Program Background Papers
What can be done to aid researchers, advocates, and activists in producing, finding, and mobilizing relevant research and data? What can be done to facilitate the analysis of reform activities and strategies, and support the growth of broader conceptual frameworks and linkages between issues? What would a robust knowledge infrastructure for public-interest media look like?
These and other questions shaped a two-year process of field analysis, consultation, and planning, which led to the creations of the Necessary Knowledge for a Democratic Public Sphere Program and Media Research Hub. In this process, the SSRC partnered with other institutional actors motivated by a similar concern for the missed opportunities and missing patterns of cooperation among research producers and users in this field. The Center for International Media Action (CIMA), the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU Law School, and the Donald McGannon Communication Research Center at Fordham University were principal partners. The background papers available on this page were our preliminary effort to map the fragmented terrain of media research and media reform, and identify opportunities for fostering stronger knowledge networks. Our collaborators consistently identified challenges of:
Production: more timely and responsive production of research for communications activism and advocacy, built on a stronger, better-coordinated ‘culture of collaboration’ between researchers and activists in the U.S. and internationally.
Distribution: better access to and sharing of data – particularly commercial data sources – and better mechanisms for finding and utilizing relevant research, especially for, but not limited to, activists and advocates.
Capacity: stronger and more diverse research talent in the communications arena, leading to better institutionalization of communications policy work in the academy.
Scope: greater attention to the international dimensions and venues of communication policy and reform, including better integration of U.S. networks in comparative and global settings.
The papers collected here were commissioned for an April 2-3, 2005 workshop. Collectively, they paint a vivid picture of the research and advocacy landscape around media reform – both its limitations and opportunities.
William Dutton provides an introduction to the core elements of the SSRC planning agenda: 1) understanding the relationships between researchers, media reform actors, and policy processes; 2) strategizing ways of strengthening research-activist collaboration in the U.S. and internationally; and 3) mapping the issue space that joins them to larger concerns about the public sphere and democratic culture.
Philip M. Napoli explores the recent expansion of the range of research questions relevant to policymakers and policy analysts, especially with regard to normative considerations that fall outside the legal-economic realm that characterized media policymaking in the past. He sees this as an opportunity for broader engagement by researchers and more effectively deployed, research-based, public-interest advocacy in the policy process.
Harold Feld describes the coordination and communication problems that plague coalitions of academics and advocates in the media reform field, ranging from the lack of shared understanding of concepts, to the abuse of research findings by industry advocates, to the general opacity of the research field for the majority of participants. The ad hoc coalition formed during the recent media ownership struggle is his primary example. Feld suggests a number of ways of mitigating these problems via the creation of resource libraries and training workshops.
D. Linda Garcia, Ellen Surles, and Qi Chen explore the role of institutional ‘interfaces’ that support communication between different categories of actors within policy making processes – in this case, the Office of Technology Management (OTA) in regard to technology policy and the more recent role of the blogosphere in media ownership debates. Because policy processes are composed of discrete but overlapping activity fields, the most effective actors are those who can span these fields. The relative balkanization of discourse on the blogosphere in the media ownership debates suggests caution regarding its suitability for this role.
Ren Bucholz describes the paucity of evidence-based policymaking in the copyright and filesharing arenas, and the relative disconnect between intellectual property reform advocacy and the broader media reform movement. Filesharing – a tool for decentralized media distribution – is a point of obvious contact between the two. Other common goals, such as improved metrics for legislative accountability and expanded access to knowledge, offer other strategic opportunities.
Sasha Costanza-Chock contrasts state and market-based concepts of public interest media with decentralized approaches rooted in the autonomist media tradition, and explores the potential of horizontal techniques of research and data collection to contribute to the critique of those concepts. Blogging, open publishing, visualizations, and other digital tools can provide both new sources of understanding and new ways of presenting them in compelling ways to different audiences.
Martha Wallner analyzes the role of alternative media producers within the larger arena of media policy reform, noting the relative success of Low Power FM radio and community WiFi mobilization and the relative marginalization of alternative media from recent media concentration debates. She argues that the prevailing ‘commons’ discourse surrounding regulatory reform suffers from a lack of connection to existing practices of media resource management in local communities.
Dorothy Kidd, Bernadette Barker-Plummer, and Clemencia Rodriguez focus on the need for perspectives on communications networks and policy that are rooted in the practices of the ‘counter public sphere’ – spaces where marginalized groups come together and articulate problems. They analyze the relationship between media reform actors, the alternative media sector, and social movement features that link to dominant media practices. Citizen radio in Colombia and The Media Deregulation and Community Politics Project in San Francisco provide primary case studies.
Sean O’Siochru examines the role of research in international communications policy, from the top-down expert-driven liberalization agendas of the 1970’s, 80s, and 90s, to the emergence of civil society actors and development agencies in the late 1990’s, to the recent opportunity to inform pro-development ICT policy at the World Summit on the Information Society. The current situation presents opportunities for researchers to help articulate a compelling post-liberalization agenda for ICT policy.
Aliza Dichter offers a history and typology of past efforts to coordinate the media reform sector and draws on lessons learned from the governance, goals, and sustainability of such efforts. The Telecommunications Policy Roundtable, the Cultural Environment Movement, Videazimut, the Free Expression Network (FEN), and the APC Women’s Networking Support Programme (APC WNSP) furnish primary cases.
John Durham Peters provides a classically grounded account of the role of knowledge and information in democratic societies, of the types of knowledge claims that ground most media reform positions, and of the complementary role of the social sciences in generating knowledge about democratic practice. New communication technologies have transformed not only the media, but also these dynamics, expanding the scope of available information, the range of public participation, and ultimately, the difficulty of useful synthesis and coordination.