Impact of local media on democracy
Kerry Traynor joined the ICC as a postgraduate researcher in November 2012. Her PhD study will explore the impact of local media upon democracy in contemporary Britain, using critical political economy of the media as a form of critical inquiry (Winseck & Jin, 2012). The study will assess the ways in which local media ownership and governance structures influence approaches to business modelling, editorial strategies and approaches to production; whether local media services act as a change agents empowering local communities and holding local power-holders to account, or whether it sustains and strengthens the identity and authority of the state and private sector corporations (Bourdieu, 1984; Coleman et al, 2009; Klein, 2007); whether symbiotic relationships between the state, private business and the media inevitably prevent commercial media from achieving freedom of expression (Herman and Chomsky, 1988; Watson and Hickman, 2012); and whether the privileged position of voluntary regulation currently afforded to the industry, currently the subject of much debate, is adequate in relation to local media sector.
In seeking to understand these themes, the study will explore the ways in which key stakeholders are engaged, portrayed and impacted upon, including audiences and participants, content producers, partners from the public, private and third sectors, advertisers, sponsors, policymakers and competitors. There will be a particular focus upon the ongoing tension between the identification of individuals as citizens and/or consumers (Lewis et al, 2005; Manning, 2001; Murdock & Golding, 2002; Turner, 2010), the ways in which local media services perpetuate and/or challenge such notions, and resultant impacts upon citizenship, civic engagement and democracy (Hoffman, 2004; Murdock & Golding, 2002). This will be explored further through analysis of the ways in which local media content is developed and framed, through approaches to scheduling and programme development, production and/or co-production, editorial policy, quality and compliance, with a particular focus on the ways in which local communities are engaged in, or excluded from, such processes.
The study will seek to understand the ways in which local media services deal with contemporary challenges such as media regulation, ownership, governance, and commercial viability (Bourdieu, 1984; Curran and Seaton, 2010; Mair et al, 2012; Murdock & Golding, 2002; Porter, 2004); technical convergence, the rise of social networking, the emergence of web 3.0 and the fragmentation of media markets (Anderson, 2006; Auletta, 2010; Briggs & Burke, 2009; Jenkins, 2006; Lister et al, 2009; van Djick, 2013); as well as issues around independence, impartiality and standards coupled with declining audiences and declining trust in traditional media (Bennett, 2009; Wilks-Heeg, 2012), and how decisions regarding such challenges affect the impact that services have upon society and democracy.
The study will consider a range of local media services such as community radio, hyperlocal blogs and local newspapers. However there will be a particular focus on the new wave of local television services initiated by the coalition government soon after taking power and in the wake of the Digital Economy Act 2010. Based upon the American model of local media plurality (Jeremy Hunt cited in Porter, 2010) the policy will enable up to £40 million of public funding previously allocated to the BBC to be diverted to fund start-up costs for a national network of local television services, delivered over Digital Terrestrial Technologies (DTT), including £25 million towards a national ‘backbone’ infrastructure and up to £15 million committed by the BBC towards content acquisition from the various local services.
Licences have been awarded by Ofcom to a ‘first wave’ of local services due to launch in late 2013 or early 2014 in 19 ‘pioneer cities’ across the UK namely Belfast, Blackpool & Preston, Birmingham, Bristol, Brighton & Hove, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Grimsby, London, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Sheffield and Southampton. Applications have more recently been submitted to Ofcom regarding the second wave of services in a further 30 locations.
In the UK there has been widespread criticism of the current local TV policy in the UK primarily regarding the commercial viability of such services, the need for and relevance of local services, and cultural objections (Greenslade, 2012; Hart, 2010) largely based around cultural differences in notions of patriotism and localism between the UK and the US, but the government contends that local TV will bring ‘numerous economic, social, cultural and democratic benefits’ (DCMS, 2010) and that it will be ‘important in the wider localism agenda, holding institutions to account and increasing civic engagement at a local level’ (DCMS, 2011).
Kerry has begun to disseminate indicative findings from her doctoral research at international conferences, including the 18th International Conference of the Association for Cultural Economics, Montreal, June 2014 (see ‘downloads’ box at top right of page for paper and accompanying presentation).
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Curran, J. & Seaton, J. (2010 – 7th Ed.) Power without Responsibility – Press, Broadcasting and the Internet in Britain.
Department for Culture, Media and Sport (2011) A new framework for local TV in the UK.
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Porter, A. (2010) Jeremy Hunt: Ministry of Fun is about to get ‘very horrible’. The Telegraph. Online
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/bbc/7895994/Jeremy-Hunt-Ministry-of-Fun-is-about-to-get-very-horrible.html 17 July 2010 [Accessed 17 June 2013]
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Turner, G. (2010) Ordinary People and the Media – The Demotic Turn. Sage, London.
van Djick, J. (2013) The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Watson, T. and Hickman, M. (2012) Dial M for Murdoch: News Corruption and the Corruption of Britain. Penguin, London.
Wilks-Heeg, S., Blick, A., and Crone, S. (2012) How Democratic is the UK? The 2012 Audit, Liverpool: Democratic Audit, http://democracyuk-2012.democraticaudit.com/
Winseck, D. and Jin, D.Y. (2012) The Political Economies of Media: The Transformation of the Global Media Industries. Bloomsbury, London.
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