Mediadelcom’s panel on the ECREA conference 2022: Monitoring Media Change

Mediadelcom presented a panel at the 9th European Communication Conference by ECREA (European Communication Research and Education Association), hosted on 19 – 22 October 2022 in Aarhus, Denmark. The conference carried  the theme ‘Rethink Impact‘.

As described in the Conference Booklet, “the theme “Rethink Impact” serves as a frame for discussing how media and communication research, education, and training interact with, impact on and reflect society. /- – -/ Impact concerns the conditions of translating research insight into tangible outcomes for society, policy and business. Impact also suggests that such outcomes from research and education can be (and should be) quantified and validated.

Mediadelcom’s panel Monitoring Media Change: Concepts and Cases appeared at the International and Intercultural Communication section of the conference. Hereby, we present the abstracts of the contributions at the panel. Also, there are the slides of the opening presentation available.

Panel rationale

It is undisputed that media and journalism fulfil important functions in democratic societies and that the media transformations of the recent years have brought along various new possibilities for informed decision-making and deliberative communication. At the same time, media change also leads to new risks that may undermine social cohesion: Trends like disinformation and hate speech are just two examples of dangerous tendencies that have been propelled by technological transformation processes and must be considered a threat for democratic societies.

In the course of the 21st century, European media and communication research has triggered an overabundance of studies that deal with such problems as well as other phenomena of contemporary media change. However, its capability to highlight problematic trends in an early phase and work out operative scenarios of media development for policy makers and media experts has obviously been limited. Although the existing knowledge is voluminous, even a cursory review reveals that it is dispersed and fragmented.

The proposed panel intends to provide an inventory of the scope and quality of media and communication research in Europe. In how far can existing studies and further data sources help to provide a reliable monitoring of current media change processes? What, in fact, are the key risks and opportunities of the media and communication development in the 21st century? And in how far can our discipline contribute to securing a functional media environment for deliberative communication in democratic societies?

These questions are in the centre of a large-scale Horizon 2020 project which is currently realised by 14 research institutions in all parts of the European continent. The presentations collected in this panel will summarize key results from the first project phase, combining innovative conceptual insights with meta-analyses of previous studies and original empirical research.

The first presentation will serve as an introduction by conceptualizing risks and opportunities for media development and providing a comparative overview over the media monitoring potentiality in the 14 participating project countries. The second presentation will focus on the specific challenges of monitoring media accountability in Europe, also drawing on the findings of a recently completed global study on the diffusion of different instruments of media self-regulation. Presentations 3 and 4 will offer exemplary case studies from selected countries in Western and Eastern Europe: The analysis of the Italian case highlights trust in journalists as an indicator of deliberative culture and showcases results from a representative survey among Internet users. The Bulgarian country study uses the technique of PEST analysis to discuss to most pressing challenges for the national media system. The fifth and final presentation turns the spotlight on the special conditions of communication and media research in smaller European countries (such as Austria, Croatia, Estonia, and Latvia) and analyses their value for the international research community. In sum, the panel not only helps to broaden our understanding of different aspects of comparative media research, but also collects valuable hints with regard to the practical relevance of media and communication research in European societies.

Media monitoring potentiality in 14 European countries: Risks and opportunities

By Halliki Harro-Loit (EST) & Tobias Eberwein (AUT)

Social acceleration has been a catalyst for rapid changes concerning the communication scapes of European societies. Democratic societies need deliberation, but what kind of communication cultures are supported by different stakeholders and structural possibilities? The aim of this introductory contribution is to conceptualize and analyse the risks and possibilities concerning the monitoring potentiality of the performance and normative regulation of news media (journalism), media usage patterns and competencies of different actors who influence the news and communication culture of societies. Until now, however, there is no holistic approach to analyse media-related risks and opportunities. The contribution will therefore develop a novel conceptual approach that enables focusing on relationships between news production and consumption as well as contextual factors related to normative regulation and media literacy. The monitoring potential is related to various stakeholders who gather data on media and media usage, transform the data into knowledge and use this knowledge for media policy.

What interests and values are served by which stakeholders and how does this actual monitoring serve the media policy in different European countries? What is the role and resources of media researchers? These research questions will be answered with the help of an extensive literature review and a comparative analysis of the monitoring potentiality of 14 European countries, based on original case studies that offer a synthetic review of the ‘media-related risks and opportunities discourse’ in the studies on media transformations and innovations. The contribution will, thus, broaden the theoretical understanding of risks and opportunities for deliberative communication and fill a knowledge gap by synchronising existing dispersed studies and data into a concept that enables evaluating risks and opportunities for deliberative communication from a transnational perspective. At the same time, it will offer a first inventory of available monitoring instruments in different communication cultures across Europe.

Cf. the slides to the presentation

Media accountability: Global trends and European monitoring capabilities

By Marcus Kreutler & Susanne Fengler (DEU)

The concept of media accountability has long been analysed with a focus on Western or European democracies and on instruments developed in these countries. Even in Europe, comparative research has so far mostly highlighted the situation at singular points in time, sometimes limited to few instruments. To broaden the view on the topic, this paper follows a two-step approach: In a first step, it highlights trends in media accountability from a global perspective in order to develop a comprehensive framework of instruments and their interplay in different social settings. In a second step, building on this framework, monitoring capabilities for media accountability in 14 European countries are being evaluated.

The analysis of global trends in the field is based on a study of 44 countries across world regions and political regime types. Findings show that the concept of media accountability has a ‘limited capability to travel’, as observed by Voltmer (2012) for media systems in general.

Existing literature (e.g., Puppis, 2007) has described media governance as a continuum, from media regulation, to co-regulation, to professional self-regulation. However, this ‘liberal’ model, developed against the backdrop of established press freedom in Anglo-Saxon and Western European countries, does not accommodate the nuanced phenomena of media accountability our study has portrayed.

Instead, we find ‘media councils’ in countries with the tightest media control – clearly examples of ‘media capture’ (Mungiu-Pippidi, 2013; Coskun, 2020). We find media accountability instruments which are maintained by foreign actors, as media markets are too weak to sustain local initiatives. Co-regulatory practices and statutory councils are more common, but pose a risk of being exploited for political purposes in countries marked by patrimonialism and clientelism. Several Post-Soviet country reports show that if media accountability systems do not mature, there is a considerable risk of falling back into a state of media regulation. Traditional liberal models may also no longer fit to explain changing media ecosystems in Western countries.

The findings described above have also structured the study of monitoring capabilities in Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Sweden. Beyond the status quo, the capability to monitor changes and trends over time has been of particular interest. A general observation is that even in countries with relatively well-developed monitoring and research structures, much of the available literature is focusing on normative questions, and available data is not necessarily comparable longitudinally or cross-nationally. International efforts like the MediaAcT project or handbooks of media accountability (Eberwein, Fengler & Karmasin, 2018; Fengler, Eberwein & Karmasin, 2022) have inspired key publications in a number of countries, but are rarely followed up by a continuous monitoring of developments in the field. Several cases describe a common reason for monitoring deficits: Weak professional culture among journalists leads to ineffective and often neglected media accountability measures, which in turn limits research funding activity and funding opportunities.

Trust in journalists among the public as an indicator of deliberative culture: The case of Italy

By Sergio Splendore, Augusto Valeriani & Diego Garusi (ITA)

Media trust is one of the most debated issues in political communication. Nevertheless, it represents a concept that has required continuous refinement from a methodological and empirical point of view (Strömbäck et al., 2020). In the contemporary high choice political information environment (Van Aelst et al., 2017), characterised by the construction of highly personalised media experiences (Castro et al., 2021), it is even more crucial to understand how trust changes with respect to citizens’ media repertoires.

This contribution aims to study a neglected issue regarding media trust: trust that people maintain toward journalists (i.e. those that are professionally trained to gather, process, and distribute information of public relevance). However, the overall scenario has been rapidly changed and a wide variety of other actors, professional and non-professional, including citizens themselves, perform similar actions within increasingly crowded information ecologies (Lewis, 2012; Carlson & Lewis, 2015).

In such a context, the study aims to answer the following questions: (1) How much do citizens trust journalists? and (2) How do their media consumption repertoires influence their perceptions? Considering trust in journalists makes it possible to capture citizens’ judgements regarding the ability of the journalistic professional system to still perform a public service in contemporary societies.

Media trust is one of the most debated issues in political communication. Nevertheless, it represents a concept that has required continuous refinement from a methodological and empirical point of view (Strömbäck et al., 2020). In the contemporary high choice political information environment (Van Aelst et al., 2017), characterised by the construction of highly personalised media experiences (Castro et al., 2021), it is even more crucial to understand how trust changes with respect to citizens’ media repertoires.

This contribution aims to study a neglected issue regarding media trust: trust that people maintain toward journalists (i.e. those that are professionally trained to gather, process, and distribute information of public relevance). However, the overall scenario has been rapidly changed and a wide variety of other actors, professional and non-professional, including citizens themselves, perform similar actions within increasingly crowded information ecologies (Lewis, 2012; Carlson & Lewis, 2015). In such a context, the study aims to answer the following questions: (1) How much do citizens trust journalists? and (2) How do their media consumption repertoires influence their perceptions? Considering trust in journalists makes it possible to capture citizens’ judgements regarding the ability of the journalistic professional system to still perform a public service in contemporary societies.

The study presents the results of a CAWI survey to a representative sample (n=1563) of the Italian population of Internet users in the age range 18–74, interviewed in the second half of May 2020. This was a crucial context to study trust in journalists because the first mass lock-down following the COVID-19 pandemic just ended, then citizens needed to find information and to develop new (or consolidate old) relationships of trust with information sources (Scaglioni & Sfardini, 2021). At the same time, the cacophony of voices, as well as the centrality assumed in the communication space by doctors, scientists, and others non-journalistic actors, has created a context capable of significantly impacting trust patterns in the traditional “expert mediators” of information.

This research considers trust in journalists as an indicator of potential deliberative communication. The higher the trust, the more citizens feel as aware and informed participants of the public debate. The ways how the determinants of this trust operate indicate what are the risks that hinder the realization of the deliberative communication and the opportunities that are reserved for it. The main results emerging from the estimated multivariate models show that there is a negative correlation between the use of social media for information on matters of public importance and trust in journalists. In addition, those who use politicians’ accounts as a privileged source of information on social media have lower trust in journalists. Among other issues, these results pose one of the most frequent questions concerning political communication, i.e. which role social media are playing within the political communication environment.

Challenges of deliberative communication in the Bulgarian media ecosystem

Lilia Raycheva, Nadezhda Miteva, Neli Velinova, Bissera Zankova & Lora Metanova (BGR)

Contemporary societies are undergoing significant transformations which correlate with the dynamic developments of the information and communication technologies. Today these transformations are being catalysed by the intensity of the media ecosystem, encompassing all actors and factors whose interaction allows the media to function and to fulfil their role in society. It combines the mission of the traditional media with the potential of the blogosphere, social networks and mobile communications. Situated in the context of globalisation processes, the media themselves are undergoing multi-layered transformations. Using PEST analysis, the paper examines the political, economic, social and technological challenges to the Bulgarian media ecosystem within the framework of deliberative communication.

For the proper functioning of the contemporary media ecosystem, a number of political issues of the basic pillars of Europe’s audiovisual model are becoming increasingly important, such as: freedom of expression and access to information; pluralism of opinions and variety of content; professional standards and journalistic ethics; transparency of ownership and accountability to the audiences; protection of underage and vulnerable social groups; cooperation between regulation, self-regulation and co-regulation; the expansion of social media, etc.

The sustainability of these principles is a decisive factor for the democratic functioning of the country’s human-centred societal developments.

In contemporary times, the media and telecommunications sectors are among the industries that feel the strongest economic effects of the digital transformation. Internationalisation of economy and convergence of modern communications favour the prevalence of multi-sector and multinational corporations. At the same time, the globality and uniformity of the Information Society are dissolving into the separatism of glocality.

Today, transformations in the communication environment are catalysed by the social impacts, which also lead to a paradigm shift in the media – from mass media channels to individual media services. A virtual online mosaic culture has been created which, due to its interactive nature, acts as integrating while having alienating and restrictive effects on people, destroying their ‘live’ communication. This phenomenon is significant to understanding such phenomena as information overload and digital fatigue that consumers are facing.

The technological factors are the most active among those elements, affecting the construction rate and the functioning of the contemporary global information society. Therefore, media, information and digital literacy skills acquire additional importance in today’s intercultural dialogue in the communication environment. The ICT’s developments are so intense that it is difficult to define whether because of technological and economic convergence the media sector will evolve to the ever-increasing deregulation in favour of the market or to the serving of the public interest.

Some of the findings of the study have been disseminated to policy makers, media managers, and academia.

Media and communication research in smaller countries in Europe

By Ragne Kõuts-Klemm (EST),
Zrinjka Peruško, Dina Vozab (HRV),
Anda Rožukalne, Alnis Stakle, Ilva Skulte (LVA),
Tobias Eberwein (AUT)

Big and small states are equal in respect of functioning as comprehensive entities – they all need state apparatuses, the ability to provide services for citizens, the capacity to protect themselves, and appropriate media systems to guarantee a deliberative communication space for the democratic processes. Nevertheless, the resources of smaller countries can be limited and this can have an impact on the performance of their functions. Small states deserve special attention. Not only can the development of media systems in smaller countries have specific implications, like Puppis (2009) suggests, their self-reflecting capacity manifested as institutionalised media research can have limitations deriving from their smallness, too.

“Smallness” is a relational concept. For our contribution, we will define it broadly – based not mainly on the GDP per capita, but on the actual and perceived size of the population as well. Perceptions of smallness can also derive from the neighbouring of giant same-language countries (Meier & Trappel, 1992).

We will compare the monitoring and research capabilities of media developments in four small countries in Europe that represent contrasting historical backgrounds as well as different types of media systems: Austria, Croatia, Estonia, and Latvia. We will use the data collected for a case study of a large-scale H2020 project – a comparative research initiative that intends to highlight risks and opportunities for deliberative communication in the European media landscape. In the course of this case study, researchers from the participating countries conducted an extensive review of available academic publications and additional data sources in the fields of media regulation and accountability, journalism, media usage, and media-related competencies.

The aim of our comparative analysis is to identify factors that can have an impact on the monitoring and research capabilities of smaller countries. It will answer the following questions: What are the research interests of academic media studies in these countries? Is the research oriented toward national society or more broadly? How is academic research integrated into the international research community? At what stage is the research in respect of institutionalisation of communication as a scientific discipline? The results of the analysis will not only broaden the ongoing debate about comparative media systems research, but also offer valuable insights for media managers and policy-makers in smaller (European) countries.

Photos by Marcus Kreutler and Epp Lauk

Article: Resilience of media in the Baltics

An article referring to been supported by Mediadelcom has been published in the Journal of Baltic Studies. The article aims to analyze the resilience of Baltic media systems in the global network environment.

In this work, resilience has been defined as media systems’ ability to survive despite the efflux of resources and loss of audiences’ attention and trust, and as the capacity to support a reliable, transparent, and diverse information sphere for the functioning of democracy.

The authors claim that resilience of media systems depends on many structural factors and on many different agents operating in the national media markets. The article treats the resilience of Baltic media systems from two angles: (1) changes in the structural conditions of media systems and (2) policy responses to them.

Using media market data from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the changes in the media during the last three decades are under scrutiny. The analysis shows that Baltic media systems are relatively resilient. The situation in national media systems is reasonable due to the strong basis established by decisions made in the 1990s. Public service and private media in these countries both contribute to the pluralism and diversity needed in the public sphere. The public service media respond to audience needs and offer reliable content, at least in the traditional media sector. In the online sector, a new role for PSM and innovation potential needs to be found. Still, there are few resources in Baltic media markets. The competition conditions for national media and global platforms are currently unequal and favor global media.

One of the main sources for resilience in Baltic media systems are their audiences: they still mainly trust and consume domestic content. The audiences in Baltic countries are media literate and able to recognize quality content. Still, the risk that audiences may slip away to the less demanding and mainly entertaining and social-interaction world of social media exists. The risk is related to the lack of resources available for domestic media to produce attractive quality content for different audience groups in the form they prefer.

In terms of media policy, the situation is concerning. The main actors influencing media policy do not take the contemporary challenges of media policy seriously. A coherent view of how to strengthen national media systems is missing. The analysis concludes that the implementation of media policy currently does not guarantee the resilience of small countries’ media systems. Cf. the article here.

The article is authored by Ragne Kõuts-Klemm (EST), Anda Rožukalne (LVA) and Deimantas Jastramskis (LTU).

First studies of Mediadelcom get ready

First two sets of studies by Mediadelcom are getting ready. The studies have already been presented to the European Commission as an interim report, but for the general public the improved and edited version will be published in July 2022.

The first country case studies aim at the media research capabilities of each country to indicate the health of media and deliberative communication. Mediadelcom project coordinator Halliki Harro-Loit said in the Podcast episode #12 that not much of it has yet been researched in Europe.

“Each country has mapped out what kind of research sources and what kind of data is available in four domains in the 21st century. The question – who collects analysis and creates knowledge about the risks of deliberative communication – is also very important for our project. We studied what media researchers, various public agencies, private companies, single researchers have done and published. The level of accessibility of the data and analysis is also important. And of course, what is the quality of the data collected: to what extent and who has been financing research and monitoring, if at all. In some countries, the financing is pretty poor.

Of course, we asked whether this data collection and research has been random or systematic. The monitoring potentiality is very important because the main risks associated with media and deliberative communication appear in small daily changes. The absence of mechanisms to monitor the daily application of fundamental values for deliberative communication is critical because we may lose these values so quietly. Small practice-shifts are easily normalized and there is a risk that the society may wake up when it is too late to reverse these small changes and their normalization. Hence, our first case studies are designed to identify the areas where, for various reasons, there is a knowledge cap, no data collection and no attention towards certain risks.”

Marcus Kreutler has been the leader of the first case study task force. He said, “We had a number of countries that mentioned the huge importance that even single, e.g., EU financed project has had on the research landscape in the area. Estonia and Latvia come to mind, for example. They have mentioned several EU projects that really improved the data that has been assembled on that country. And at the same time, for example, Slovakia mentioned that relatively little participation in such international comparative projects would also prefigure a risk.”

Halliki Harro-Loit added, “That’s why the diachronic dimension is actually important because, to be part of any comparative project, you need to have qualified scientist and data analysts. That is why those having less resources will lag behind. While our comparative analysis, we need to pay attention to the reasons for some countries lagging behind even in cases of European comparative projects.” The Podcast episode #12 provides more detailed deliberations upon the first case studies. The second case studies focus on the state of art under the four domains developed within the Mediadelcom project. As for the initial purposes, the studies appear to be lengthy and descriptive and, thus, need to go though a thorough process of editing and reshape to make them easily readable and comparable by countries. All reports under WP2 are going to be public in July 2022. Up to then, the subsequent podcast episodes will cover the findings, country by country.

Picture: Pixabay

Mediadelcom sets to case studies

Six months into the Mediadelcom project, the consortium members met in person for the first time in the second week of September in Tallinn, Estonia.

Three countries – Latvia, Estonia, and Bulgaria – had performed pilot studies to set common grounds for the fine-tuning of the operational variables and other aspects of the research methodology.

As Marcus Kreutler (DEU) told in the Podcast Episode #7, the pilot studies served as a reality check on what works well for the future study and what still needs some refinement. “The theoretical teams – who basically wrote the manual for the case study teams – have much clearer idea what works in their ‘recipe’ and what simply did not work in the reality of one country. This is a loud alarm bell when it comes to applying it to other countries.”

The consortium members interviewed for the podcast episode asserted that the discussions on the pilot studies provided much clearer grounds for combining theoretical work with case studies in practice, including searching and synthesizing the existing bibliography in risk analysis.

Over the course of four days, the teams discussed case studies to be drafted under WPs 2 and 3 by the beginning of 2022. The research methodology and structure of the studies were specified. As explained by the project coordinator Prof. Halliki Harro-Loit, the first case study should provide answers related to the potentiality of media transformations in 14 countries. The second, a comparative case study provides a critical analysis of the risks and opportunities for media transformations in Europe in general.

The project meeting in Tallinn ran parallel in the assembly hall and over the Internet.

Mediadelcom people meet in person for the first time

Tallinn old town. Photo by Kaupo Kalda, visittallinn.ee

September brings us closer to autumn. In the global muddle of COVID-19, it has been unclear if Mediadelcom participants could gather in person. It is now clear that it is possible to get together: the consortium meeting (workshop) will take place in Tallinn (Estonia) on 7-11 September.

Through four days, the teams will discuss case studies. Three countries – Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria – have performed pilot studies to set grounds for the fine-tuning of the operational variables and other aspects of the methodology. Other discussion matters include how to apply fuzzy-set methodology and diachronic approach, how to relate the case studies and bibliographical database, and how to apply the agency approach.

Mediadelcom was launched in March 2021 and the members of the teams long  to see each other face to face to better perform networking tasks and get to know the colleagues all over Europe.  Further details will be reported soon.

First podcast episode sheds popular light upon MEDIADELCOM

MEDIADELCOM has released the first podcast episode. It talks about the project’s intentions and goals.

Halliki Harro-Loit, the project coordinator and the professor in journalism of the University of Tartu (Estonia) reveals the main characteristics of MEDIADELCOM, the participating countries and teams, and the theoretical background. The latter is related to four main domains, which as the project’s hypothesis suggests create most of the risks and opportunities to be detected: legal and ethical regulation; media related competencies of both the journalists and the lay public; media usage patterns; and journalism news production.

In the podcast episode, representatives from two of the projects 17 teams express their expectations for the project. Peter Berglez, a professor in media and communication science from the Jönköping University (Sweden) says he hopes the project will produce “very important research about media and journalism development in European context”. On the one hand the consortium will make use of pre-existing multiple research on various aspects of journalism while, on the other hand, it will use the findings to establish understanding of the development of media in the EU from an economic point of view and from the democratic perspective.

Regarding the consortium, Peter Berglez says, “I have very great expectations concerning the network of researchers and scholars this project builds upon. It will also pave the way for a lot of good research in the future.”

Lenka Waschková Císařová, assistent professor from Masaryk University (Brno, CZE) also looks for a common working field for researchers coming from the CEE countries. “I hope that we will finally cooperate in Central and Eastern Europe because I know several colleagues from projects, conferences, papers, and books but we have not had an opportunity to work together. So I am glad that we finally meet in this project.”

“I think that it is a brilliant idea not to collect new data but rather work with the existing data,” Lenka Waschková Císařová adds. She feels, CEE countries have much information about themselves but due to divergence in media systems, policies and even languages, media researchers in the CEE countries do not know much about what has been studied or what kind of knowledge has been accumulated by others.

“The media situation pushes research to focus more on longitudinal understanding of media development in different countries,” Lenka Waschková Císařová says. This is the foundation of the overall context.

Peter Berglez notes that currently “the concept of professional journalism is in many ways questioned. … So what we need to explore under that, is the media development, the relation between the traditional journalism and other types of practices, which somehow represent journalism as well, or the big global platforms and social media.”

The kick-off meeting for the MEDIADELCOM will take place over four days from 23-26 March 2021. The project coordinator explains that as the meeting has to be held online and bring the project’s specifics to everyone’s attention, the duration of each day are planned to be short – 4 hours max.

In the early bird mood, however, two virtual meetings have already taken place – the say-hello-meeting and the work-package 1 meeting. Halliki Harro-Loit expects the next general workshop in September to take place in person.