CfP: Special issue ‘Media Control Revisited: Challenges, Bottom-Up Resistance and Agency in the Digital Age’

Special issue of Media & Communication

Media control and media freedom are like unicorns: everybody tries to see them, but nobody succeeds. Today, in a digitalised, networked world, these unicorns are ever more elusive, as digital technologies blur the lines and create new ones about what media control is and how it can be exerted. Additionally, we should not limit control to initiated by political forces only but take also into consideration economic pressure (Pleines 2016), social pressure, and others, resulting in different ways of agenda setting, framing and priming of media content. On top of it, scholarly discussion on control by the ‘state’, ‘business’, etc. should imply a more nuanced study of different actors with their interests, roles and positions in the media sphere.

In addition to earlier existing mechanisms of direct and indirect influence on media, the internet creates new forms of control, but also new forms of freedom. Whether such phenomena will ultimately contribute to more or less control often remains yet unclear. Simultaneously, the internet provides new ways of resistance and adaptation to various forms of control and manipulation over and in media. Media practitioners, no longer limited by newsrooms and institutionalised media outlets, expand their agency through the possibility to produce and disseminate content via different channels and platforms in a hybrid and fragmented media sphere.

The rise of populism in global politics together with recent political crisis in Europe (illiberal turn in some countries of Central and Eastern Europe, Brexit) draws the attention to another dimension on the study of media control, namely how media control can be aligned with regime type. In electoral or competitive authoritarian regimes media manipulation is used more often than most other types of manipulation when regimes attempt to shift the “playing field” in their favour. Similarly, media outlets are one of the first targets of governments that display authoritarian tendencies. This makes media one of the major battlefields in political power struggles.

This thematic issue aims to put forward an alternative approach to the scholarly discussion on media control in today’s world in two ways. First, we aim to re-consider and re-assemble the notion of media control itself, as not being holistic and discrete (control vs. freedom), but by considering it from a more critical and postmodernist perspective as having various modes.

Second, this thematic issue aims to bring a “micro” perspective into understanding and theorizing media control. In comparison to the macro perspective, which mainly investigates structural and institutional ways of media control, like the ownership of media capital (Pallin, 2017; Ryabinska, 2011) or the legal regulation of media, we propose a perspective that focuses on the agency of various actors in the processes of media pressure, in addition to the practices of exerting control and resistance to it. We attempt to unpack and scrutinize practices, motivations, and resources of various ways of media manipulation. Proposed articles could address, but are not limited to, the following questions:

  • What is the agency of journalists, media practitioners, and online activists under political pressure? What are the practices of resistance and strategies of adaptation towards growing pressure?
  • What practices of media control have developed in different kinds of political regimes? Should we rather talk about different dimensions or patterns of control in a digitally saturated environment?
  • How do these practices differ in offline and online media, in institutionalised newsrooms and grassroots media initiatives?
  • What are the actual challenges of media capture in the current technological environment?

The proposed thematic issue will contribute to an exploration of the aforementioned questions through an analytical discussion of cases that represent different types of pressures faced by media practitioners and practices of resistance to them. Following the logic of fragmentation and the diversity of media control today, each article will be an evidence to explore a particular form or practice.

Editors:

Olga Dovbysh, University of Helsinki, Finland

Esther Somfalvy, University of Bremen, Germany

Timeline:

  • Submission of Abstracts: 1-15 October 2020
  • Submission of Full Papers: 15-28 February 2021
  • Publication of the Issue: August 2021

Instructions for authors, submission guidelines and open access terms can be found here.

The special issue will be produced in the context of the research project “Media control as source of political power: The role of oligarchs in electoral authoritarian regimes“, which is conducted by the Research Centre for East European Studies at the University of Bremen and receives financial support from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) – grant No. 391270526.

Internet in Russia: A Study of the Runet and Its Impact on Social Life – a new edited volume on internet and Russia published by Springer

Sergey Davydov, the editor of the volume and associate professor from Higher School of Economics, discusses the book’s content and outlines the emerging topics for Runet studies.

What is this book about? What issues does it address?

This book is about Runet, Russian segment of the internet. We analyze it from different angles: as a part of the media system, as a challenge for traditional institutions and social relations, as an environment of cultural development, etc. This research task requires an inter-disciplinary approach. Our group of authors includes 25 scholars representing 10 countries. This proves that Runet, like the Internet in general, is a subject of the worldwide research interest. What is particularly important and valuable is that works of the Russian school of media studies are presented to the international audience here, together with chapters written by the foreign researchers. It enriches the overall understanding of Runet and its implications on Western and non-Western worlds.

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Data activism and politics of data practices in Russia – Interview with Dmitry Muravyov

by Olga Dovbysh & Paula Rossi

A year ago we introduced a new section in the blog – interviews with young scholars and early career researchers to represent their views and opinions on the scholarly issues in media and communication studies.

Dmitry Muravyov is a social researcher focusing on critical data studies, data activism, STS (science and technology studies), and internet studies. He is also a member of club for internet and society enthusiasts. Muravyov is holding a BA degree in political science from Higher School of Economics (Moscow). In 2019, Dmitry presented his research at Aleksanteri conference in Helsinki.

Why do you study data activism in Russia? What has drawn your attention?

I am interested in this field of critical data studies, and was inspired by the discussions held in the blog called ‘Big data from the south’. Authors of the blog make an attempt to think about how datafication happens in non-western societies. Simply put, datafication is a process of turning the aspects of social reality into data. I seek to explore how different processes around data and datafication occur in Russia. More particularly, my interests revolve around the questions of human agency, how people react to these emerging social processes and act upon them. For instance, let’s consider a tracking app that converts the amount of sugar you eat per day into data. How would you use this app? What relationships would you build with your datafied self, which you come to know from a variety of apps like this? It is also in many domains a political question: what gets datafied and what does not? How does it reflect and shift existing power imbalances? I see this line of research inquiry as the continuation of the previous discussions on quantification in STS and many other disciplines, but at the same time, new questions emerge along with more and more digital data in our lives.

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Call for the book chapters – Mapping the Media and Communication Landscape of Central Asia

RMLN partners from American University of Central Asia are looking for submissions to their edited volume on “Mapping the Media and Communication Landscape of Central Asia: an anthology of emerging and contemporary issues” to be published by Lexington Books Series. More details below!

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Freedom of expression in Russia’s new mediasphere – a book launch event

Welcome to a book launch event hosted by Russian Media Lab: ‘Freedom of Expression in Russia’s New Mediasphere’ to celebrate the publishing of the project’s final book, published by Routledge, in December 2019. During the event we’ll held the open discussion and Q&A session with authors and editor of the book.

The event will take place on 16 December 2019, 17:00-19:00 at ThinkCorner (Yliopistonkatu 4, Helsinki). Registration is mandatory! https://elomake.helsinki.fi/lomakkeet/102253/lomake.html

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“What RT is doing is not unique” – Interview with Prof. Vera Tolz (University of Manchester) on fake news, propaganda and commemoration campaign of Russia Today

by Teemu Oivo 

Vera Tolz is Sir William Mather Professor of Russian Studies at the University of Manchester and Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. Since 2017, Tolz has been a team member of the project ‘Reframing Russia for the Global Mediasphere: From Cold War to “Information War”?’. The project studies Russia’s main state-funded international broadcaster RT’s (formerly Russia Today) strategies to connect with its audiences through its various platforms and language versions, and the impact on the audience reception.

Now visiting Helsinki for this year’s Aleksanteri Conference, Tolz follows her project colleagues Stephen HutchingsPrecious Chatterje-Doody and Rhys Crilley as our latest interviewee, talking about the latest findings from the research on RT’s content, campaigns and their audiences.

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Russian Media Lab Network officially launched now: get-together meeting at Aleksanteri Conference

More than 40 researchers, interested in media and communication studies, gathered on Thursday evening at Aleksanteri Institute’s meeting room despite dense conference program. There were not enough sitting places for everyone, so some people even stayed in the corridor.

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RML Network and media research at the Aleksanteri Conference – 23-25 October 2019, University of Helsinki

As usual, the Annual Aleksanteri Conference hosts wide and diverse media studies’ stream. The 19th Annual Aleksanteri Conference “Technology, Culture, and Society in the Eurasian space” represents many interdisciplinary research at the intersection of media and communication studies and other disciplines.

Further details on media research stream and RML Network’s events can be found below. Please consult the Conference website for the latest version of the programme. We look forward to seeing you there!

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How Russian internet consumption heats Finnish city or Critical approach to data economy and digitalization – Interview with Julia Velkova

Julia Velkova is a post-doctoral researcher at the Centre for Consumer Society Research at the University of Helsinki. Her interests are in digital culture and media. She is currently involved in several projects on the politics and histories of emergent data infrastructures, with specific focus on data centres in the Nordic countries, and the labour, discard and temporalities that underpin their work. Her work has been published in journals such as New Media & Society; Culture Machine; Big Data & Society and International Journal of Cultural Studies, among others.

What is your current research about?

I am interested in the cultures and politics of media infrastructures, and in my current project I engage with the histories, temporalities and thermal politics of data centres that are being built in the Nordic countries. The topic that I have been working most recently on is the ways in which local municipalities and energy companies draw in the platform economy into energy politics, through the use of the thermal discard produced by data centres computing user data – a practice that exists currently in Sweden and Finland.

While we are still debating the implications of algorithms and data aggregation practices, there is a peripheral, and still quite marginal interest from scholars on the relation between digital media and energy. In this context, data centres have been the main target of criticism as they put pressure on local power grids while contributing with more carbon emissions, and at the same time reply on the use of water, which in certain cases is in very fragile ecologies, as Mel Hogan (2015) has written about in the context of Utah’s NSA data centre.

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New issue for EuropeNow journal on Digitization of Memory and Politics in Eastern Europe

In memoriam our dear colleague and friend Eszter Gantner,

who made this special issue possible.

Russian Media Lab Network announces the publication of a special issue for EuropeNow (https://www.europenowjournal.org). This special feature includes research papers, presented at recent workshopPolitics of e-Heritage: Production and regulation of digital memory in Eastern Europe and Russia”, organized by the Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe, the Aleksanteri Institute – University of Helsinki and CEES at the University of Glasgow. The issue was guest edited by Eszter Ganter and Olga Dovbysh.

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