Media Owners Never Hit the Headlines. How Come?

Panagiota Sdoukou, Lina Dahbour, Camilla Falsetti, Lucas Moore, María Migallón, Evelina Nõmme, Louis Toussaint, Yavuz S. Ugurtas

Transparency over media ownership: What is the status quo in Europe?

“Access Info Europe has carried out a research across Europe and we proved that it is impossible to know who is behind the media” says Helen Darbshire, Excecutive Director, Access Info Europe.

According to the Center for Media Pluralism and Freedom “Media ownership concentration remains one of the most significant risks to media pluralism and is seen as creating barriers to diversity of information and viewpoints.”

Unfortunately, there is no generic answer to the question “what is the state of media ownership transparency in Europe”. Over the past years, there were extreme cases of media manipulation unveiled in Europe, which have sparked a debate on media freedom and media ownership.

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Is Media Capture the Chief Culprit in Hindering Media Independence?

Greta Bitante, Nadine Lakhal, Jinhong Park, Laura Sanz, Mengzhi Zeng, Ieva Zinovičiūtė

Without any doubt, media capture has quickly become one of the world’s most difficult and intractable problems. In a growing number of countries, collusion between governments and wealthy media owners is becoming the preferred method of political consolidation and for maintaining the power of a small elite. Aggravated by the economic weakness of the traditional news business and the growing concentration of ownership of media industries, media capture has become one of the major tools for undermining democratic societies and handing them over to authoritarian rule.

It is well known that in some authoritarian regimes, media are often biased. The lack of media independence generally has to do with media capture by political interests. In countries such as Turkey, Russia or Egypt, media outlets are mostly state-owned and the content being published is strictly controlled, which goes totally against democratic values and freedom of expression. However, media capture is not the same as censorship imposed from a State, since it operates through collaboration between media owners and the State. As Andrew Finkel argues, captured media often chases its audiences with screaming headlines, political intrigue, with the aim of influencing a large number of people while maintaining the favour of the Government.

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Trolls, Bots…And Terrorists?

Maartje van Leeuwen, Nora Romanova, Max Årstad Knutsen , Alaa Jbour,  Erkan Yildiz and Aslihan Okyay

Social media is a powerful weapon, it can be used as a tool to shape opinions, attitudes and even behaviors. In today’s information environment, there are numerous opportunities to share radical content online. Proclaimed states and terrorist groups have quickly adapted the new information environment by using social media for disseminating propaganda to achieve political objectives, plan operations and reach large audiences to gain their support.

Bots and the Spread of Illegal Content Online

One of the most worrying phenomenon on social media platforms is the spread of computer generated content by ‘bots’, the most commonly used medium for bot activity is Twitter. Twitter has certain benefits as it reaches large audiences and is easy to use, while it keeps anonymity and allows a fast recovery from suspended accounts. Terrorist bots have been designed to misinform and manipulate social media users. These accounts can disseminate, share and retweet information in great amounts and with great speed. Furthermore, these automatic generated profiles are capable of interacting with each other, thus appearing more credible for Twitter users. Researchers have uncovered that terrorist groups have adjusted their twitter behavior in such a way as to ensure that the deactivation of their initial posts do not affect the spread of their message. And furthermore they have adjusted their media techniques in order to achieve maximum viral reach. They no longer need the traditional gatekeepers of the media to spread their message. This means that these gatekeepers have lost their protected status.

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The Game of Lobbying. Will Europe Take Real Actions

Transparency in the Era of Fake News

Tamam Abusalama, Darya Tronenko, Mariana Franca da Costa Lemos, Hofman Aline, Rafael Ramiro, Celia Iglesias Berberana

A Broad Concentration in Brussels

Over 25.000. This the estimated number of lobbyists working in regular presence in Brussels, shaping aand influencing decision making in a transnational sphere, according to Transparency International EU. This increasing number of lobbying companies is tied to governments and can lead to the transformation of democracy from civil representation to representation of interests. This transformation is new and quite influential.  It’s a business-based-relationship; lobbying companies are looking to increase their profits through many ways. There is an incentive to trade money for access, which gives lobbying companies the ability to achieve their agenda and objectives.

This trend has also changed the face of media and fake news, especially with the revolutions in communication technologies and social networks. Take, for instance, the increasing relevance of media in EU lobbying processes; a closer investigation of media coverage on EU legislation is necessary to understand who’s voices are heard and why. Without this investigation, fake news will continue being spread for the benefit of a growing number of different actors, including lobbyists. EU Governments are tackling this problem with regulations, but one question stands out: Whose job is it to fight disinformation, if anyone’s? Should it be the responsibility of tech companies, lobbyists, governments, or readers themselves? Well, working together in a multidisciplinary approach is a way to minimize bias and maximize democracy.

Continue reading “The Game of Lobbying. Will Europe Take Real Actions”

Being Responsible in the Age of Fake News

Catalina Barja, Elizabeth Castillo, Darya Chernokova, Alfonso Alonso Herrera, Hande Karasu and Sangam Silpakar

The internet revolution and the rise of Web 2.0 have not only disrupted society with abundance of information but also have empowered citizens by allowing them to participate in content generation process. Users are no longer passive participants of media. They not only create contents but reach millions of other people by self-mass communication through social networking sites. Unfortunately, such freedom has caused interference in the flow of information through the distribution of fake news.

Although the existence of fake news can be traced back to 1439 in the name of yellow journalism and propaganda, the term gained its popularity due to the US Presidential election in 2016. During this period, false news across the political spectrum gained more visibility in social media. A survey conducted by Eurobarometer in all the European Union member states in 2018 shows that online media users encounter more fake news than traditional media users. While the term ‘Fake News’ is believed to be a populist term, the High-Level Expert Group (HLEG) formed by the European Commission to tackle fake news has instead termed it ‘online disinformation’. Nevertheless, in a democratic era where everyone’s opinion is valued, who is to define what is true and false, as “one man’s fake news is another’s truth-telling”.

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Towards a Digital and Media-Literate Europe: a Long and Winding Road?

Lorin Akbiyik, Rovena Carvalho Ferreira, Rodelio Concepcion, Andira Figueroa Vargas, Sasha Miller, Sara Teklay

In the core of today’s digital society, social media reigns supreme. It combines social interactions, entertainment and source of news, not to mention that it created a shift from users as mere spectators to users also as creators of content. On your timelines you see not only posts from the friends, groups and pages that you follow (which normally already include a large amount of clickbait, but also, due to the work of algorithms, suggested posts come around often. To be able to comb through this sea of information floating around – which may include hate speech, fake news and other harmful content – and distinguish what are reliable sources or not, being a digital and media literate is paramount.

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Digital and media illiterates are easier prey to online fake news, senior citizens are considered more vulnerable in this scenario.

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Educating Youngsters towards a Brighter Future. The Time is Now!

Farah Al Doori, Olga Kaferinova, Ina Krasteva, Ramona Mantescu, Eleni Myrtsioti, Ebenezer Toga, Antoni Tsekov

“A child miseducated is a child lost”, John F. Kennedy once said. Many would argue that as we live in times when all the knowledge in the world is a mouse click away. Yes and no. The rapid development of artificial intelligence and the digital technologies nowadays clearly proves that each aspect of our children’s lives will be different than ours.

Today’s pre-schoolers will join the workforce in 2035. To give them a springboard to the future, we need to ensure they possess the necessary skills to be competitive. Nothing will replace reading, writing, and arithmetic skills but mastering them only, would not guarantee a prosperous future. As we will prove below, we need to invest time, money and efforts to improve today’s kids’ digital competences. Furthermore, we need to encourage them to discover and develop their affinity in STEM subjects, regardless of their gender. Continue reading “Educating Youngsters towards a Brighter Future. The Time is Now!”

Russian Trolls: It Can (And Probably will) Happen Again

Aurelija Gackaitė, Rugilė Jakučionytė, Zahaid Rehman, Miriam Siemon, Xuerui Wu and Anastasia Yakubovich

Propaganda takes many shapes and forms, but in recent history, it has been masked under the guise of civic participation and political awareness on social media. This is clearly evident in the case of the 2016 US elections and the now-famous (or infamous) Russian troll factory that was seen actively trying to spread misinformation against the Hilary Clinton campaign, adding support for President Trump in the process.

Since then, several former ‘trolls’ from the Russia-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) – seen as one of the major actors in disseminating misinformation in the campaign process – have stated that they were not lured into working for IRA to push any agenda, whether related to civic participation or propaganda; they were simply incentivised through a better salary than most other writing jobs.

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Geo-Blocking is Going to be Banned in EU…But Wait! You Still Can’t Download the Foreign Songs You Like

Blerim Berisha, Yang Cao, Jan Kalina, Ikram Mallou, Thomaz Novaes, Ronald Piwele, Yin Zi

When consumers in EU countries are shouting hooray for EU’s anti-geoblocking regulation finally being passed by European Parliament earlier this year, German MEP Julia Reda undiplomatically expressed her disappointment.

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Reda is right. Geo-blocking banishment is working for e-commerce but not for access to other media. EU’s first “baby step” as she called is a great news for online shoppers to buy some goods, such as a refrigerator, some services, or for website hosting services. European consumers will enjoy a price with no difference no matter which EU member state they reside in. But if you are talking about Spotify, Netflix and TV, or any other copyrighted content like music, ebooks, and video games, sorry, the “wall” is still there. This is indeed a big bummer, and we all hate that error message telling us we are in the “wrong” country.

So, what are the main obstacles to tackle for realizing a truly no-barrier digital single market? Is it true that no one is willing to fight against powerful entertainment industry, as Reda claimed? At least EU is aware of the needs of consumers to break the “wall”, addressed that they will extend the geoblocking on copyrighted services in two years. But that sounds a bit long stretch.

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While a seamless cross-border access to popular streaming media services sound like a perfect dream to EU digital content consumers, there are indeed some substantial challenges the industry faces in order to reach such a goal. Most of online copyrighted contents in the European market are licensed on a national basis. For many digital content providers, the main reason of geoblocking is due to the expensive cost of buying copyrights covering extra geographic areas. This is even more common for smaller operators. Thus, one argument is that lifting geoblocking might bring unintended consequences to the industry and the market. The industry might suffer significant losses of revenues which will prompt uncertainty for the future, as nobody knows how long it would take for the industry to adapt to this new unrestricted cross-border access. Another concern is it might induce price arbitrage between country markets, which puts pressure on sellers to reduce price differentiation and push some prices up, others down. The price response of sellers is hard to predict and may have repercussions not only on downstream consumers but also on upstream parts of the supply chain.

Cultural diversity is considered as a strong incentive for lifting the digital content geo-blocking, because surveys indicate that one key reason people demand foreign digital content is they could not get it from the country they live in. There are about 20 million EU citizens who were born in one EU member state and live in another member state. Without geo-blocking, many of them could enjoy contents produced and licensed in their home countries. However, studies also show that the longer long-term intra-EU immigrants stay away from their country of origin, the less interest they have to buy audiovisual content of their home country. This is an important measurement for audiovisual business operators. One more concern on the unrestricted cross-border content is that there might be less investment in local production which leads to less diversity. EU citizens from the poorer countries will have to pay higher prices if they want to enjoy good quality content.

So, it seems that Mr. Ansip’s ambition will take quite some time to fulfill. But the future could be hopeful. The good news is that at least EU residents can watch streaming content they have bought in their home country while traveling in EU area, thanks to the new law. Even MEP Reda agreed that copyright is a delicate issue.  European Parliament’s economic assessment on geo-blocking prohibition shows that there will be notable economic and social welfare gains by lifting geo-blocking on audiovisual and copyrighted services, despite the risks and concerns. It will depend on the negotiation and cooperation between the public sector, the industry and society.

 

Reference

The statistics, evidences and study results used in this article are based on the analysis Extending the Scope of the Geo-Blocking Prohibition: An Economic Assessment published by European Parliament in 2017. (could put hyperlink: http://bruegel.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/IPOL_IDA2017595364_EN.pdf)

Is Staying in your Filter Bubble what you really want?

Andrea Ruiz Valencia, Nele Pärje, Maxime Paquin, Jija Bhattacharya, Alice Masoni, Christos Kampolis

The Digital Single Market (DSM) Strategy aims to overcome the fragmentation of the European market and merge 28 markets into a single digital economy. To prepare the digital grounds for the DSM to flourish, several obstacles need to be tackled, one of which revolves around the personalization of the Internet. There is a disturbing phenomenon in the way online platforms operate today, notably the way algorithms predict and select content we want to consume.

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