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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Press Freedom Status in Turkey: From Free to Not Free

Anna-Katharina Ahnefeld, Oyumaa Batsukh, Merve Keçeli, Yu-Hsuan Lin and Man Wai Tam

Independent journalism in Turkey is now at its darkest moment. In merely a decade, the country has turned from a place with improving press freedom to a prison for journalists. In 2004, Turkey stood 98 among 167 countries on the press freedom ranking released by Reporters Without Borders. In 2018, the number dropped to 157. The drastic decline in press freedom, together with the rising authoritarian ruling, has made Turkey the most freedom-deteriorating country in the world.

As of May 11, there are 192 journalists jailed, 142 wanted in Turkey. While the upcoming Presidential Election on June 24 is showing intense competition, candidates from opposition parties are heavily oppressed and the Turkish media are forced to give unanimous voice.  Selahattin Demirtaş, presidential candidate from People’s Democratic Party (HDP), has been running his campaign from the jail. TRT (Turkish Radio and Television Corporation), the national broadcaster, is criticized for only broadcasting mass meetings held by the current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Another candidate, Meral Akşener from İYİ Party, claims that news workers at a television channel were fired only because of broadcasting her mass meeting for 10 seconds.

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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.

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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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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!”

Tackling Transparency in the Facebook Era

Sofia Elanidou, Sofía Cisneros Gavín, Sarah Markewich, Pauline Ranscelot, Stefi Stampoulian, Hande Yılmaz

If we focus on solutions rather than on problems, “transparency” might be a good choice for the 2018 Word of the Year and a logical follow up to “fake news;” the 2017 winner.

Transparency Finally Takes Off,” is one of the 2018 “Predictions for Journalism” in Nieman Lab’s list via CUNY Journalism School’s Carrie Brown Smith. She says it’s time for the media to recognize the importance of showing “exactly how they work.

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