Media Capture Series Pt. 3: Freedom of the Press? The Expansion of Media Capture in the Mainstream

mediacapture3In October, the Institute for International Communication hosted Dr. Marko Milosavljevic who discussed his cutting-edge research on media capture . A group of undergraduate students of International Communication reflected on the theme. 

The age of widespread overt propaganda and media dictatorship has dwindled; however, freedom of the press remains vulnerable as media systems fall under the control of  “governments or vested interests networked with politics,” in the words of Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, professor of democracy studies at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. This phenomenon is called, “media capture” and its purpose lies in empowering governments and corporate elites towards maintaining public support.

Media capture has existed for decades and it was originally thought that the internet would alleviate the issue; however, the digital age may have heightened it instead. The expectation was that more competition in media would lead to higher quality news and diversity, allowing for media to be watchdogs in the case where some media were ‘captured.’ However, the change in media landscape has lessened the popularity of traditional media models, causing advertisers to gravitate towards the internet, where slots are inexpensive and consumers are less willing to pay for content. These changes have caused significant revenue declines and an increase in tendency towards media capture and poor quality reporting (e.g. clickbait).

Media capture exists on a global scale; however, there is a notable difference in the ease of infiltration of interest groups into the media between developing and developed nations. In developed nations, traditional media were already properly established before the rise of digital media, meaning that these countries are still under the laws, regulations, and norms that institute independent media’s importance in a country’s government. On the other hand, in developing nations, media are still constructing their position. In these nations, traditional and new media combine to form a more abstract system that is outside of regulatory frameworks.

Media censorship can be viewed as an element of media capture. According to Columbia University Professor Joseph Stiglitz, “governments lacking freedom of the press do not have to own the press to make sure that the press reflects their views.” This can apply to self-censorship as well, where media restrain from publishing certain content or soften their rhetoric for fear of losing advertising revenue, subscribers, or news tips. An often trivialized example of this is President Trump’s attempts to delegitimize media that disagree with him by labeling certain networks as “fake-news” and “distorted,” and publicly questioning the rescinding of broadcast licenses’ on such basis.

In some instances, media can mesh with public opinion and become a part of an echo chamber that amplifies and confirms common perspective. This is referred to as cognitive capture. On the issue of defining cognitive capture, Joseph Stiglitz states “rather than being the ‘fourth estate,’ set apart from the rest of society to provide the checks and balances necessary to make society function well, the media are embedded within society, and are little more than a reflection of the views widely shared within it.” This phenomenon appears to be prevalent amongst Danish media, especially in discussions involving Muslim immigration. Following the rise of the Danish People’s Party (DPP), the right wing populist party, the political discourse surrounding minorities, especially Muslim minorities, have been increasingly negative. The popularity of the DPP has also shifted the entire Danish political spectrum towards the right. This occurrence may reflect Danish collectivist tendencies (despite an individualistic cultural tilt), which assume an avoidance of starkly different opinions amongst citizens. In other words, unlike the United States, there are less extremely disparate views politically. The Danish media, heavily in favor of “freedom of speech,” provide a microphone for radical political and indecent statements against Muslim minorities. Given that Danish citizens are heavily involved in politics and have high levels of trust in their government, the political landscape is an accurate depiction of majority sentiments in Denmark. Danish media then act as a mirror for the popular views of society.

As media capture and its subsets spread and increase, political accountability decreases. Any threat to true freedom of the press is a threat to democracy. Acknowledging and understanding media capture is the first step in limiting its power over societies.

References

Andersen, A. B. (2013). Research in political communication: An overview. Media and Politics in Denmark, 42(3). Retrieved from http://politica.dk/en/the-journal/volume-42-no-3-media-and-politics-in-denmark/

Chwalisz, N. & Mariegaard, M. Willing Accomplices? The Danish Media and the Political Discourses on Minorities. Retrieved from https://www.humanityinaction.org/knowledgebase/137-willing-accomplices-the-danish-media-and-the-political-discourses-on-minorities

Cillizza, Chris (2017, October 12). Donald Trump just issued a direct threat to the free and independent media. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/11/politics/donald-trump-media-tweet/index.html

Flyverbom, M., Christensen, L., Madsen, J., Jørgensen, S. (2017). Globalization of the Danish Media Industry. Retrieved from The Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces: https://slks.dk/fileadmin/user_upload/dokumenter/medier/Mediernes_udvikling/2017/Specialrapporter/Internationale_aktoerer/Rapport_og_bilag/Summary_in_English.pdf

Jauert, Per. Denmark: Media Landscapes. Retrieved from http://ejc.net/media_landscapes/denmark

Schiffrin, A. (2017). Introduction. In A. Schiffrin, In In the Service of Power: Media Capture and the Threat to Democracy. Retrieved from https://www.cima.ned.org/resource/media-capture-introduction/

Schiffrin, Anya (2017, August 17). Media Capture in the Digital Age [Web blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/media-capture-in-the-digital-age-by-anya-schiffrin-2017-08

Stiglitz, J. (2017). Toward a taxonomy of media capture. In A. Schiffrin, In In the Service of Power: Media Capture and the Threat to Democracy. Retrieved from https://www.cima.ned.org/resource/media-capture-toward-taxonomy-media-capture/

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