Welcome back!

This week, we will look at some of the  kind of stakeholders involved in media reform movements. We will focus on the reformers rather than other stakeholders (media organizations or governments). We will also embark on the first part of our engaged scholarship experience, as this week’s assignment.

Readings that relate to this week are:



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.

That said, it is interesting that in the pre-course quiz, most of you mentioned the very basic issues of media and power: freedom of expression and freedom of journalists. More about your views when I have received answers from all who participate in this course.

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 7.41.26 AM.png

2.Through the Media, About the Media

IndyMedia, a classic case many of you might know, is a good example of the murkiness of media reform definitions.

The Independent Media Center (www.indymedia.org), was established by various independent and alternative media organizations and activists in 1999 for the purpose of providing grassroots coverage of the World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle. The center acted as a clearinghouse of information for journalists, and provided up-to-the-minute reports, photos, audio and video footage through its website.

Was Indymedia an in and of itself an alternative media outlet challenging mainstream media agendas, or was it a vehicle of the so called ‘counter-globalization’ movement? Well, both.Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 8.38.07 AM.png

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.

3. Old vs. New; Diversity vs. Rights

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 framed as digital human RIGHTS.

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

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 8.29.29 AM

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. 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.

4.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 2017-03-22 at 8.29.36 AM

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.


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

Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 9.12.03 AM(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  — technology for development –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, those resisting xenophobic hate speech, and so on).

H&C wrote their book a decade ago. Give it a thought: To what extent is 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?

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 6.47.42 AM.png

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 Internet Governance Forums, have  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.

7.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 the  annual multi-stakeholder Internet Governance Forums seem disappointing to many. Another case in point? 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. And, as I recently learned from the German scholar Christine Horz, for instance public service broadcasting is currently such a contested, populist topic in Europe, that it is used as a bait by the so called astroturf advocates — who want to rile up popular opinion against public media (to benefit their corporate backers).

8.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 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, the director of Ranking Digital Rights, and the co-founder of Global Voices.

(3) An academic-activist speaks out. Remember Prof. Freedman?  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. Below he is being interviewed by Tim Karr at the National Conference on Media Reform (2013).


9.Your assignment

This week, we are meant to dive right in into the practices of media reform. This is one of the two main assignments (this and the final paper) for the course.

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 6.59.43 AM

We will get to know two reformers close up and personal:

  • MediaPowerMonitor (MPM) news site is a one-year-old site that reports news about media power absent in mainstream coverage. The contributors are journalists, scholars, and other volunteers. It is a collaborative effort but initiated by the Romanian journalist Marius Dragomir who now runs the Center for Media, Data and Society at the Central European University. (Full disclosure: Des Freedman and I contribute.)
  • Ranking Digital Rights (RDR) Corporate Accountability Index is a multi-stakeholder effort of non-profit organizations and universities to create a tool to hold big corporations accountable to basic digital rights of their customer-consumers.

Here we have two kinds of stakeholders: an alternative news source, focusing on the strategies of  “Know the Media, Be the Media”; and a consumer / digital rights advocacy coalition, focusing on “Know the Media and Change the Media”.


Tomorrow Thursday, 23.3., the second rankings of RDR will be launched in Washington DC.

Your assignment: Write a news story for MPM about the RDR launch and the most intriguing results.

  • 500-700 words, crisp and compact piece of journalism. Check out MediaPowerMonitor for examples.
  • Choose your angle: Do you want to  highlight the main findings? The views of the panelists? Focus on one powerful company? Focus on one issue — Freedom of Expression, Privacy, or Corporate Governance? Report on the discussion online about the rankings?
  • Due asap, latest next week Wednesday midnight (but the sooner the better).
  • If you agree, I will submit your piece for consideration for MPM for publication. They cannot publish every story but would like to get several from this course. Please indicate in your submission whether I can send to MPM for consideration.
  • Email your story to minskiaslama@gmail.com
  • Please be in touch for any questions!

Below is the video of the launch. You can probably find the key facts faster by looking at the summary of the report  and the visualization of the results — but the panel conversation (starting at 50 min.) is very interesting. The participants: Rebecca MacKinnon, Director, Ranking Digital Rights @rmackMelissa Brown , Partner, Daobridge Capital (China-focused direct investment and financial advisory firm), Arvind GanesanDirector, Business and Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, @hrwNiels ten Oever, Head of Digital, Article 19 (medi afreedom non-profit based in London) @conflictmedia.

… And remember to check out #rankingrights and by following @rankingrights.


10. Thinking ahead

Take this assignment also as a background research for your final paper. For the final paper, you can choose to:

  1. Focus on RDR as a project; analyze its results more in-depth / discuss the methodology and other strategies and tactics (I’m sure RDR folks would be available for interviews, for instance); or
  2. Use RDR as  a springboard to a broader research of one of the issues: Freedom of Expression; Privacy; or Corporate Governance. (Those interested in journalistic freedom or hate speech can find one starting point here as well: What is the role of these intermediaries; what is intermediary liability? FoE and privacy are naturally tightly connected to harmful content online).

More about the final paper in a few weeks.