Below some context for digital living in the West, as depicted in the Open Society Foundations’ Mapping Digital Media‘ reports.

In terms of markets and consumption, digitalization is well underway in Western Europe and the U.S. – in many countries already at a mature stage. Digital transition of broadcasting has taken place quite smoothly. Digital divide is relatively narrow when compared to many other regions. Below is a chart describing some basic factors of digital living in the US and in selected Western European countries (the UK; D for Germany, ITA for Italy, NL for the Netherlands, SWE for Sweden).

But, as the UK report states, is the idea of  “Digital Revolution” used as an excuse for further deregulation and commercialization? How much are corporate interests driving media markets, policies, and contents? How much of digital media is elitist and fragmentary? How severe is commodification of journalism? How to use digital media efficiently for inclusive, participatory, deliberative democracy?

While nation-based media systems still largely define the state of the media in the individual countries (and old differences exist even between systems even as similar as those in the Western Europe and the U.S.), many issues are shared:

 TAKEAWAY #1: Structures = Media in the Public Interest

  • There still exists a clear, demand-driven need for public media. Further revitalization of public service broadcasting brand as public service media quality brand should be supported and further explored.
  • Free-to-air, USO TV still matters: guarantee of access and of diverse contents.
  • Clear mandates needed for “legacy PSM” to develop new digital contents and services.
  • Public media can take many forms. Lessons can be learned from the U.S. where the public media system includes broadcasting as well as community media.
    • Potential of community media recognized in the EU only recently.
  • Alternative funding models for public media and especially journalism are needed.
    • Pressures for public media in Europe to transition from license fee to budget-based state funding (politically more volatile).
    • Non-profit news media in the U.S. paving the way for new solutions.
    • Still, the key to a “quality brand” and “quality content” is the security for funding; a lesson for U.S.-based non-profit media supporters.
    • Similarly, free-to-air and must-carry principles guarantee access to public media (vs. “2nd tier” access to U.S. public access media).

TAKEAWAY #2: Content = Offering and Promoting Diversity

  • Immigration, multiculturalism, and religious diversity are burning issues for each country. Europe can learn from the U.S. community and alternative media movements, so that ethnic media promotes diversity, not fragmentation.
  • In the ever-increasing competitive news landscape, politicization and polarization of news in the U.S. (and some tendencies in ITA) should be taken seriously, and contested.

TAKEAWAY #3: Participation = Civic-Based, But Supported?

  • User-generated content important, and impactful, in all the countries. Most content is shared in the very same networks.
    • Alternative news and political content is still scarce; social networks are often gateways to mainstream media; and in some Western European countries digital mobilizing and activism is scarce.
    • In these cultural contexts, digital activism seems to flourish best when it is institutional, at least to a degree. Support mechanism for such efforts should be further explored.
    • Further debate should be encouraged about the need to discuss media-related reforms and social justice questions, not only use media as a vehicle of change. Much media activism in these countries has a basic global dimension (open source, anti-copyright, globalization – Indymedia movement, and so on). How to build bridges from the West to the rest?

MY MAIN TAKEAWAY: Media Reform and Media Justice Unite – through Research

The role of media is in transition in several ways. For one, the media are in practice more fragmented, and conceptually-theoretically less an entity than ever.  Secondly, the prospects about the power of media to create a more just, transparent, and participatory world, seem ever more conflicted.  Commerce meets cause, many alternative voices get lost in the infinite multiplicity, viral gossip often overrides calls for action.  Third, a consideration for both the structures and contents together becomes particularly important in the context where the goal is not only to study, but also to advocate, build capacity, and create better opportunities for democratic, participatory media and communication. It is also the only way to connect macro-level policy questions (and stake-holders) to the meso-level challenges of media organizations and their representatives, to the micro-level realities and practices of the people formerly known as audiences.

These macro-level trends depicted above frame our micro-level practices, as well as are influenced by them. The big challenge is to find those connections, and use them wisely, in digital living and policy-making.