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Steering Committee on

Media and Information Society


Notes on the possible issues to be discussed during the Belgrade conference on media and information society

1. The Reykjavik legacy

The First Ministerial Conference on Media and New Communications Services held in 2009 in Reykjavik identified a number of problems in the new media environment requiring appropriate understanding and solving in order for democracy to function adequately. By and large it focused on the following issues: the proliferation of media and media like services and platforms and the necessity a new notion of media to be elaborated as a key concept for the effective implementation of the human rights standards as a basis of a new democratic order characterized by greater participation and involvement; the development of IG and the construction of the critical infrastructure upon the principles of universality, openness, transparency, robustness and resilience; the negative implications of an arbitrary anti-terrorist legislation lacking due process and human rights safeguards for the unhindered exercise of freedom of expression. For the time then these topics related to a bubbling media environment were of relevance among stake-holders and predominantly among member states. Though important and interrelated these themes were treated somehow separately due to their belonging to different realms of research and policy-making i.e. media, Internet and freedom of expression. Four years ago it was the time when the new media environment was coming into being. It was the time of the co-existence of hybrid and transitory communications structures. It was necessary democratic societies to adjust to the impact of convergence and digitization by laying the foundation of a new social and political reality.

2. The new multidimensional and interdependent environment

Today we live in a complex interdependent world. The quality of the democratic process is still highly contingent on the performance of the media (old and new) which create a circle of success or failure that underlines the complexity and interdependence of the relationship between political communication and democratization.

Democracy is also complex with ups, downs and twists. Complex democracy means that “participatory democracy should encompass arenas where both individuals and groups … advance their group values and interests.”(Ch.E.Baker) Democracy that we witness nowadays is more dispersed, more direct, richer in opportunities for involvement and mobilization, horizontal, networked and inter connected. Against such a background some theorists suggest that democratic participation needs meaningful discussion and genuine motivation. Though there are no absolute guarantees novel communications have the potential to create public sphere/s that can successfully respond/s to these deficits of the traditional public sphere. The Habermasian idea that the transformation of the public sphere will be carried out by independent intellectuals is too elitist as compared to the public sphere of today which allows ordinary people around the globe to be connected and to act together. In the new mediated environment all specific aspects of the media, the Internet and the appropriate conditions for human communication and interaction are merging together.

There are differences from country to country in embracing democratic principles. Different democracies require somewhat different functions of the media (Price, Verhulst). However, visions of complex democracy should emphasize particularly citizens’ participation and input.

Daniel Hallin claims that a dramatic change has taken place precisely in the social role of the media. It has shifted the balance between political institutions and the market making the media market dominant but stronger than before. Commercialization is not the only process of social change which is visible. Contemporary media culture is contradictory with the shift on the one hand, towards greater journalistic professionalization and to more populist political culture where social movements and ordinary citizens demand and often get public hearing (citizen journalism, social networks), on the other. All these implications are complex as practices by themselves, as a dialogue between the trends and as an impact upon democracy.

As far as young democracies are concerned, political transition to consolidated and mature democracy has not come to an end there yet. Theorists describe the democratic systems installed as hybrid forms of democracy with media systems that are still struggling with the pressure stemming from the political and market realm. The media systems as such have not reached the stage of maturity when they can guarantee and influence full-fledgedly the level of democracy by pursuing relevant social ideals. The Hungarian case is instructive that the authoritarian tendencies are alive and can impede democratic processes. At the same time media systems in developed democratic states demonstrate serious flaws with regard to human rights and rule of law (Murdoch scandal).

In the complex environment there is more than ever a growing need of sustainable public service media. In this respect public service media has to undertake genuine reforms in its organization and governance in order to remain to be the core sector of an inclusive and enlightened media system. The role of the public service (either institutional or diffused) is to be seen as an instrument for social and cultural development addressing people as citizens not as customers or clients. PSM services and platforms as a driving force of quality content and promoting high public values could bridge old and new media into a network being the backbone of the new participatory public sphere. As Price and Verhulst claim a change means not only an external change in the structure but an internal change namely whether PSM organizations can contribute to the deliberative democracy aspects of transition.

3. Regulatory approaches in the complex multidimensional environment

The Internet technology has been used for the public good in a variety of ways; in this respect let one only recall the popularity of Wikipedia or the social networks. On the other hand, the continued development of the net is threatened from different sides – from illiberal governments, from the rapid and cumulative commercialization, from the degradation and misuse of technology.

As sources point out growing complexity and uncertainty have challenged hierarchical bureaucratic forms and organizations of all sorts have sought new forms of collaboration with other organizations in order to better manage risk and respond to change. The Internet and the new communications arrangements have brought forth new “spontaneous social order” which lays its bearing on the possible regulatory mechanisms and frameworks. Regulation still has a role to play in ensuring equal access to content and in ensuring that the means of communications can be directed towards social and cultural objectives. Regulatory frameworks may vary from country to country but they are unalienable part of the public policy process in democratic countries. Opening up the process of policymaking, of policy evaluation and regulation to broader input from the regulated is considered an important aspect of access to communication.

The purpose of regulation is to build a European public space that entertains, informs and educates and serves as a basis for sound reforms to the benefit of man and society. The public sphere should recognize participation in the public sphere as crucial for its existence and should enhance democratic dialogues between communities and persons for which democratic education is the necessary precondition.

Another aim is to assist global dialogue and to encourage dialogue among nations holding to account global political and economic power holders.

Approaches that have to be taken on board also have to be complex and depending on networks and partnerships instead of solid hierarchical structures. They should be trans-border and transnational. It will be pertinent to state the fact that the Internet has emerging as a strategic tool for popular influence and social reconstruction.

According to scholars in the complex environment innovations go hand in hand with evolution. Therefore communications policy should be multidimensional policy building on innovation and reflecting the importance of infrastructure for the dissemination of content.

4. Regulatory goals

(In this section of the paper some issues that deserve attention and have been formulated by various fora and publications are briefly outlined).

Nowadays new technologies have a profound impact upon politics and can trigger radical changes. In order to make democracy human-centred and people-oriented (transcending the will of the majorities) it will be important to follow and increase the penetration of the Internet in society, i.e. to find ways to engage layers and groups that remain aloof and are not connected because of different reasons (lack of interest, lack of computer skills, no access to infrastructure, etc.) . Another issue regarding genuine democratic pluralism and diversity is the encouragement of multilingualism on-line by fostering the use of native languages on the net. The implementation of the multilingual approach could result in the disintegration of some communities and the establishment of new ones promoting a variety of local cultures and experiences.

Photography and the art of images on the net demand a new way of thinking, new semantics and new ethics of preparation and presentation of video materials. The whole theory and practice of photography should be brought in line with the virtual reality and its consequences on human minds.

Self-disclosure becomes every day practice on the Internet. People are ready to dispose of their privacy without intermediation as the environment and more concretely the technology as such prod them to do this. Virtual intimacy presupposes risks for someone’s privacy that an individual accepts to take in order to communicate and to create relationships. How regulators can settle the problems created by new psychology and perception of private and public, good and bad, moral and immoral, human and inhuman in the multidimensional environment?

Neglected communities never presented by the media find their own public spaces online (for instance the deaf community). The Internet helps these forgotten and unknown people to build solidarity, collective identity and to gain visibility. How society can help them integrate and encourage their involvement?

Digital media beyond the Internet - the new mobile communications - deconstruct not only human communications but decentralize the control and the coordination of social activities. How to adjust systems and relationships to this new situation?

The concept of cultural technologies distinguishing between technologies of the power and technologies of the self- (the latter being extensions of our human self and extending our human capacities) is a part of the cultural awareness about the Internet and its role for actively exercising one’s cultural and creative rights in the new multidimensional environment. What conditions are necessary for boosting everyone’s creativity via the new ICT?

The Internet creates unexpected opportunities. One of the recent achievements is that through the net the public can hold the media accountable in a more democratic and transparent manner. In the fluctuating environment where advantages are constantly entangled with disadvantages and risks novel media accountability practices are on the rise on the Internet fostering a new approach towards the media and its performance. The new accountability practices are supposed to merge the opportunities of the new information and communications technologies with common journalistic standards and to bring possible innovations to the media system. However, as analysts report these new forms of correction and improvement of the media performance are still unevenly developed through various countries and are volatile and uncertain. That is why they are rightly called “practices” in the report “Media Accountability Goes OnLine. A Transnational Study on emerging Practices and Innovations (Heikkila, Domingo, Pies, Glowacki, Kus, Basnee, 2012).
Currently the impact of these practices is not strong enough to provide conclusive evidence about their innovative potential. However, they give clues, on the one hand, for constructing novel mechanisms for transparency and responsiveness and on the other, for reforming the accountability systems in force. How we could entrench these practices through the support of the public and civil society?

5. Possible umbrella topics for the Belgrade conference:

5.1 The individual in a connected public space: maximizing human rights in the multidimensional media environment
5.2 Complexity, connectivity, creativity: the individual and the new public space
5.3 Connected in the public space – how the new order fosters human rights and democracy
Key-note speaker: RReynolds
Proposal: Fareed Zacharia, an Indian American journalist, CNN, famous writer on (geo)political issues and blogger, he can share original ideas on politics, democracy, Arab movements, etc. in a connected environment, including global crisis ( financial, of values, of power, etc.) Can provide counterpoints to RReynolds’ position.

The scenario of the conference should not differ too much from the conference in Reykjavik. Plenary sessions should be held in parallel to round table discussions. Stakeholders should participate on an equal footing in both. On the eve of the event a discussion forum for the future of online democracy can be organized. Representatives of youth and civil society should take part together with other stakeholders on the basis of the individual achievements, expertise and experience. Organizers should encourage the presentation of innovative projects, good practices and research that supports novel approaches in policy making and legislation.