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, ‚Äúthe theme ‚ÄúRethink Impact‚ÄĚ 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.‚ÄĚ

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 ‚Äėmedia-related risks and opportunities discourse‚Äô 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 ‚Äėlimited capability to travel‚Äô, 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 ‚Äėliberal‚Äô 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 ‚Äėmedia councils‚Äô in countries with the tightest media control ‚Äď clearly examples of ‚Äėmedia capture‚Äô (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‚Äď74, 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 ‚Äúexpert mediators‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äď 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 ‚Äėlive‚Äô 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 K√Ķuts-Klemm (EST),
Zrinjka PeruŇ°ko, Dina Vozab (HRV),
Anda RoŇĺukalne, Alnis Stakle, Ilva Skulte (LVA),
Tobias Eberwein (AUT)

Big and small states are equal in respect of functioning as comprehensive entities ‚Äď 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.

‚ÄúSmallness‚ÄĚ is a relational concept. For our contribution, we will define it broadly ‚Äď 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 ‚Äď 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