The Shape of the Media: The Politics of Media Policy in the US and UK

Lead Research Organisation: Goldsmiths University of London


Media industries and flows play a vital role in private and public life around the world. Newspapers, magazines, television, radio, websites, music and film are valuable spheres of production and consumption, part of the creative infrastructure that in Britain generates some £112.5 billion worth of economic activity. But they are also central actors in daily political and social life. The ability to go to war, the capacity to extend public understanding, the renewal of particular forms of identity, the fostering of imagination and the potential for dialogue wall of these possibilities are increasingly mediated.

Yet there is relatively little public discussion about how the media should be structured, organised and regulated. We are more likely to discuss the qualities of specific television programmes or the impartiality of news stories and to reflect on the media's impact on particular forms of behavior than we are to consider the institutional forms the media take or to think about the shape of the media in all their guises. Where there is debate about policy and regulatory issues, it is usually confined to the business pages of the press or contained within the seminars and committees attended by the small number of select people who form media policy 'communities'. Many participants in and commentators on media policy place undue emphasis on questions of technology and market models based on principles of efficiency and profitability and marginable discussion of the media's imaginative and dialogical appeal. Furthermore, by largely focusing on economic issues, they also fall to confront the particular sets of ideas that underpin key decisions on the shape of the media. For example, recent media legislation consistently emphasises the value of competition and choice for audiences but fails to acknowledge the ideological commitments to marketisation that such terms express and reinforce in the context of commercial media systems.

My research seeks to redress the balance and to identify media policy as an example of purposeful public intervention into the cultural industries with important consequences for the exercise of individual choice and citizenship. Media policy is neither the domain of exclusively economic or cultural stakeholders but a complex site of negotiation between different participants with sometimes competing, sometimes overlapping political, economic and cultural interests.

My research aims to uncover the various ideological frameworks that underpin media policy debates in both Britain and the USA and to explain how these ideas shape the policy instruments that are eventually created. The research will provide both an overview of key policies in the spheres of broadcasting, film, and digital media, intellectual property, press and music and an assessment of the ideological forces that facilitate the development of se policies. It aims to question some of the taken for granted assumptions concerning contemporary media policies and developments for
example, the claims that digital switchover is an inherently desirable objective, that obscenity is a major threat to television viewers, and that broadcast audiences must be treated as both citizens and consumers - by interrogating the contrasting political frameworks influencing current British and US administrations and policy networks.

In conclusion, the research will reflect on the extent to which we can talk of 'neoliberal' or 'pluralist' media policy approaches (or a combination of the two) and will attempt to highlight the often ignored arguments and positions that help to explain why major media systems look the way they do. In so doing, the research will to better understand contemporary media policies and to intervene more productively equip a range of actors w from policy professionals to the public in media policy debates.


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