Publication Date: December 2016
Research and Editorial Team: Joseph E. Stiglitz; Maha Rafi Atal; Rasmus Kleis Nielsen; Mireya Márquez-Ramírez; Manuel Alejandro Guerrero; Jane Madlyn McElhone; Ryan Powell; Martina Vojtěchovská; Yiling Pan; Kamel Labidi; Paul Radu; Mark Nelson; edited by Anya Schiffrin
In the Service of Power: Media Capture and the Threat to Democracy

This collection offers a unique opportunity for the understanding of the growing phenomenon of media capture, of the challenges posed, and of possible developments.

Following the coordinates suggested by the authors of this volume, media capture seems to derive from a vast range of factors, first of all the rise of digital technology and the effects of transitional processes. Most times, and predominantly in transitional countries, the phenomenon is generated by the collusion of the private sector with the government (through advertising, subsidies, or connivance between different players). Furthermore, it seems particularly “linked both to the resurgence of authoritarian governments as well as to the structural weaknesses presently afflicting media markets”.

In this context, as suggested by the study, “efforts to stop this collusion by activists, regulators, and the international community have proven to be ineffective”.

The volume is divided into 11 chapters written by different authors, each presenting various aspects of the issue through relevant case studies:

  • Toward a taxonomy of media capture - Joseph E. Stiglitz: in order to understand the ways the media can be damaged, this text presents four forms of capture. Namely: i) ownership, ii) financial incentives, iii) censorship, and iv) cognitive capture;
  • Competing forms of media capture in developing democracies - Maha Rafi Atal: as anticipated by the author, “this chapter relies on examples across the developing world and a case study on South African media to explore the challenges and implications of four interacting forms of media capture: plutocratic, state, corporate and intersecting”; 
  • Media capture in the digital age - Rasmus Kleis Nielsen: the focus here is on 3 motivations by which media ownership has historically been driven: power, public service, and profit;
  • Clientelism and media capture in Latin America - Mireya Márquez-Ramírez & Manuel Alejandro Guerrero: as underlined by the authors, “this chapter surveys the Latin American media landscape, discusses its legacy of clientelism and capture, and looks at how digital start-ups and non-profit resources could still change it all”;
  • The state, the military, and the market: Capture in the new Burmese media landscape - Jane Madlyn McElhone: this text, focused on the Burmese media landscape, “argues that the current extent of capture by the state, military, and their business cronies and partners is undermining efforts to build independent media that are resilient and sustainable, and to provide independent journalism and investigations”; 
  • Unfinished business: Tanzania’s media capture challenge - Ryan Powell: this chapter presents the Tanzanian media environment, one that “suffers from a multi-faceted form of capture that is a product of government regulation, clientelism, economic pressure, and intimidation”; 
  • The gradual takeover of the Czech media system - Martina Vojtěchovská: this text “argues that changing ownership patterns have made media more dependent on the political and business elite and concludes that legislative changes are desirable with a view to protecting media pluralism in the country”;
  • Managed liberalization: Commercial media in the People’s Republic  of China - Yiling Pan: this text “explores why commercial competition introduced almost four decades ago by the Chinese government and the more recent rise of social media and citizen journalism have not challenged the political dominance of government over the media in China”;
  • Tunisia’s media barons wage war on independent media regulation - Kamel Labidi: although the aftermath of the Arab Spring gave new life to the media landscape in Tunisia, “media owners associated with political parties have hindered effective implementation of the new rules”; as a consequence, this chapter focuses on the threat posed by these “self-serving businessmen and politicians”;
  • Exposing Eastern Europe’s shadowy media owners - Paul Radu: as suggested by the author, “this article focuses on the work of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a network of investigative journalists, and the challenges the project has faced to expose media owners and reveal their connections with crime and politics across the region”;
  • What is to be done? Options for combating the menace of media capture - Mark M. Nelson: the aim of the author here is to propose possible solutions to face the growing phenomenon of media capture, examining, at the same time, the role played by different actors (government, civil society etc.) in dealing with it.
Tags: Media capture Freedom of expression Media freedom Media ownership Media pluralism Czech Republic

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