Week 2: What Would Political Economists Say?

0. Preface: Let’s Talk about Online, Assignments, and Grading

As you know, studying online gives you some freedom and flexibility, but also requires some self-discipline and scheduling, so that you can keep up with the weekly assignments. My suggestion is that you will check out the weekly post/lecture/briefing and assignment soon after it’s been posted here and then earmark a time in your schedule to do the readings and the assignment. You will always have a week (or sometimes more time) to complete the weekly assignments.

I have received a request to talk about the assignments and grading.

I will host a Google Hangout on Wednesday, 2/1, at 5pm. I will send you all a link to join around 4:30pm that day.

If you can’t make it, and you have questions, come see me on Thur 2/2 anytime between 515-6pm (details under the tab “Contact”).

But now to the issue of Media Governance, Week 2 Briefing. I suggest you begin by reading the texts marked in your Google Drive as “W2”: McChesney Chapter 1 (only); Freedman;  and Napoli. Then proceed to the following briefing and assignment description.

1.What? Definition Once More

Discussion on the definition of this buzzword by Karppinen & Moe, in their critique of ‘Media Governance’:

‘Media governance’ has been one of the most influential notions in the field of media and communication policy in recent years.

Media governance as an umbrella term … “covers all means by which the mass media are limited, directed, encouraged, managed, or called into account, ranging from the most binding laws to the most resistible of pressures and self-chosen disciplines.”

As such, the term encompasses both policy and regulation, to depict “the sum total of mechanisms, both formal and informal, national and supranational, centralized and dispersed, that aim to organize media systems according to the resolution of media policy debates” …

The Media and Communication Technologies in Focus

In one word: media governance is about power. And we live in a very special era related to mediated power:

The early and mid 1990s witnessed a surge of thinking and public debates around the democratizing power of the Internet. The most hopeful utopias of deliberative online communication and formation of active ‘subaltern counter-publics’ (term by Nancy Fraser) were countered with fears ranging from trivialization, fragmentation, even disappearance of widely and commonly shared issues, to viral distribution of non-democratic, “harmful”content.

Now the same debates are re-emerging once again in era that is witnessing the explosion of “social production” in a multitude of digital platforms. Most scholars agree that participation via informal networks including social networking sites and microblogging has played a major role in democratic and democratizing processes. Yet, we face  issues such as misinformation, social fragmentation, privacy/surveillance, copyrights, and the digital divide (access to digital communication, as well as competence to communicate and participate). Click Here to Save Everything is not a solution, as the anti-techno-utopian thinker Evegeny Morozov muses. One thing seems certain: We are living in an increasingly mediatized, and networked world.

Here is a 5-minute refresher crash course on media power by Dan Gillmor: He highlights the power of communication (technologies) throughout the human history — and the battle over control:

Ability to create and control messages has throughout human history been a tool for power. And since we live in a more media-saturated world than ever, where everyone (at least in theory) has opportunities to create content and to be heard. Hence: Media Governance bears more importance than ever before.

How? Scope of Governance

Given that the broad interest of Media Governance is power, and that we live in an era where user-generated content prevails, we can actually broaden the definition by Karppinen & Moe (above) and look related issues at three distinct levels:

  • Macro-level – societies. This level means the ways in which governments and other national/international organizations govern the media and communication technologies.
  • Meso-level – organizations. Meso (“middle”) level would mean the guidelines, rules, and processes through which organizations govern their participation in the media landscape, whether internally and/or externally.
    • Many examples: The Social Media Policy Database: A list of social media policies of a variety of for and non-profit organizations, including universities. The Database also entails several templates for organizational social media governance.
  • Micro-level – individuals. How do we as individuals manage our communicative actions?


2. Media Governance – From the Perspective of Political Economy and Policy Studies

Dr. Des Freedman of Goldsmiths College, London.
Dr. Des Freedman of Goldsmiths College, London.

As Des Freedman (Week 2 readings) notes,

1.Governance is the umbrella concept

2. under which policies (specific to different aspects of our media and communication landscapes) are formed.

3. Regulation, then, forms a specific set of tools to implement policies.


Phil Napoli (Week 2 readings) highlights the three main foundations, or views, or philosophies that tend to inform media governance and policy-making. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but in real life, one of them tends to dominate in a society. They are:

  • Free Speech
  • Public Interest
  • Marketplace of Ideas (see the video):

Key Areas – The Policy-Making Perspective

Phil Napoli’s text  (Week 2) also highlights the basic areas of policy governance:

  • Content
  • Structure
  • Infrastructure

Minna’s note: in the mass media era, the idea of diversity was at the core of media governance debates: diverse voices as represented in media contents and diversity of ownership vis-a-vis monopolies. The Internet has brought us questions of infrastructure and access, but also brought back issues of censorship and surveillance in the era of seemingly infinite amount of content and content-creators.

Key Levels – Political Econ is about Macro

Political economy, branch of social science that studies the relationships between individuals and society and between markets and the state, using a diverse set of tools and methods drawn largely from economics, political science, and sociology. The term political economy is derived from the Greekpolis, meaning “city” or “state,” and oikonomos, meaning “one who manages a household or estate.” Political economy thus can be understood as the study of how a country—the public’s household—is managed or governed, taking into account both political and economic factors. –

Encyclopedia Britannica

Remember the categorization of macro – meso – micro.  To take it to a more academic and theretical level, we can follow Steward Clegg’s (1989) idea of the circuits of power. The ability to govern media and comm tech is a power position, whether we talk about law-making or blogging.

Originally, Clegg theorized about the context in which power is being used and in which it potentially appears. He views power as a process that has several circuits. The first is the overt, or macro-level, circuit of (political) decision-making. The second is the systemic-economic circuit of power that contextualizes policy-making decisions (this is what we can see within organizations). The third, social, circuit describes cultural meanings, membership and belonging – elements that also provide context to the macro-level circuit (and what we can experience as individuals in our everyday lives).

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 4.45.37 PM

We are looking governance from a more pragmatic viewpoints of macro, meso, and micro — but should also keep this theory in mind. Accordingly, the perspective of policy-making most often has macro-level concerns based on political economy and the collective, broad view.  Political economy is a scholarly field that is — to put it simply — concerned on how economic and political interests intertwine in any given context. This is the case even  when policy-making and regulation would bear direct impact on individuals.

Old vs. New; Diversity vs. Rights

Even if the break-down into circuits seem straight-forward, issues related to legacy media vs. communication technologies seem sometimes divided by some invisible watershed in history. 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 the field media governance,  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.

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 2016-01-25 at 5.53.11 PM

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.

Did you know? Five companies rule the digital world. 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.

Remember Context

Another dimension: local, national, global.

While many issues, from censorship to surveillance, are no longer national, nations and regions still matter. Media Governance —  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 2016-01-25 at 5.57.50 PM

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.

3. Assignment for Week 2: Let’s Be Policy Experts

Due Friday 2/3 by midnight. Individual assignment, this time submitted via email to aslamam@stjohns.edu

Contexts: Contradictory Trends

In our mediated world many unexpected, not-so-evident issues relate to media governance. Also, there are many contradictory developments that policy-making needs to tackle.

Perhaps the most discussed issue right now, pertaining to the media and its power, is that of ‘Fake News‘ in our current ‘Post-Truth’ Era. There are differing views of what that all means and what, if anything, we can do to govern the situation. This will be once of our key themes and cases.

However, for our second week, let’s tackle a less-known, contradictory development: Archiving online content.

On one hand, we hear about our digital footprints that will exist online until eternity. The EU and Argentina have instituted policies about ‘the Right to Be Forgotten‘, i.e., the right of a citizen to demand that information about him/her must be erased (see the fact sheet about this famous case Google vs. a Spanish Citizen — the right is by no means without controversy.)

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 1.13.15 PMOn the other hand, we have the problem of the Web erasing itself, as depicted in this article by the New Yorker – for you to read for Week 2 assignment. I chose it precisely in that it describes a complex, many-sided, and not-so-evident media governance issue — that has several serious implications regarding societies and democracy, regarding organizations, and regarding individuals.

Your task is the following:

  1. Read the above mentioned article, The Cobbweb.
  2. Review once more the texts shared on Dropbox marked W2 (by McCheney, Freedman & Napoli) for background and clarifications.
  3. Reflect on the NYer article from a policy-making & legal perspective:
    • Identify a key governance issue/problem/dilemma mentioned in the article (you can be broad or focus on a specific issue discussed in the article);
    • Identify its scope or scopes – can you see what it might mean for a society, for an organization, and for an individual (lay person); can you see whether it’s more of a local, national, or international question;
    • Think of the key area or areas the issue addresses; and
    • Come up with a policy suggestion as well as a proposal for a concrete regulatory measurement.

Write a short, 1-3 paragraph account of the above and email it to me: aslamam@stjohns.edu, by Fri 2/3, 11:59pm.

This assignment means getting our hands dirty right away; diving into the practice of analysing governance and translating it into policies and regulation during our 2nd week. Please dare to try, even if it feels foreign at this stage. For this reason, your submissions are individual and emailed to me directly. I will share a compilation of good responses (anonymously) with you after 2/5.

Teaser for Week 3

Media governance can also be looked at from a more cultural perspective — socio-cultural norms and values inform governance and policy-making.. Week 3 will be about exploring this aspect.


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