not . In Greece the state has taken another course of action and to shut down public television and radio altogether, with the hopes of reestablishing it as a more streamlined operation in the future.


Underpinning these discussion is the demise of traditional media consumption. Dr. Marko Ala-Fossi offers a gloomy assessment for the future of terrestrial television. He argues that the increased competition from internet-based media is threatening the position of television as the preeminent mode of electronic mass communication. For example, he notes that recently the ITU World Radio Conference in 2012 decided to allocate the 700Mhz band for mobile broadband in addition to to the initial 800Mhz, to the dismay of European broadcasters who are left with less space for terrestrial and digital television.


In fact, there are worries that the days of terrestrial television broadcasts are numbered with German commercial broadcasters ending their terrestrial channels in 2015. An issue that was raised in the workshop was the question whether we are moving towards a fee-paying model due to constraints on budget to maintain terrestrial infrastructure combined with competition from pay-TV competitors, such as Sky TV. Dr. Ala-Fossi suggests that there is a possibility that with the demise of terrestrial television may result in free-tv disappearing altogether.  In terms of the knowledge gap, as discussed in earlier blog posts, the rise of fee-paying broadcast model may increase the divide between those who can afford to pay satellite channels and those who cannot.

In addition to the possible consequences of the demise of terrestrial television is the question of how to ensure media plurality,especially after Hungary’s controversial introduction of their new media law that is feared to curb freedom of speech. This controversy over state intrusion has, according to Professor Steven Barnett, overshadowed concerns about media concentration in the private sphere. In particular, he notes that the Commission’s policy in this area, until recently, has been to leave plurality concerns to the level of member states themselves. Now there is a European Citizen’s Initiative calling for ensuring media plurality on the EU-level, however the 12, 000 signatures so far is a far cry for the one million required for the Commission to take action.

However, recent policy developments are fostering greater concentration in emerging technologies. Dr. Maria Michalis highlights the fact that EU’s telecommunications policy is undergoing a paradigm shift in which the need for innovation take primacy over other concerns, such as competitive markets and consumer welfare. She argues that this shift is likely to lead to more lenient regulations as well as the temporary toleration for monopolistic market structures in new technologies  in order to create European companies strong enough to challenge the American giants.

Lastly, Dr. Daniel Trottier highlights some unexpected developments in digital media surveillance. He argues that in addition to ‘top-down’ surveillance of social media à la NSA there are also instances of ‘bottom-up’ surveillance whereby citizen vigilantes ‘crowdsource’ information in order to police the web. An example he introduces is the case of a Canadian Facebook group that collected information from other Facebook users in order to identify rioters who took part in the Vancouver riots of 2011 following the defeat of the Vancouver Canucks in the the Stanley Cup. He  notes that some identified suspected rioters lost their jobs and scholarships.

Dr. Trottier’s research shows how top-down and bottom-up surveillance are using the same social media platforms. The Internet no longer offers the anonymity it may once had and there is the risk that citizens may have their personal information used against them, if not at the behest of state authorities, but also enthusiastic by fellow citizens.

In conclusion, the direction of media research is to see how policy-makers are to respond to some of the challenged emerging from the changes  in our media landscape. The emerging consensus, so far, is that the EU has not been effective in enacting laws that ensure media plurality in the interest of citizens, despite the European Parliament’s activity in this area.

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