Autumn of Nations

Currently I´m in the final stages of completing a draft for a book on the role of media technology in processes of social change and enhancement of democracy. It reveals and analyzes significant events and changes in history through the lens of media development. I am trying to combine historical facts with personal stories from the bewildering events brought up in the book, from the 1960’s up until today. I have written more about the content here.


Since this blog gives the opportuinty for a simple researcher like myself to make the work I’m doing transparent and of course promote what is to come – I thought I’d share a few lines from the opening of one of the later chapters in the book; a chapter on the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe in the late 1980’s. During these major political restructuring processes, the media (mainly broadcasting radio and television but also with an important pre-internet context) played a significant role in the social processes leading up to the collapse of communist regimes. The section below opens the chapter:


As the U.S. and the Soviet Union through an interplay pushed the Cold War towards an increasingly uncertain outcome, the tension affected the whole world. From continous threats of nuclear attacks, frosty relations between not only the two superpowers, but between West and East, liberalism against communism, emerged. This symbolic and ideological warfare, not only reinforced the already existing tensions but also cemented the division of the world into two distinct opposites. What took place in the Eastern Bloc, including the closed communist nations in Europe which except for the Soviet Union and its surrounding states, were part of the Warsaw Pact, has become one of European history’s most revolutionary social changes. The fall of communism, the revolt of the people and overthrow of regimes between 1989 and 1992, has subsequently received the epithet “Autumn of Nations”. This chapter explains the mechanisms behind this change and especially the role that mass media and media technology development played in people’s desire for freedom under decades of oppression.


When discussing the current state of the media it becomes clear that contemporary media landscape is mirrored through a significant paradox. This refers to ownership structutres, power, participation and ideology.


As we tend to face an accelerating ownership concentration around major conglomerates,  including digital and social media platforms, the media use facilitates a customer and consumer culture. The paradox lies within the fact that a rapidly growing social movement environment, including media activism, participatory culture, collaborative media and media entrepreneurship, has become a vital counterpoint in intellectual debates on power surrounding media and media technology. From the point of view of democracy this development in alternative media- and political spheres is sometimes hard to comprehend. It emerges as a power-struggle and a challenging approach towards established social institutions in the postmodern world of today. The manifestations of this development are several and take different forms, one of which I have written about earlier. The key concept is participation and our view on citizenship (also elaborated on here). But I stumbled over an interesting report on social dimensions of participation which can be found and downloaded here.


In the foreword it says: ” The project explores how and why individuals get involved and stay involved in different forms of participation, to improve knowledge and understanding of people’s pathways into and through participation and of the factors that shape their participation over time”.


I just wanted to post it as a tip, something I will try to do more often since we all tend to get across so much knowledge and ideas but seldom seed to our peers. 

“Just an academic”

The different approaches in trying to grasp the tragic events in Norway have completely flooded the news and debate flows in the media this last week. I have participated with two short articles with the purpose of bringing the compassion and humanity, manifested through social media surrounding the events, to public knowledge. The recent post can be read here. The respons has been of a varied nature, including emails and comments that I shouldn’t get involved at all since I´m “just an academic”, as well as feedback of a more positive nature saying that the social media finally was recognized as an important dimension in the aftermath.

Leaving this aside, I believe that many questions remain unanswered (due to the horrific nature of the events) and they need time to be reflected upon. Nevertheless, I am convinced that it is everyones’ right to participate and contribute to an understanding of the different layers of human behaviour as well as ideological structures involved. Any type of analysis deriving from social sciences and humanities should have the purpose of achieving both understanding as well as a change, in order to progress towards a better future.

Citizenship revisited

A core element in political philosophy and social sciences has been the concept of citizenship. Contemporary society offer new approches and challenges to former definitions of what constitute a citizenship. When recently working on a conference paper on media activism and civil disobediance, I stumbled over the point of defining citizenship as a way to understand individual and collective action. In the paper I suggest (and argue for) a necessary extension of former definitions. Let me explain.

Traditional, and still valid of course, dimensions of the concept are basically three. The first one can be seen from a national aspect in which citizens’ rights are granted within a territorally defined community. A state control is exercised by authorities to uphold formal admissions of the community.

Second, a legal-political aspect of citizenhip through a egalitarian notion of duties as well as rights, where for example equality before law and freedom of speech are fundamental in their extremities. Finally a cultural dimension of the concept, favouring some sort of moral community and common culture which can be seen as a tie of membership and participation in the political society.


But as any other concept, citizenship must be put in relation to several expanding features of contemporary society. In the earlier mentioned paper, I argue for a notion that media technology and information society have extracted a need for new definitions, or at least extensions of mainly the cultural dimension of the concept. In the forthcoming paper I write:


”When becoming producer of information as well as consumer and distributor, one can argue that a new form of citizenship is created; a citizenship which to some extent involves notions of civil disobedience and media activism making individuals more prepared for instruments of state control. Identities and definitions flow through media technology and form the basis of an altered definition of citizenship”.


As can be seen, the extension use former dimensions as necessary alignments for developing and embracing the new. In relation to media technology and use, I believe that the former three presented dimensions are more top-down-oriented and socialized throughout everyday life. The latter, however, is a part of citizenship being embraced from the individual and collective action and holds a responsibility to citizens themselves to meet. From a theoretical point of view one can easily explain this through any late modernity angle as one pleases, but that is a task being made in other forums.


Digital divide and black holes

As my research and writing process for a new book on media technology and socio-political change slowly progress, I stumble over subjects worth reflecting upon. For example, a reminder of how public talk on global media often lacks a critical reflection.

Voices on how society should develop, revitalize, transform and streamlined are continously spoken. The current forums for dialogue and debate hold a number of approaches to the subject and more than ever before, citizens have the opportunity to participate, create and define public and political discourses, much due to the use of media technology.

Of course, distributed infrastructure resources are unequal in a global perspective and participation rates are derived primarily from a Western definition of democracy and freedom, in which media technology as a condition for participation is taken for granted. The expansive technological revolution that has characterized most Western societies during the last decade in the media field has given rise to a “digital divide” in relation to developing countries. The picture below display the global density of internet servers.



The continents and nations that are not included in the development that the West embraced as building blocks for society to function, have still a long way to go in terms of infrastructure and network capacity. The digital divide illustrate this distance which gradually grows as the western economies still largely dominate the global world trade and define the information society as we know it.

In the footsteps of globalization processes, this type of re-aiming of spotlights is necessary when optimistic discourses on global networks and people’s participation in it emerges. A large part of the world’s population still lives offline and without access to the type of media technology, as so often portrayed as self-evident in our everyday lives. And this is an important factor to include in the conversations and discussions about the global media world.

The media is part of the society’s building blocks and they create opportunities for communication, information, the identity and community. But the indifference and lack of knowledge sometimes being perceived in debates on ”the amazing international media system”, should be more emphasized, hence also stimulate education on these conditions.

Abstract to conference paper

Today I finished a conference paper with the title:

Social media mobilization in Arab nations during the uprising of 2011  – exploring the combination of interaction design and media- and communication studies in order to critically understand citizens’ interaction through social media platforms in relation to social change

Together with my co-writer and colleague Amanda Bergknut (M.Sc in Interaction Design) I will present the paper at Nordmedia Conference 2011 in Akureyri at Iceland in August. The abstract as follows:

During the first months of 2011 a wave of political restructuring, uprising and protests have spread over several Arab nations. The global attention of the events has been massive, much due to contemporary discussions on media- and information technology and the struggle between political leaders and citizens over stories and images of the events. Attempts to control the information flow, for example by shutting down the Internet and mobile communications, have encouraged people to use social media platforms to engage, mobilize, collaborate and carry out protests and actions that have had local as well as global impact.

A theoretical understanding of this can be asserted from horizons like late modernity individualization, media activism and civil disobedience. The latter is often conceptualized as, by definition, a form of violent neglecting of law without thoughts on consequences. This is far from a justified description and instead we can look at civil disobedience from new and more analytically productive perspectives in order to understand the recent developments in the Arab world as a foreseen chain of events in line with political and technological developments.

In this paper we explore the possibilities to theoretically enhance basic conceptions of media activism and social media as vital means for civic society and culture in the process of liberation and democratization for citizens in oppressed states. By combining interaction design (seeking to optimize the interaction between media and its user) and media- and communication studies (focusing on critical theory conceptualizing the relation between media technology and socio-political restructuring) we hope to provide new insights on the interplay between political contexts and citizens’ interaction through social media platforms in relation to social change. 

Journalism’s Evolutions – summary of PhD

When writing articles I sometimes return to my dissertation for theoretical input (and nostalgic memories of course). And since it is written in swedish I thought I´d paste the english summary below for those of you who might be interested in the subject. I have edited parts of it but hopefully kept the chain intact./M

”Journalism’s Evolutions – Narrative Strategies in Swedish Television’s Coverage of Domestic Politics 1978-2005” (published 2009)

This thesis considers political reporting on the television news in Sweden, for which information about what is taking place in society at large and in the political sphere in particular is, naturally enough, the central elements in its programming. But at the same time television news, in its capacity as a medium for audiovisual texts, offers a frame of reference that builds on recurring elements that in turn confirm the generally accepted ways of loo- king at society; certain perspectives on democracy and politics; certain no- tions of how things ought to be. News programmes offer a relatively cohe- rent picture of the world around us, and encourage certain ways of viewing or reflecting on it that leave their mark on our consciousness. They supply us with frames of reference that not only help us to define ourselves but also situate us in relation to the society depicted. Through both linguistic and visual narrative strategies, television journalism constructs an account of reality that is the basis for our understanding of reality.

The purpose of the thesis is to analyse the evolution of how domestic political news was construed in television journalism from the end of the 1970s until the present day, and to discuss this in the context of contemporary political–economic changes in society. The aim is to chart the changes to the strategies and forms of expression in television journalism texts, and to explain them in terms of the circumstances in which they were produced. In structure the thesis consists of four sections comprising a total of nine chapters.

The theoretical framework builds principally on notions of power and mediated political discourse. Here the initial discussion of the concept of power owes much to theorists such as Michel Foucault and Jürgen Habermas; it is defined a multi-dimensional phenomenon that exists on several levels within society. When it comes to the empirical material, there are primarily two dimensions to power that call for analysis: a structural level, where the descriptive power of journalism lies; and by reason of this privilege in problem formulation, a textural level where the exercise of power is pursued not only by linguistic choices but also by visual strategies. When it comes to politics on the television news, textual power is most in evidence in interview situations between journalists and politicians. Indeed, it is argued here that the journalistic interview is an expression of a power relationship


The term ‘discourse’ also serves a central function and the analysis originates in a multifunctional view of what a text is; a choice in line with Michael Halliday and Norman Fairclough. Discourse is seen as creating and constituting meaning. Simultaneously constructing and reproducing a social reality, it is thus becomes meaningful to the individual, whose actions in the light of it appear rational. Mediatized political discourses are held to be at the heart of the interplay between citizen, journalist, and politician. Ever since the arrival of the mass media on the political scene, these actors have engaged in a three-way symbiotic relationship in which each is to some extent de- pendent on the others. The relationship between them has taken a variety of forms, changing in step with the technological, political, and economic transformation of society; an elastic mixture that throughout has never lost its coherence – malleable, changeable, and yet constant.


Three distinct methodological approaches have been used. The disposition of the thesis makes use of the same platform used to analyse the empirical material – a critical discourse analysis inspi- red by Norman Fairclough. Moreover, within this broad framework there is an expressly visual analysis of television journalism’s ima- gery, much in line with James Monaco and Gillian Rose, complemented by a descriptive quantitative analysis of the content, intended to serve as the basis for the detailed quantitative analysis of individual television appearances and the disposition of news packages.

The fol- lowing questions were posed throughout the course of the enquiry:


– What characterised Swedish Television’s political coverage during the period in question?

– What linguistic and visual narrative strategies were used by television journalism to construe both specific news texts and general discourses on domestic politics, and how did this relate to the production styles of the day?

– How did journalism and politics interrelate, what was their position in terms of the general public, and how should this be understood in a power perspective on media-based communication?

– What function did television journalism’s political reporting serve in prompting the public debate on politics and democratic society?


The empirical material is made up of domestic politics reporting on Swedish Television’s daily news programmes, Aktuellt (‘Current affairs’) and Rapport (‘Report’), in three different periods. The empirical checkpoints are the autumn of 1978, then 1987, and finally 2005. The choice of these years was dictated primarily by certain general circumstances. By the end of the 1970s, Swedish Television’s new, second channel had already been launched and its news programme, Rapport, had established itself as central to its ope- rations. At the same time, the period saw a rapid acceleration in the profes- sionalisation of journalism, which meant there was a natural contemporary interest in journalistic method, form, and presentation. The next choice, 1987, seemed apposite in view of the rising competition that Swedish Television had begun to encounter. The radio monopoly had already been broken, and television now faced the same challenge. Finally, 2005 was taken as the chronological cut-off point because by this time digitisation had arrived while the competition between media channels had noticeably increased, so that the need to stand out in a crowded media landscape had never been greater. Taking the three years in question, news features on domestic politics over a period of three months – September, October, and November – have been used as the empirical source material.


The analytical model inspired by Fairclough’s critical discourse analysis also determined the internal disposition of the four main analytical chapters. Chapters 5–8 thus constitute the thesis’ empirical and analytical discussion, while the conclusions are presented in Chapter 9.

Chapter 5 details the dominant contemporary discourses selected for an in-depth discourse analysis. The immediate political context is described relative to developments in journalism. Moreover, an overarching analysis of journalistic focus and the narrative strategies that stand out in the empirical material is presented that shows that political television journalism at the end of the 1970s had assumed a didactic mode of narration which evidently was extremely ambitious in the background information and causes provided. In the news features from 1987 this journalistic focus had shifted to the politicians’ actions and policy measures. By the autumn of 2005 it is clear that journalism’s narrative strategies had switched to the consequences of these actions; to how politics influences the citizen in various ways. This shift of journalistic focus is to be seen at all stages of the analysis.


Chapter 6 presents the results of the quantitative study of the individuals who appeared in the various news features, the political parties that were predominant in terms of visibility, and the journalistic packages used to make up the broadcasts. In addition, there is a comparative analysis of the airtime accorded journalists and politicians in the news features. The results show that journalists were increasingly visible the more recent the period studied. Politicians are very much in evidence in the earlier empirical material, but thereafter the number of statement sequences dwindles. In terms of time allocation, journalists dominated throughout the entire period in ques- tion. Moreover, the analysis shows that the framework for journalistic production, in other words the distribution of edited sequences included in the news programmes, followed a standardised pattern. The production framework remained in place, but the picture – the content – was remodelled over time.


The distinguishing features of this remodelling are discussed in Chapter 7, which sheds light on the dominant linguistic narrative strategies to be found in the empirical material. Choice of words, journalistic angle, and linguistic change are discussed with regards to the chosen theoretical framework. It is clear that an increased use of specialist language is evidence of the belief on the journalists’ part that the general public already had the necessary knowledge to be able to understand the jargon of the political sphere. With less emphasis on background information, the educational aspect was toned down somewhat, to the advantage of more popularised approach to news production.


This development is also to be seen in the visual strategies discussed in Chapter 8, where imagery and editing is analysed in terms of notions of legitimacy, authority, and audiovisual interaction. It is shown, for example, that graphics fulfilled a didactic function in all three periods, but that as time went on technical developments and a more pervasive editing style reveal the steady rise of popularisation. The imagery of pre-recorded fea-tures and interviews also underwent a fundamental change. The heavier editorial hand served to strengthen journalism’s interpretive power, and politicians’ statements were cut and woven into journalism’s narrative framework. Journalism’s investigative role, which was previously flagged using hasty camera movements and zooms, appears today to be pretty much a foregone conclusion, while the editing style contributes to an increased distance between politicians and citizens.


The concluding discussion is presented in Chapter 9. The analytical results are collated and placed in a broader social context, charting the thesis’ contribution to a greater understanding of the historical development of television journalism and the techniques and strategies used to preserve its position of power and to establish the legitimacy of its operations. It would seem that the public service tradition remains strong, given the extent to which the urge to edify permeates all the empirical material, even if there is a growing tendency to chase ratings by courting popularity. The interplay between political–economic circumstances and television journalism’s mode of expression is reflected in one of the key arguments of the thesis: journalism is always a cultural expression, and remains a product of its time.

The international news system

Several times, in lectures, presentations and articles, I have commented on the global news system as a technological and ideological context creating an unbalanced view of the world. The international news net is seldom highlighted through the lens of developing nations and the specific contexts existing within. The main challenge for the media in developing countries is the fact that its expansion and growth takes place along (and in relation to) social, political and financial development. As the world of media technology often derives from Western communications and information, it is vital that media improvement is a process starting from within these countries.


At the moment, most newspapers in for example South Asia and Africa, are dependent on news agencies based in Europe to find out what is occuring in their own regions. The major news agencies are not capable of creating a balancing the inequities of the international news system. Rather is it a question of increasing the number of news sources and create conditions marked by variety and diversification. In recent years we have seen major efforts in Latin America, Asia as well as Africa to endorse the establishment of regional news agencies, and of course Al-Jazeera in Quatar has clearly made a mark in the history of news communication. This type of development must be encouraged and politically established.


But there are a number of dimesions to consider before we can see a more balanced news diversity in regions with government-controlled media and in developing countries in general.


One of these is if whether or not governments will show concerns for their own people’s right to know and have access to an impeeded flow of information. As the recent riots and uprising in several Arab nations have shown, the relation between rulers’ and citizens’ use and view of media technology are utterances facing each other through violence and protests.


A second dimension is the nations’ encouragement of more diversity and freedom of news and information. If governments can provide journalists with more autonomy and independence, then a much needed journalistic scrutiny and critical response could be possible.


Finally I believe it is a question of cooperation to develop continental and regional infrastructure for telecommunications (as well as news exchange). We have seen incentives for this in Africa for example, where the sub-Saharan region could be provided systems of telecommunications, including cable systems, Internet connections as well as improved AM and FM broadcasting.


If we are to obtain a reliable flow of information, I believe that current international news communication needs to retain basic structures but modify in terms of adoption of more technological and economic innovations in the media. But also, it needs to be balanced with regional and diverse news sources, non-Western news agencies, and find a way to correspond to global politics and international relations in which the world’s news media play a central role in helping people understand the world beyond their borders.