Do we know who owns the media we consume and use? What are the algorithms guiding our consumption? Who can curb hate speech? The phenomenon of “media capture” takes place when both governments and commercial interests align against public interest media and transparency in governance of media organizations and platforms.
This urgently important concept and its manifestations were the focus of the lecture by Dr. Marko Milosavljević, Associate Professor at the University of Ljubljana. He visited St. John’s University on October 4th, 2017 hosted by the Institute for International Communication. Dr. Milosavljević’s research is a part of an ongoing Columbia University-led international project (see, e.g., the recently published series of essays with the Center for International Media Assistance).
As a short recap of his inspiring and lively lecture, Dr. Milosavljević kindly answered our questions about the concept and his work:
Q: What is media capture?
Media capture is a theory with its roots in economics. It says that key authorities, including policy-makers, are captured by their roles in the society, as well as by their embedded position between political interests and large business interests. This means they are so involved with things that they cannot see the perspective of the ordinary citizen but they merely look after their interest. What results is a set of problems, for instance that of ‘revolving doors’: policy-makers go on taking jobs at the companies they formerly regulated. This is currently happening in the field of media, in some countries more aggressively, in others to a lesser extent, but nevertheless.
“The danger is that the phenomenon is not open,
such as censorship,
Q: What made you personally interested in the emerging study of media capture?
Probably the fact that I come from the small country of Slovenia, with a population of two million. As in any small and mid-size state – including Austria, Scandinavia, and the Benelux countries – key players automatically know one another well and there’s little desire to disrupt the system. But also larger countries, such as Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom in Europe experience the phenomenon. I read recently from the Financial Times that the political elite in the UK know one another already from school: 90% of the British parliament went to the same three universities. Hence, they have a special position in the society from their early years on and do not listen to the problems of ordinary people.
Q: What are the next developments in media capture? Are we going to see that governments, politicians, media organizations, and/or people will demand change to the state-of-affairs? Or, is it going to get worse?
Both. The next part of our research project on media capture is going to be the issue of media capture in the digital environment. We had this great promise that read: Digital media and digitalization in general will enhance plurality and diversity of voices. But what we also have is concentration of ownership and lack of policies, lack of regulation.
“I do not believe mere self-regulation works well – just look at the issue of fake news, hate speech, or problems with elections in many countries. Yes, we get apologies from Facebook and others but they do not officially recognize the extent of the problems.”
Some of these companies today have so much more power than any media company in the past. With that kind of influence comes also a big responsibility. We as a society should have some ways to hold them accountable. Users of these platforms should demand more transparency. And that needs to be coupled with an appropriate response from policy-makers.