MEDIA AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT. The evolution of media corporations and the challenges for public policy

Leandros, Nikos (2014). 'MEDIA AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT. The evolution of media corporations and the challenges for public policy' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

The human development paradigm adopts a holistic approach and put people at the centre of its concerns. According to Mahbub ul Haq there are four essential components in the human development paradigm: (1) Equity in access to political and economic opportunities, (2) sustainability of all forms of capital –political, human, financial and environmental, (3) productivity which requires investments on people and an enabling economic environment, and (4) empowerment of people who must participate in the activities that shape their lives.

The operation of the markets, equal access to economic and political opportunities, the ability to participate in community activities and exercise political, economic and cultural freedoms all crucially depend on access to information and the operation of the mediatic system. Clearly then, a human development strategy must include an understanding of recent changes and a policy agenda that takes into account the fundamental transformation of media industries and the global information and communication system.

This paper attempts to analyze changes in media organizations under the impact of technological, economic, regulatory and political developments. It is pointed out that the most characteristic and far reaching changes affecting the media landscape are:

  • The rapid growth of media companies, the internationalization and differentiation of their activities leading to concentration of capital in many sectors of the industry.

  • The multiplication of media outlets that has created a rapidly changing and often chaotic information environment.

  • The phenomenal expansion of cyberspace and the new 'architecture of participation' associated with the possibilities offered by Web 2.0.

The increased ability of individuals to produce content and disseminate information. A historically new form of communication labeled by Manuel Castells 'mass self-communication'.

Our analysis shows that until the mid-1980s, almost all US and European leading media companies were specialized, national companies producing mainly for audiences and readers in their own country. Today, not only the leading media corporations but also many relatively small and medium, by international standards, companies have been transformed into highly differentiated, multi-national corporations that operate in different sections of the media industry, entertainment, telecommunications, cyberspace and information retrieval and dissemination. At the same time, digitally-based organizations like Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Apple have stepped up their efforts to compete with more traditional multi-media conglomerates in order to access offline as well as online-audiences.

The internal structure and mode of operation of media corporations has also changed. The ability to successfully leverage economies of scale, diversity of platforms, and customization of content in service of sustainable corporate expansion is determined by economies of synergy. Thus, the configuration of the internal network organization of major media organizations is critical. Using a number of case studies we will examine recent developments and show that the principles of cross-border and multi-platform operation have led to convergence of content despite different formats and the multiplication of media outlets.

Traditional barriers between 'old' and 'new' media companies are disappearing as corporations seek to diversify their portfolios. The digitization of all forms of communication means that the barriers between mobile, media, and Internet networks are decreasing relentlessly. The ability to produce content via mobile devices and upload, exchange, and redistribute this content via the web both widens access and complicates the traditional roles of sender and receiver.

The rise of integrative information, communication, and community-building Internet platforms such as blogs, wikis, or social networking sites has not only prompted the development of new concepts – Web 2.0, citizen journalism, tagging, social media, social entrepreneurship, start ups etc –, but also a novel quality of communication in contemporary societies. Web 2.0 technologies empowered consumers to produce and distribute their own content. This gives rise to unprecedented autonomy for communicative subjects to communicate at large.

Yet, this potential autonomy is shaped, controlled, and curtailed by the growing concentration and interlocking of corporate media and network operators around the world. Under these circumstances, the contemporary Internet is shaped by a conflict between the global multimedia business networks that try to commodify the Internet, governments that attempt to control developments and the 'creative audience' that tries to establish a degree of citizen control of the Internet and to assert their right of communicative freedom without corporate or government control. Cyberspace is clearly a contested terrain of crucial importance.

Taking into account these global trends and contradictory forces we discuss their importance for a human development strategy. It is argued that public policies should protect pluralism which is threatened by the expansion of media conglomerates and encourage the development of alternative distribution systems and platforms. Moreover, policies for public support of content production that meets specific domestic social, cultural and political goals should be developed recognising that the entire range of content producers can provide services that help meet those objectives.

In the emerging information and communication environment, supply side regulations become less effective. Thus, governments need to make concerted efforts to promote greater understanding of media systems, providers and use among the population. Education assumes a more critical role in helping the public make effective content consumption.

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