Programme Objectives and Outputs

The programme seeks to enhance the integration and development of interdisciplinary research into the media in Europe, by fostering networking, facilitating dialogue across the humanities and social sciences, offering opportunities for young scholars, and evolving research proposals and activities. In particular it is envisaged that the Programme will result in the following concrete outcomes:

  • Networking: the Programme will be structured to aid the regular association of media scholars from widely varied disciplines and countries not otherwise likely to be in contact. Teams will be flexible and will change in composition over time to ensure the maximum contribution of all members.

  • Archiving: the measurement and analysis of media production, content, and reception is a major activity in many national research communities, but little of this data is available to researchers cross-nationally, nor is it very often analysed comparatively. The programme will actively seek to create, or foster, a media research data archive of value to researchers in both the humanities and social sciences cross-nationally.

  • Methodology: one of the distinctive features of this programme is its sponsorship by both the SCSS and SCH of the ESF. Its work will be distinguished by interdisciplinary dialogue, not least in areas of research methodology, which will be a recurrent motif across all its themes. The programme will examine and seek to develop new methodological approaches, both quantitative and qualitative, arising from this dialogue.

  • Data Sets: the programme is not primarily a series of research projects. It is nonetheless designed to generate new data from the analysis (both empirically and theoretically) of existing data. Such data would emerge from the work of each of the teams described later in this document, and would inform the work of the Programme as a whole. The teams would also analyse existing national data sets to assess their comparability and to determine rigorous methods for preparing data which could inform our understanding of cross-national processes of media production, distribution and consumption. Groups working across the teams would be encouraged to meet to assist in the assessment and analysis of relevant data, a need discussed and preliminarily signaled at the year zero meeting (see annexed report).

  • Young Scholars: the integration of young post-doctoral researchers will be of great importance and the budget will allocate funds for each team to create opportunities for such young scholars through fellowships, travel awards, and so on.

  • Publication plan: information about the programme activities will be circulated regularly through an electronic newsletter and a www site, where information on all activities (workshops, reports, etc) will be announced. Publication of papers will not await the conclusion of the programme but will ensue throughout its life. It is envisaged that each team will produce a series of Programme Working Papers both for preliminary discussion and for publication. The Programme will produce at least one final edited volume for commercial publication by a reputable academic publisher.

Framework and Principles

This brief introductory review demonstrates that we are in a period of rapid and substantial transition, in which communications institutions and processes are at the heart of the tensions and uncertainties provoked by technological and social change. These are manifest in questions about the role of the media which research needs urgently to address. Primarily, and in sum, these address the role of the media in relation:

  • to users as consumers (market relations) or as citizens (public and political communication);

  • to the state (through questions of regulation as part of cultural policy or deregulation as part of industrial and commercial policy);

  • to society (in which communication aspects of social institutions affect degrees of either convergence or fragmentation);

  • and to culture (and the tensions between greater individualisation and difference on the one hand, or greater globalisation and homogeneity on the other).

These four broad issues, and the tensions within them, will form the framework for the themes to be explored in the Programme (see Section II). The programme on Changing media - Changing Europe is based on the following main principles:

  • the programme has a comparative perspective and research must address the concept of Europe and the media in Europe in a broad sense, recognising that the issue of the scope and extent of Europe is a cultural as much as a geo-political matter.

  • the programme must not duplicate ongoing national and European research, but give added European value to research

  • the programme aims at strengthening the interdisciplinarity of European media research and is constructed around problematics and themes that allow for studies across dimensions and disciplines of media research in social science and the humanities and across media types

  • the programme centres on themes and problematics that make it possible to strengthen the theory basis of European media research and to develop innovative knowledge of media and media changes in Europe

  • the programme aims at a strengthening of European networks of research and the co-operation between young researchers and senior researchers

  • the programme will, through publication, work to increase the scientific public sphere of Europe in media and communication studies

II. Themes and Sub-themes

General remarks

The themes are the core of the programme, but the theme structure should also allow flexible administration of the work done under each of the themes and cross-fertilisation between the groups working under different themes. The themes describe contradictory tendencies in the development of the media, and lend themselves to comparative, European levels of analysis. They also create a platform for the discussion of a number of more theoretical and methodological questions related to both humanities and social sciences.

The choice of research themes is based on a knowledge of already existing programmes with a cross-national and European perspective. Research themes should not duplicate existing projects but add a new comparative dimension to basic themes in media research. The themes should also encourage problem-focused, interdisciplinary work on the basis of more concrete studies of sub-themes. This ESF-programme can, by its focusing on four general themes, be an innovative research forum for already existing national projects or projects with a broader European perspective. It will also act as a catalyst to open new avenues of inquiry and analysis.

Theme 1. Citizenship and consumerism: Media, the public sphere and the market

People confront the media in two roles. They are consumers buying goods and services in the market place, in which the products of the media compete for scarce spending power and attention with a range of other goods and services. At the same time they use the media to acquire the information and symbolic resources to enable them to act socially, as citizens in the political system, and as social actors in their wider community. To what extent do these roles conflict? Do growing material inequalities in the market place differentiate people as cultural consumers? Are cultural inequalities commensurate with citizen equality? Is a public sphere capable of being sustained in the path of an ever growing commercialisation of cultural production, and what are the changing local, national, and trans-national contours of these contradictions?

The media are central to the question of modernisation and democratisation of society in a historical perspective, and also to contemporary questions about the transformation of the public sphere. A strong critical tradition from Habermas’ theoretical and historical analysis of the rise and fall of the ‘bourgeois public sphere’ has seen the development as a conflict between forces aiming at the commercialisation of all sectors of society and forces trying to establish an expanded democracy. According to this tradition also represented by American researchers like Sennett and Neil Postmann, the modern visual media, and especially television have undermined the rational and cultural discourse present at an earlier stage: we are in an age of ‘showbiz’ and ‘info-tainment’. Much recent American research into political communications (by writers like Entman, Patterson, Hall Jamieson, and others) has castigated the increasing failure of US media adequately to service the needs of an informed citizenry. Are these trends detectable in European experience?

Sub-theme 1.1: Public Service and the public spheres in Europe

The tradition of public service media is one of the central areas of concern in relation to the question of citizenship and consumerism, since on a European level it represents a normative ideology of media in service of democracy and for the purpose of sustaining the development of national culture and citizenship. Public service media are financed to a large extent by licence fee or by restricted commercial incomes, with autonomy from direct political influence, and with broad cultural and social obligations in direct opposition to the rationale of programming based on commercial profit and audience maximisation.

Both radio, and later TV, in most European countries were firmly based on the ideology of public service. Public service was seen as an integral part of modern welfare societies and the social-liberal ideology represented in general in social and cultural politics in the welfare state. In eastern Europe post-war development saw the rise of tightly state-controlled media, now rapidly being replaced by market driven institutions and some residual public service policies. In the different European nations (and of course very differently in the East European countries) the number and type of channels have changed considerably, from a very restricted one channel system to a system with several public service channels or a mixed media culture with competition between public service and commercial channels. In the 1980's and 1990's great changes have already taken place and are still continuing: public service culture is now approaching a new era where the former appeal to a broad national audience is breaking down.

Specialisation and new distribution technologies will change the role and form of public service in the future. Public sector broadcasters, both radio and TV in this period, have developed new types of programming, but have also, in a number of countries, lost a significant share of their former audience to other channels.

The comparative analysis of public service media in Europe can draw on existing empirical data at a general institutional level involving the relation between national and international channels, different types of channels, on programming statistics and audience reach, and involves both a historical, a more political and economic focus and questions related to the social and cultural impact and importance of public service. And it involves more aesthetic and discursive questions on a comparative, qualitative level of developments in important programme genres, like for instance national fiction, national news, documentaries and programmes for young people and children.

Several areas of analysis and investigation could be designated:

  • News and the political and social agenda: in all European and global cultures news is a very popular and important factor. News and journalistic forms have changed fundamentally since the 1950's, and especially in the1990's the explosion in types of news and in both national and international formats is very visible. A sub-theme on news could deal with both the transformation of news seen from a more historical and a journalistic and rhetorical perspective. But a comparative study of News in Europe could also address questions related to the forming of the national and European political and social agenda and opinion forming and the question of how news is used by viewers.

  • EU in European media: a specific sub-theme related to both news and cultural programmes could deal with the image of EU and European matters in the different national media. Case studies could be made of news, documentaries, actuality programmes, cultural programmes, etc.

  • East-West integration and the media: this problematic could be analysed both in relation to the changes taking place in Eastern Europe in the media since 1989 and as an issue in media in Europe in general.

  • The Future of public service broadcasting: the tendency towards digitalisation and the new possibilities for interactive television, narrow casting, etc. are now threatening or opening up new possibilities for the traditional public service media based on the concept of programme plurality. A sub-theme on this aspect could compare the different strategic responses to this developed in European media and the role of national regulations and European co-operation in meeting the challenge.

  • Democracy, political culture and the media: What is the impact of media on public debate and politics in the light of the growing intervention of media both in the private and the public sphere and in the very process of democracy? It is quite clear that political communications have become not merely part of the political process; in many ways they are that process. Modern elections, for example would be inconceivable without the central part played by ‘the modern publicity process’, as Blumler has termed it. That process is at different stages and takes different forms across Europe, and comparative study would enlarge our understanding of this enormously important and unprecedented historical shift.

Sub-theme 1.2: Media, cultural production and cultural values

The development of modern media is beyond doubt related to both the development of democracy and the democratisation of culture. Modernisation, urbanisation, globalisation, better education and the rise of integrated broadcasting technologies in Europe have changed the relation between different forms of culture and increased the cross fertilisation of high culture and popular culture. However, this development of cross-fertilisation and democratisation is also linked to a growing commercialisation of more and more sectors of communication and culture. Has the rise of a more global and competitive market, threatening the more protective cultural policies, led to an increased conformity and lowering of standards in cultural products and news- and information discourses? What, indeed, are these standards? Have the very standards by which such products are judged changed? The media in all genres and forms also act as symbolic forms, and these forms and the symbolic function of media are greatly influenced by the battle or links between culture and commerce.

At the same time the growing globalisation of media, communication and culture and the flow of people and programmes have created a much more multicultural environment. The purpose of this sub-theme is to study the processes linking media, cultural forms and cultural values cross cultural forms and media types and to look at the interrelated and sometimes opposing tendencies of democratisation and commercialisation.

Several areas of analysis and investigation could be designated:

  • Programming strategies in EU-television: involving more detailed studies of and better empirical data on the historical and recent development in Europe in the way public service stations try to capture different audiences through new programming strategies. This sub-theme also involves analysis of programming and scheduling profiles, assessing for example, changes in the balance between entertainment and information and between programmes with national and regional origin and from Europe and US.

  • High-low culture dichotomy: in many ways modern mass media have all historically been marked by the pejorative terms mass culture or low culture, and both film, radio and television were seen as a threat to the established high culture and to cultural values. ‘Moral panics’ follow modern media and signal transformations of cultural values resulting from a process of democratisation and more close relations between different social and cultural segments of society. A theme on the high-low culture dichotomy will therefore focus on one of the main cultural and societal debates and conflicts in the 20th. century.

Images of reality, ‘Dumbing down’, tabloidisation and infotainment: one of the important new trends in European television is the growth of documentary forms. These forms include both more traditional investigative journalism, observational forms of programmes dealing with social problems and everyday life and more populist programmes and info-tainment, like talkshows and programmes with mixture of games, entertainment and journalism. The new trends in reality-TV, docu-soaps etc. and changes in the relation between public and private in programmes on violence, crime, accidents, often with re-enactments of real life cases is another important development in both European and American television and other media. Tabloidisation and infotainment is clearly related to the high-low dichotomy. Where commercial intentions meet specific aesthetic and rhetorical forms transforming public issues and more serious forms of public arguing into more privatised, sensational forms of journalism and rhetoric. Tabloidisation has been around for some time in European newspapers, but the era of deregulation of radio and television has also resulted in the transformation of genres in journalism and other factual genres, in the hybridisation of public and private discourses and in new programming strategies.