Invited Speakers

Titles, Abstracts and Biographies

John Corner, Leeds University, UK

Media Ethics and ’Responsive Space’

This paper looks at aspects of what is a long-running if often secondary theme in media research and media theory – the degree to which a media user’s space for coming to their ‘own’ interpretation of a media item is enabled or closed down by the communicative strategies adopted.

In the latter case, as for instance in much advertising, campaign propaganda or certain narrative devices in drama, users can be seen to be ‘manipulated’ and as having their freedom of self-determination encroached upon and foreclosed. However, the language within which debate about this issue has been conducted has varied greatly across time, across genres and across theoretical perspectives and it remains a troublesome area in which to find common terms, categories and evaluative frames. Meanwhile, the acceptance of a culture in which strategic persuasion is a constituent of the ‘lived everyday’ has steadily grown. 

In a way which echoes some of the earlier 20th century attempts at ‘civic communication’ even projects intended to support ‘radical’ initiatives have felt it necessary to embrace at least some of the techniques of strategic publicity, thereby closing down the interpretative space which they offer in the interests of  tighter communicative efficacy.

Drawing on examples across different genres, the paper will try to identify some of the key issues involved in their aesthetic, cognitive-propositional and ethical dimensions as these work across the formation of relationships of media engagement. To what degree have social media changed the nature of the ethical question? What would good ethical practice look like in the context of the contemporary media ecology, its economic and communicative imperatives and its user-groups?

John Corner is currently Visiting Professor in the Institute for Communication Studies at the University of Leeds and an Emeritus Professor of the University of Liverpool. His latest books are Theorising Media: Power, Form and Subjectivity (2011) and Political Culture and Media Genre (with Kay Richardson and Katy Parry (2012). He is an editor of the journal Media, Culture and Society.

Rita Figueiras, Universidade Católica Portuguesa

Media and Freedom: Public interest in the neoliberal order

The great recession has been accelerating some of the changes that have been happening within the European democracies established after the Second World War. Wolfgang Streeck describes these changes as the latest development of a long-running tension between capitalism and democracy, with capitalism gaining the upper hand while appearing to be reaching a dead-end. Such environment has been accelerating the path towards what Colin Crouch coined the post-democracy era. Under this model, democratic institutions prevail, but they seem to be losing some of their foundations and are being pre-empted as the power and dynamics of democracy are moving away from democratic arenas into small circles of political and economic elites that often operate beyond democratic scrutiny as in pre-democracy eras.

Against this backdrop I explore the role of the EU austerity model in the morphing of the Portuguese media landscape by analysing it in relation to the issues concerning public interest. The term "role" must be read as a set of constraints and contingencies which frames agency of capital, of state led by the government, and of the media – even if unevenly. Portugal’s case illustrates well the conflict between capitalism and democracy as theorised by Streek and Crouch and suggests that the media as agents of public interest may no longer be adequate to function under the neoliberal order.

Rita Figueiras
, PhD in Communication Studies. Associate Professor at the Universidade Católica Portuguesa. Her work focuses on the relationship between media and power, particularly in the areas of media and opinion formation, political economy of the media, and communication of politics. Her most recent work includes Beyond the Internet: Unplugging the Protest Movement Wave, Routledge 2016 (co-edited book with Paula do Espírito-Santo), Mediatization of Politics in the Era of Social Media (in Portuguese, Alethêia, 2017), and ‘Primetime consociation: Portuguese punditry in between media independence and political patronage’. European Journal of Communication, 2017, Vol. 32(4) 312-332.

Des Freedman, Goldsmith’s College, London, UK

The State in and of Press Freedom
Depending on your perspective, the state is either the arch enemy of press freedom or a valuable source of support for the protection and circulation of a diversity of voices. On the one hand, it stands accused of direct and indirect interventions that range from imprisonment to licensing laws that stifle independent journalism. On the other hand, through subsidies and formal protections, the state has been credited with nurturing journalism in a highly volatile environment. This paper aims  to do two things: first to critique contemporary evocations of ‘press freedom’ in contexts that largely eviscerate its relation to the traditional Fourth Estate role of holding power to account; second to consider whether the neoliberal state can ever be a reliable ally in the pursuit of a free media.
Des Freedman is Professor of Media and Communications in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of The Contradictions of Media Power (2014), The Politics of Media Policy (2008) and (with James Curran and Natalie Fenton) of Misunderstanding the Internet (2016). He was a founding member of the Media Reform Coalition and Project Lead of the 2016 Inquiry into the Future of Public Service Television chaired by Lord Puttnam.

Maren Hartmann, Berlin University of Arts, Germany

Communicative Freedom

The right to communicate and communication rights are important legal and policy debates with a strong ethical emphasis. I want to ask whether ‘right’ is a strong enough a term to actually cover the idea of freedom to communicate. How does right differ from freedom? What would such a freedom involve?

The presentation is not aiming at a philosophical discussion, but rather aims at translating this somewhat abstract question into concrete examples. What kind of concepts around non-communication do we have, for example? How do they relate to the idea of freedom (i.e. digital detox vs. digital immigrants)?

Another important question is what role technology plays, the provision of infrastructure, etc. The material aspects underlying any kind of freedom also need to be included in this rather fundamental question of human rights and the quality of life. The presentation is therefore interested in defining communicative freedom as well as filling the concept with a range of examples.

Maren Hartmann is Professor for Communication and Media Sociology at the University of Arts (UdK) in Berlin. Before she joined the UdK in 2007, she worked at several universities in Germany, Belgium and particularly the UK. Visiting professorships have taken her to Denmark and Sweden. Her early work focused on cyberculture and metaphoric appropriations, while her later work focused more on quotidian media appropriation, particularly the concept of domestication. Most recently, she has focused on mobile media, mobilities and media and time. Hartmann has given numerous presentations at international conferences, organized some herself and has published numerous works on the issues mentioned above. She is the co-editor of a book series, has served as an associate editor of a European journal; she was head and deputy head of both a German Communication Studies association (DGPuK) section and an ECREA section and member of the Executive Board of ECREA. In 2016, she became a member of the Academia Europaea.

Joke Hermes, Inholland University, Netherlands

Watching post-television: freedom and stricture in RuPaul’s Drag Race

How to understand today’s double logic of disciplinary and performative governmentality? By the end of the last century the disciplinary apparatus of the social-democratic welfare state made way for neoliberal forms of government; hierarchies of taste were challenged by a populist turn in media culture; celebrity culture seems proof of the democratization of (access to) the public sphere. All three celebrate freedom: whether as entrepreneurship or the possibility to have a public presence regardless of class, gender, ethnicity, sexual identity. RuPaul, drag performer, singer and television show host is the supreme embodiment of all of these. His ongoing competition reality television show RuPaul’s Drag Race (Logo TV 2009-present and available via Netflix) will help interrogate how ‘freedom’, paradoxically, is always in need of stricture; and performance in need of discipline. No matter whether it concerns the overturning of gender politics, the appropriation of fashion or, indeed, everyday practices of watching television. The paper will reference work on cultural citizenship (Miller 1993, 1998), reality TV viewing (Hill 2007, 2015; Skeggs and Wood 2012) and affect (Ahmed 2004; Wetherell 2012) as well as revisit earlier cultural studies discussion of hegemony to evaluate how we might best empirically study contemporary media culture today.

Joke Hermes
is a Professor of Practice-based Research in Media, Culture and Citizenship at Inholland University. Her research focuses on participant design and audience research in relation to media and diversity. She is founding co-editor of the European Journal of Cultural Studies.

Annette Hill, Lund University

Roaming Audiences: rights to roam across media storytelling

Audience research faces a challenge in understanding our fluid experiences with media today. Audiences are often described as fragmented, or nomadic, moving around media in mobile contexts. Silverstone (1999) refers to nomadic audiences and asks ‘what sort of movements become possible?’ (1999: 8). Similarly, Athique (2016) researches transnational audiences, noting how audiences wander anywhere and everywhere, but in doing so become placeless. Rather than see audiences as nomadic, this research argues that people roam around storytelling within cross media content. Roaming audiences is a metaphor that captures the dynamic practices of audiences as they experience storytelling that takes place across dispersed sites of production, distribution and reception.

The empirical research uses a geo-cultural approach to audiences (Morley 2017), drawing on a qualitative study of transnational drama production and reception in Europe, America and Mexico, in particular crime drama The Bridge and cult drama Utopia. The research asks what sort of movements are possible for roaming audiences for television drama? The findings indicate similarities and differences across the two dramas, highlighting a push-pull dynamics (Hill 2016). Media industries push audiences into television drama, creating engagement through sites of narrative, characters and settings, and through channel brand, and social media (Johnson 2011). At the same time, audiences are pulled into content, shaping their engagement as they roam around storytelling as viewers, users and producers. Audiences also push back, resisting the industry connection of measurable audiences to branded places in mediascapes. Illegal drama audiences access content through get arounds for geo blocking (Lobato and Thomas 2011) or piracy sites. This illegal means of accessing, sharing and engaging with drama highlights a sense of first release media citizenship, a right to roam. There is an affective relationship where people have an emergent sense of rights to roam across geographical and commercial boundaries. The research argues for a push and pull dynamics of roaming audiences, as people’s movements are shaped through media institutions and legal structures, and as it is experienced by audiences of television drama.

Annette Hill is a Professor of Media and Communication at Lund University, Sweden, and Visiting Professor at the University of Westminster, UK. Her research focuses on audiences and popular culture, with interests in media engagement, everyday life, genres, production studies and cultures of viewing. She is the author of seven books, and many articles and book chapters in journals and edited collections, which address varieties of engagement with reality television, news and documentary, television drama, entertainment formats, live events and sports entertainment, film violence and media ethics. Her most recent book is Reality TV: Key Ideas (Routledge 2015). Other books include Paranormal Media (Routledge 2011), Restyling Factual TV (2007), Reality TV (2005), The Television Studies Reader (with Robert C Allen 2003), TV Living (with David Gauntlett 1999), and Shocking Entertainment (1997). Her next book is Media Experiences (Routledge 2018).

Viola C Milton and Winston Mano, University of South Africa and University of Westminster

Afrokology, PSBs and the Right to Communicate in Africa

Media systems in Africa are increasingly being discussed in terms of their relationship to media freedom, freedom of expression and media accountability. While some in the region are hailed for their progressive adherence to the (Western) democratic ideal of a free press, others are censured for ‘elite continuity of’ or have suffered ‘backsliding into’ autocratic practices. Freedom of expression and media freedom within media systems need rethinking in the African contexts. Taking an Afrokology approach, this paper explores whether the theoretical legacies of Euro-American media systems are still applicable for researching media systems of a continent as diverse as Africa.

Focusing on public service broadcasting in particular, the argument put forward in this paper, rests on two key questions.  First, it asks to which degree the categories of investigation that we use to understand the media systems of the African region are still embedded in the historical experience of Europe and the United States of America. Following that, the paper addresses the question ‘if not Euro-American, then what should be the shape of PSB in Africa?’  Our paper posits that the concept of Afrokology provides a useful framework for rethinking the public service ethos, professionalism and the sense of public service mission within the postcolonial context of Southern African. The paper thus concludes with a preliminary explication of the complex relationship between the liberal ideals of media freedom and freedom of expression with the regional idiosyncrasies of the Southern African public broadcasting systems in South Africa and Zimbabwe. We do this by espousing an Afrokological viewpoint  based on analysis of research involving Southern African audiences, civil society leaders and media commentary.

Winston Mano is director of the Africa Media Centre with CAMRI at the University of Westminster. He is also a Reader and Course Leader of the MA in Media and Development. Mano is the Principal Editor of the Journal of African Media Studies published by Intellect Ltd. He edited Racism, Ethnicity and the Media in Africa (2015), jointly edited China's Media and Soft Power in Africa: Promotion and Perceptions (2016), Everyday Media Culture in Africa: Audiences and Users (2017) and African Film Cultures (2017). Mano has published some of his work in peer-reviewed journals including Media, Culture and Society, Global Media and Communication. His research interests include African radio, music, media audiences, new media and democracy, China- Africa media relations, Communication Policy and development. He is currently part of a Global Media Development Initiative. Mano is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa.

Viola Candice Milton is an Associate Professor in Media Studies at the University of South Africa’s Department of Communication Science.  She is the editor-in-chief for Communication: South African Journal for Communication Theory and Research.  Viola is one of the co-leaders of the Landscapes of Cinema: Hearing our Voices, Screening our Cultures Community Project which pairs film screenings and seminars for the wider academic and student community. Her current research focuses on the negotiation of media policy in South Africa as well as issues of media, citizenship and identity.  This focus is reflected in the research project entitled "The Media Policy and Democracy Project", which is funded by Unisa's Women-in-Research grant as well as by the Open Society Foundation. Viola spearheads the project’s focus on Media Policy in the Public Interest . Her research publications and conference presentations are focussed on issues of media policy, citizenship and belonging. She most recently co-authored New Voices Over the Air: The Transformation of the South African Broadcasting Corporation in a Changing South Africa (New York: Hampton Press) with P. Eric Louw.

Jane Roscoe, University of the West of England, UK

Freedom to choose? Content producers and the price of global television

Technological advancements allow us to watch high quality content on smart phones, fast broadband connections have made streaming services a common convenience, and we now have the opportunity to sample content from around the globe. In countries with a license fee, much content is available to download with no additional payment (as in the UK). Subscription services such as Netflix are at a lost cost to the consumer. Yet, this freedom does come at a price, and is limited. I want to look here at some of the more uncomfortable issues concerning such freedoms. The freedom to choose is unavailable to those who have no access to technology. It may seem that everyone across the globe has an iPhone, but that story forgets to mention our global communities with little personal access to those luxuries. We don’t have to look far to find rural communities with poor access to broadband services, and to those who can’t afford subscription services.

For producers of content, the new world seems to offer nothing but opportunity. Yet, to have global reach, producers may be encouraged to provide content that travels (usually in English), and to give up the possibility of lucrative ‘excusive’ sales to territories in favour of block deals on a specific platform. They have little control over how their content is treated, or consumed. For broadcasters and distributors, there are now costs involved in giving up specific territory ‘windows’ – no longer can distributors get multiple sales in one country for example. There is little space to sell to local audiences the idea of a special or exclusive broadcast of content. And, both producers and broadcasters now have different stances on the importance of IP in this new context. As public service broadcasting aligns closer with commercial imperatives, and the local and global become more closely linked, it sharpens the question ‘ what price such freedom’?

Jane Roscoe is Pro Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean for Arts, Creative Industries and Education at The University of the West of England (UWE Bristol). Her research focuses on documentary, television industries, film, ethnicity and diversity. Her career has spanned higher education and industry – including roles as Director of the London Film School, Head of International Content at the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) and Head of Channels at SBS Corporation. Alongside this career, she has published more than 50 articles and books. Professor Roscoe has significant international experience, working in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, and has held roles with direct responsibility for developing global partnerships.