… Martin Holmberg, project director for Media & democracy. The pilot study has entered its fourth and final quarter. How is the project going?
It’s going great, thanks! We’re following our plan and the response has been nothing but positive, just as in the past. It's also clear that our key issue is simply becoming more and more relevant. The issue is probably an extra hot one here in West Sweden, since two western Swedish media groups, including Stampen which is one of the largest in the country, have been forced into business reconstruction proceedings.
What is the most important thing you are doing now?
Our final report has been submitted to the Västra Götaland region which is financing the pilot study. The report includes a specific proposal for how the program and work should be organized. So now we’re focusing on securing financing for the program office, the hub that will drive, organize and develop the program. Our objective is to be able to get to work at the beginning of 2017.
Of course, we are also looking ahead to November 7 when the government Media Commission presents its final report. The Commission will likely point out questions and challenges that would be perfect to incorporate into a development and innovation program such as Media & democracy.
Refresh my memory: What is the key issue for Media & democracy?
Journalism-driven media are no longer the same dominant and self-evident “glue” in a community for news, information and dialogue. How does this trend affect the media, citizens, society and democracy?
The effects are unknown and have not been investigated in the long term, and at the same time the media policy environment has become tougher, not least in several EU countries. Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are being curtailed, and this is an area where Swedish initiatives can truly make a difference. Sweden, which has the oldest freedom of the press act in the world, has a strong historic tradition of taking the lead in protecting freedom of the press and freedom of expression, which is a requirement for democracy.
What sort of practical outcome does Lindholmen Science Park want to achieve?
To establish a national development and innovation program at the intersection of media and democracy. The main priority is for media players and the research world to cooperate in order to discover valuable new knowledge about media behavior and journalism, and about citizens’ interest in and ability to participate in the public discourse which is so critical to democracy.
What does Media & democracy bring to the table that wasn't there before? There's no shortage of media research out there…
First of all, the program’s cooperation model. It fills a gap and brings together knowledge environments in a way that is not happening today. Secondly, our research projects will take place in a laboratory environment. And thirdly, the new knowledge is to be disseminated quickly and in an accessible form. A recurring feature is also that Media & democracy can play a large and decisive role through relatively small efforts, not least as a “plug in” in processes and groups that already exist, but where a neutral, unifying and persistent player such as Lindholmen Science Park is often lacking. Of course Lindholmen’s mission is to assist with the opportunities and development of other parties without demanding a profit for itself.
What sort of players are getting behind Media & democracy and want to be involved?
As I said at the beginning: The response has been extremely strong and broad. I can name some who are definitely on board: all of the media organizations that are members of the Swedish Media Publishers’ Association, Sveriges Television, and the major universities involved in media and democracy research, such as JMG at the University of Gothenburg, Karlstad University, Linnaeus University, Mid Sweden University and Södertörn University. The initiative has attracted international attention as well, as it was applauded by WAN-IFRA, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.
What subjects will your research projects study?
Of course, we’ll nail down the projects as the program goes on. But we’ve already got a handful of defined ideas that both the media players and academia want to implement. They’re extremely relevant and are promising areas for research. For example, one is about Millennials’ news universe. Another is about how automated technology can support journalism and democracy.
THE ABC’s OF MEDIA & DEMOCRACY
- The starting point is the process of change that the media industry – press, radio and TV –is undergoing. This change includes changes in consumer behavior, as well as technical advances, i.e. digitization. There are many questions to ask about how the new media landscape affects democracy.
- The pilot study is financed by the Västra Götaland region, both the Cultural Committee and the Regional Development Council
- Lindholmen Science Park offers a neutral development environment where players from the business community, academia and society can pursue research and development projects.