Dispatches

Good News and Bad News: The Contradicting Trends of Global Internet Censorship
10 July 2017 By Minna Aslama
Today’s internet freedom is both more protected and challenged than ever before. The expanding use of encrypted connections by websites and platforms means more anonymous and safe communication. Governments have less opportunities to block individual sites since content creators are moving to large platforms, and for a reason: those platforms often protect their independence, and content hosted in foreign countries is not easy to censor.
At the same time, these developments are causing some governments to use harsher measures such as interruptions and total shutdowns of the internet. Governments are also more often than before creating content and asserting their views. In general, the number of countries engaged in internet filtering is increasing. There are also more commercial spyware tools than before for the governments to use in specialized targeting of content creators.
These are some of the results of The Shifting Landscape of Global Internet Censorship, a report by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. The study focused especially on internet filtering, and looked at 45 countries around the world. 
 
Continuum of Censorship
Some form of internet censorship exists in more than half of the researched countries. But governments go about censoring in different ways. A prime example is filtering. Governments can focus on an array of topics, pertaining to security, politics, and/or social content, such as gambling, alcohol and drugs, LGBTQ content, and online dating. Pornography is, in fact, the most filtered content in the internet. A category of its own is comprised by internet tools that dissidents may use, ranging from social media sites to anonymizers and censorship circumvention tools. 
At one end of the censorship intensity scale are countries that focus on just a few websites. A case in point of “filtering light” is Hungary: it blocks gambling sites, but nothing else. At the other end of the continuum is extreme, pervasive filtering, that deals with many different kinds of topics and restricts a significant amount of content. Quite an array of countries, 14 out of the 46 that were researched, practice this type of censorship: They include usual suspects like China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, but also democracies like India and South Korea.
Overall, while culturally and socially sensitive content often triggers filtering actions, political disputes and conflicts prompt more often than before state censorship. The Harvard research also suggests that geopolitical blocs are nowadays sharing common internet censorship policies.
Online Activism, by the State

Filtering is a common, but not the only way to censor unwanted content. The research found another censorship mechanism on the rise: engagement of government officials and state agencies in the digital public sphere. Governments are engaging in a digital battle over discourses on the same platforms and with the same tools as those opposing them. These activities are not restricted to official statements, but include commentary on news, and argumentation defending government policies.

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash


 
More Dispatches
 
Italian Lawmakers Tackle Fake News
9 March 2017 By Francesca Fanucci
Bi-partisan bill to tackle "fake news" online tabled at Italian Senate introduced a series of provisions. See them all in a nutshell.
1) Monetary sanctions for whoever publishes or shares on social media, blogs or any other online platform "fake, exaggerated or tendentious news" and is not a registered online publication according to the Italian law;
2) Jail for the same actors above if the news also causes public alarm or is "hate speech"
3) Obligation for whoever launches a website, blog or any other information-disseminating online platform to register it before the competent territorial judiciary civil court, providing the name and URL of the platform as well as a certified email address of the creator.
See here the full text of the bill (in Italian)
 
Trumping Public Media
15 February 2017 By Minna Aslama
 
Executive Orders, staffing choices, unusual foreign policy moves, interesting “facts”, and numerous related tweets have dominated recent news about the new U.S. president and his administration. Perhaps that is why little attention has been given to the signs that the Trump administration will most likely cut funding for Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR). 
A few stories emerged mid-January, prompted by this article in The Hill, referring to the budget suggestions by the Heritage Foundation. It is rumoured that Trump will follow these closely. This is what the Foundation’s so called Budget Book says about the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the umbrella organization channelling funds for PBS ad NPR:
 
“Privatize public broadcasting. Save taxpayers US $4.5bn.
The CPB made up only US$ 444m, or 16%, of this amount. Without federal funding for the CPB, services such as PBS and NPR, which receive funding from the CPB, could make up the lost money by increasing revenues from corporate sponsors, foundations and members. 
The goal of CPB is also increasingly met by other media sources.”
 
The Republicans have traditionally used public broadcasting as fuel for political debates. Unsurprisingly, Republican and pro-Trump news outlets have celebrated the idea of budget savings and invoked the claim about the enormous diversity of content choices on cable TV. Also, some throw in arguments that the federal government is currently funding biased news coverage by NPR — and this must stop. 
Bias is a difficult question to verify. But, as Salon reports, 95% of the U.S. population can access public broadcasting’s over-the-air signal as part of its universal service mandate. This includes rural communities and economically disadvantaged viewers who cannot afford to pay for cable TV. In addition, NPR has been at the forefront of digital innovation — and it shows in audience ratings: NPR stations have outperformed many of their commercial news counterparts. It also remains the number one Podcast publisher in America. To put the proposed savings in context: the share of CPB of the federal budget is reportedly 0.01%.
Regardless, the plans of trumping public media are now moving forward. At the end of January 2017, Republican congressman Doug Lamborn introduced two bills: firstly to defund the CPB; and, secondly, to prohibit NPR from receiving funds from CPB, or public radio stations from using federal funds to purchase programming from and/or pay dues to NPR.

Photo: Ted Eyton

 
Public Service Media: How to Reach the Youth?
8 January 2017 By Lizzie Jackson and Michal Glowacki
 
Public Service Media (PSM) is arguably in crisis. To meet the media preferences of Millennials and Generation Z, young people born after 1996, they have to adapt to delivering content via computer networks. Technology savvy consumers have never known life without the internet. Generation Z accesses, and generates, stories via mobile devices and social media. 
 
So how can PSM evolve?
 
Organisational Culture of Public Service Media: People, Values and Processes is a three-year international research project planned to end in 2018 that looks at high technology clusters in North America and Europe. The position of PSM in relation to these aggregations is showing that partnerships with cultural institutions, university research departments, startup communities and independent producers is key to retaining the traditional role of public service media as a catalyst of social and technological innovation going forward.
 
Researchers Dr Michal Glowacki (University of Warsaw, Poland) and Professor Lizzie Jackson (London South Bank University, UK) interview public service media, business accelerators, high tech firms, city municipalities and policymakers to find the intrinsic qualities of adaptive firms. The study also investigates barriers to change. A diverse range of city clusters have been chosen: Austin, Boston/Cambridge, Detroit and Toronto alongside Brussels, Copenhagen, London, Warsaw, Tallinn and Vienna.
 
The project builds on the researchers’ policy work for the Council of Europe. The 2012 Declaration and Recommendation on the governance of Public Service Media enables potential expansion onto new platforms. The current project aims to offer models for R&D, new organizational design and partnership working to assist evolution of the PSM project. The work is financially supported by the National Science Centre of Poland.

 

 
Public Media Alliance
20 October 2016
The Public Media Alliance is a membership association of 102 TV and radio broadcasting organisations with a public service remit. Members also include broadcast-related organisations such as regulators and broadcast technology companies. The Alliance stretches across 54 countries – in both hemispheres and all continents.
 
The Public Media Alliance exists to support public broadcasters and integrated digital media organisations with a public service remit. Our focus is the shared public media space.
 
The provision of such a space – that is trusted, independent and credible – via broadcast, digital or internet platforms is a central pillar of public service broadcasting/media. And the PMA provides a key forum for exchange of views, ideas and experiences of key thinkers, decision-makers, practitioners, senior managers and academics working in the field of PSB/M internationally.
 
Public Service Media in a Networked Society
27 September 2016 By Gregory Ferrell Lowe
 
The complicated relationship between detachment and connection was a focal point of discussions among the 100 or so participants in the RIPE@2016 conference last week at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. Cutting through and across many of these was the character and complexity of the media-society relationship as a tension between being connected and being detached. The notion of ‘detachment’ is deliberate because it implies something that could be connected but is not, and this by choice. There is also a problem of implied negativity in detachment, but to see this only in that sense would be overly simplistic. Connection is less complicated conceptually, perhaps, but equally complicated in practice. Detachment and connection can be understood as a continuum that is an essential feature of networked societies and the emerging media system in the 21st century.
 
Public media are supposed to be connected. That is implied by the public designation and is required in legal mandates in most cases. At the same time, it is important to be detached in several aspects that are fundamental to the intention to be a service for civil society. Here the issue of media independence matters because policies and activities are undermining that in many nations. Various governments, often in collusion with crony capitalists, want to control public media. In practice, it reverts to state media. Choosing to be detached from such influences is essential, although difficult to achieve in many instances.
 
In other dimensions, however, detachment merits the negative connotation. This is especially the case when public service media organizations resist accountability, only give lip service to public participation, or fail to ensure relevance in their contents and services. This often happens when management positions are awarded as ‘sugar plum’ jobs to party supporters who may speak the language of citizenship, civil society and inclusiveness but act in ways that preclude much of that. In such respects, connection is the greatest challenge, and even under ideal democratic society conditions it can be devilishly difficult to accomplish. Accountability can facilitate opportunities to interfere, control and constrain. And while public participation is an ambition, many people don’t feel heard or taken seriously and remain detached from these organizations. 
 
All of this matters greatly in the quickening development of networked societies that fundamentally depend on networked communication systems. As Peter Lunt, Chair of the workgroup on PSM and social media, remarked in the closing session of the RIPE@2016 conference, “in networked systems the media terrain is flattened.” In consequence, PSM providers are often less valued and used, especially among youth populations. Steve Paulussen chaired the workgroup on PSM and journalism. This group agreed that trust is always difficult to earn and easily lost – often through no fault of the journalists but because self-interested governors damage their public integrity. One point of agreement across the six topical workgroups, as articulated by Philip Savage for the workgroup on audiences and participation, is great need for a profound user-based and –centred theory of public service in media. This was linked with the importance of developing a richer conceptualization of the intermediary role of public service media. Producing content continues to matter to a significant degree, but it is unlikely to be enough for public service in a networked society because distributing, accessing, curating and even advocacy are important public service functions, a point highlighted by Manuel Puppis in conclusions from the workgroup on the PS remit today. 
 
In concluding remarks from the workgroup that focused on power and policy, John Jackson’s group agreed that although PSM must co-operate with many actors and be held accountable, it is vital to cherish and defend core values that legitimate the public service approach to mediation. PSM providers would do a great disservice in surrendering the independence necessary to define their key roles and operationalize their essential functions. Addressing the remit in practice, Jo Bardoel’s group believe PSM will remain a crucial part of the emerging ecology if it remains true to the core values that are its irreplaceable grounds for social legitimacy. This can be lost if the resources are insufficient to finance continuity of services, however, or if the networked communications infrastructure is controlled by commercial industries to a degree that allows choking out public services to advantage profit-related interests.
 
Gregory Ferrell Lowe is RIPE Continuity Director and Professor of Media Management at the University of Tampere in Finland.
 
RIPE 2016
The RIPE 2016 conference was sponsored by Flemish public broadcaster, VRT, with contributions from the French-language public service media (PSM) provider, RTBF. The conference theme attracted great interest as researchers and strategic managers from many contributed papers and addressing relevant dimensions. Although the list of countries is too long to fully list, it includes participants form Australia, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Morocco, the Netherlands, Poland, Serbia, South Africa, Taiwan, Uganda, the U.K., and the U.S. 
Those interested in the substance of RIPE@2016 conference deliberations will be able to access most of the papers at the RIPE website when they are uploaded in the next week or so. They will be loaded in the RIPE Library section. Abstracts can be browsed without registering, but if the user wants to download a paper he or she must register and create a password. 
The final conclusions will be developed in the RIPE@2017 Reader that will be published by Nordicom towards the end of next year, or very early in 2018. The entire series of Readers published since 2003 is available in PDF format as free downloads from the Nordicom website. This series provides a rich history of scholarly research and thought-leadership on the development of public service media in the early 21st century.
 
Photo: Peter Koves