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Media democracy is a production and distribution model which promotes a mass media system that informs and empowers all members of society, and enhances democratic values. The term also refers to a modern social movement evident in countries all over the world which attempts to make mainstream media more accountable to the publics they serve and to create more democratic alternatives.

It is a concept and a social movement that has grown as a response to the increased corporate domination of mass media and the perceived shrinking of the marketplace of ideas. Its proponents advocate monitoring and reforming the mass media, strengthening public service broadcasting, and developing and participating in alternative media and citizen journalism.

Definition of the term

Media democracy is a difficult term to define, since in addition to being a concept, it is also an advocacy movement being advanced by a number of academics and grassroots organizations, each with its own methods and goals.

It is also difficult to define because the term [democracy] itself is contested. Market liberals would claim that democracy is best served by the media if there is a minimalist state that allows for private media ownership, does not censor content, or require public-interest broadcasting. In this way, the market would facilitate technological innovation and provide whatever fare the consumer demands. By contrast, media democracy advocates argue that corporate ownership and commercial pressures influence media content, sharply limiting the range of news, opinions, and entertainment citizens receive. Consequently, they call for a more equal distribution of economic, social, cultural, and information capital, which would lead to a more informed citizenry, as well as a more enlightened, representative political discourse.

More radical thinkers argue that media democracy remains an under-defined concept because of deliberate structural pressures that prevent individuals from questioning the connection between media and democracy. A leading proponent of this view is Noam Chomsky, who argues that
The concept of “democratizing the media” has no real meaning within the terms of political discourse in the United States.
In fact, the phrase has a paradoxical or even vaguely subversive ring to it.
Citizen participation would be considered an infringement on freedom of the press, a blow struck against the independence of the media that would distort the mission they have undertaken to inform the public without fear or favor... this is because the general public must be reduced to its traditional apathy and obedience, and driven from the arena of political debate and action, if democracy is to survive.

Despite the difficulties in defining the term, the concept broadly encompasses the following notions: that the health of the democratic political system depends on the efficient, accurate, and complete transmission of social, political, and cultural information in society; that the media are the conduits of this information and should act in the public interest; that the mass media have increasingly been unable and uninterested in fulfilling this role due to increased concentration of ownership and commercial pressures; and that this undermines democracy as voters and citizens are unable to participate knowledgeably in public policy debates. Without an informed and engaged citizenry, policy issues become defined by political and corporate elites. A related element of this concept examines the lack of representation of a diversity of voices and viewpoints, particularly of those who have traditionally been marginalized by mass media.

British and European Cultural Studies has spawned a range of alternative definitions of 'media democracy', including the idea that media audiences are the source of a new form of creative cultural politics. These are not simply audiences of public, Internet or alternative media, but include mass media audiences as well. This radical idea suggests that a cultural democracy emerges through the everyday experiences and meaning-making of audiences. Clearly, such a notion of media democracy extends the familiar conception of institutionally-derived representative democracy. A key theorist in this area is Jeff Lewis (2005), who coined the notion of a globalizing mediasphere..

Key principles

Media ownership concentration

A key idea of media democracy is that the concentration of media ownership in recent decades in the hands of a few corporations and conglomerates has led to a narrowing of the range of voices and opinions being expressed in the mass media; to an increase in the commercialization of news and information; to a hollowing out of the news media’s ability to conduct investigative reporting and act as the public watchdog; and to an increase of emphasis on the bottom line, which prioritizes infotainment and celebrity news over informative discourse.

This concentration has been encouraged by government deregulation and neo-liberal trade policies. For example, the U.S. Telecommunications Act of 1996 discarded most media ownership rules that were previously in place, leading to massive consolidation in the telecommunications industry. Over 4,000 radio stations were bought out, and minority ownership of TV stations dropped to its lowest point since the federal government began tracking such data in 1990. In its review of the Telecommunication Act in 2003, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) further reduced restrictions and allowed media corporations to grow and expand into other areas of media.

The past decade has also seen a number of media corporate mergers and takeovers in Canadamarker. For example, in 1990, 17.3% of daily newspapers were independently owned; in 2005, 1% were. These changes, among others, caused the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications to launch a study of Canadian news media in March 2003. (This topic had been examined twice in the past, by the Davey Commission (1970) and the Kent Commission (1981) , both of which produced recommendations that were never implemented in any meaningful way.)

The Senate Committee’s final report , released in June 2006, expressed concern about the effects of the current levels of news media ownership in Canada. Specifically, the Committee discussed their concerns regarding the following trends: the potential of media ownership concentration to limit news diversity and reduce news quality; the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission]] (CRTC) and Competition Bureau’s ineffectiveness at stopping media ownership concentration; the lack of federal funding for the CBC and the broadcaster’s uncertain mandate and role; diminishing employment standards for journalists (including less job security, less journalistic freedom, and new contractual threats to intellectual property); a lack of Canadian training and research institutes; and difficulties with the federal government’s support for print media and the absence of funding for the internet-based news media.

The report provided 40 recommendations and 10 suggestions (for areas outside of federal government jurisdiction), including legislation amendments that would trigger automatic reviews of a proposed media merger if certain thresholds are reached, and CRTC regulation revisions to ensure that access to the broadcasting system is encouraged and that a diversity of news and information programming is available through these services.

Media democracy advocates argue in favour of such legislative policies that encourage a stronger commitment to serving the public interest and a commercial framework that facilitates independent media ownership.

The 2004 documentary film Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism treats criticism about corporate media concentration.

Alternative and citizen media in the world

As a response to the shortcomings of the mainstream media, proponents of media democracy often advocate supporting and engaging in independent and alternative media, in both print and electronic forms as well as video documentary. Through citizen journalism and citizen media, individuals can produce and disseminate information and opinions that are marginalized by the mainstream media. In the book We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People, Dan Gillmor urges individuals who are concerned about media ownership concentration and the decreasing amount of public-interest broadcasting to use technology like the internet to create and distribute information they believe is not properly reported in the mainstream news media. This book details strategies that individuals and groups can use to democratize the media.

Wikipedia and Wikinews as tools of media democracy

Wikipedia has become a powerful media democracy tool. Anyone—regardless of educational background, experience, or in-depth knowledge—can edit, expand, or remove content. Individuals do not have to get the approval of an editorial board to post content. While there are administrators on Wikipedia, they have roughly the same powers as ordinary users. Wikipedia also lacks corporate control: Wikipedia operates as a not-for-profit, and accepts no advertising or corporate investment which can influence or silence particular ideas. Operating costs are paid by typically small individual donations.

However, there are criticisms. While internet access is pervasive throughout North America, there is far less access in many other parts of the world. Those without access obviously cannot benefit from, or add information to, Wikipedia. There is also a concern that Wikipedia’s content is biased towards a particular group, since a small number of relatively similar individuals contribute much of Wikipedia’s content. To address this concern, a group of Wikipedia users have established to create articles and further develop existing articles in neglected subject areas on Wikipedia.

In 2004, Wikimedia established a site called Wikinews dedicated solely to providing news coverage using wiki technology and the open collaborative philosophy. The site's mission statement commits it to, "present up-to-date, relevant, newsworthy and entertaining content without bias" in the spirit of participatory journalism . Wikinews contains synthesis articles, where a number of news sources are condensed into a single article, and original reporting, where individuals write news stories to fill the gaps of the traditional news media due to various systemic constraints, blind spots, and biases of traditional news media sources do not allow.

Unfortunately, Wikinews has not received the same public interest as Wikipedia. Consequently, there is a relatively small number of contributors, and some stories are very short. However, the number of contributor accounts and new articles is increasing. In April 2006, the English edition of Wikinews reached 5,000 articles.

See also


References and further reading

Bagdikian, Ben H. (2004). The new media monopoly. Boston: Beacon Press.

Brennan Center for Justice, NYU School of Law, The Free Expression Policy Project. (2006). Fact sheets on media democracy. [93567]

Bruns, Axel (2006). "Wikinews: The Next Generation of Alternative Online News?" Scan Journal 3(1) [93568]

Canada. Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communication. (June, 2006). Final report on Canadian news media. [93569] [93570]

Chester, Jeffrey, & Larson, Gary O. (July 23, 2002). A 12-step program for media democracy. The Nation Online. [93571]

Dichter, Aliza. (2003). Is this what media democracy looks like?. Media Development. 2003/4. [93572]

Gillmor, Dan. (2004). We the media: Grassroots journalism by the people, for the people. O’Reilly Media. [93573]

Hackett, Robert A. (2000) "Taking Back the Media: Notes on the Potential for a Communicative Democracy Movement," Studies in Political Economy: A Socialist Review 63(3) pp. 61-86.

Hackett, Robert A. (2001). Building a Movement for Media Democratization. In P. Phillips and Project Censored. Project Censored 2001. New York : Seven Stories.

Hackett, Robert A. & Carroll, William K. (2004) Critical social movements and media reform. Media Development. 2004/1.[93574]

Hackett, Robert A. & Carroll, William K. (2006). Remaking Media: The Struggle to Democratize Public Communication. New York; London: Routledge

Hazen, Don and Julie Winokur, (eds). (1997) We the Media: A Citizens’ Guide to Fighting for Media Democracy. New York: The New Press.

Lewis, Jeff (2005) Language Wars: The Role of Media and Culture in Global Terror and Political Violence, London: University of Michigan Press/ Pluto Books, 2005.

McChesney, Robert Waterman. (2000). Rich media, poor democracy: Communication politics in dubious times. New York: New Press.

McChesney, Robert W. and Nichols, John (2002) Our Media, Not theirs: The Democratic Struggle Against Corporate Media. New York : Seven Stories.

Schiff, Stacy (July 31, 2006). "Know It All: Can Wikipedia Conquer Expertise?" The New Yorker. [93575].

Shariatmadari, David (2006). "Is a Million Articles Proof of Authentic Information?" Intermedia (Vol. 34, Iss. 3): p. 17-18.

Taylor, Alan. (2005). We, the media:Pedagogic Intrusions into US FIlm and Broadcast News Rhetorics. Peter Lang Frankfurt / New York. ISBN 3631518528

The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom. Campaign statement. [93576]

Wikinews (2006). "Wikinews: Mission Statement." [93577]

Wikinews (2006). "Wikinews: Introduction." [93578]

Barker, Michael (2007). "Conform or Reform? Social Movements and the Mass Media", Fifth-Estate-Online - International Journal of Radical Mass Media Criticism. [93579]

Barker, Michael (2008). "The Liberal Foundations of Media Reform? Creating Sustainable Funding Opportunities for Radical Media Reform", Global Media Journal, 1 (2), June 2008. [93580]

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