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:
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:
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:
II. Themes and Sub-themes
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:
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:
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.