Media Capture in an Age of Political Polarization: Preserving Media Independence

Media Capture in an Age of Political Polarization: Preserving Media Independence

Friday, April 1, 2016
9:30 am - 6:00 pm

International Affairs Building, Room 1512

Contact: Anya Schiffrin , 212-854-7188

As the media climate continues to evolve around the world, the constraints that media faces have changed. In some countries, government repression and control exists alongside – or has been replaced by – media that is controlled by business interests that view owning media as an important part of influencing public opinion and promoting their business interests and relationships with government. This conference will explore the state of media capture today, examine whether digital technology is helping to produce independent media and consider solutions that could create alternate views, encourage objective reporting and promote more open and pluralistic societies.


9:00am to 9:30am — Registration (breakfast served)

9:30am to 9:45am — Introduction and opening remarks by Anya Schiffrin

9:30am to 10:30am

Keynote: Richard John, Media Capture: The Long View

10:30am to 10:45am — Break

10:45am to 1:00pm — Discussion on capture as a global phenomenon

Panelists will discuss their research on media capture around the world and describe its characteristics and effect. Michael Massing to moderate.

Andy Finkel

Business interests and the Turkish media

Turkey provides a rich example of  capture by business in tandem with government. Capture is not a static process, nor, importantly, has it always been successful. Historically, media owners set out to peddle influence in return for state favours a process that carries risks as well as rewards.

Jane Madlyn McElhone

On Burma

McElhone will examine the current state of the country’s media sector and the reforms that have been instituted since the beginning of the top-down political transition five years ago. She will discuss a much-debated question in Burmese media circles: will the new democratically-elected government, under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, commit to protecting and expanding the space for independent journalism and to ensuring a greater plurality of owners, voices, viewpoints and languages?

Paul Radu

The Lack of Transparency In Eastern European media

Using data gathered by a recent study of media ownership in Eastern Europe, Radu will argue that media in the region has been captured by organized crime and politicians.

Nick Frisch, Valerie Belair-Gagnon and Colin Agur

Capture in Hong Kong

Frisch will discusses the authors’ research on the subtle and overt means that mainland Chinese authorities use to exercise control Hong Kong’s media, and the implications for a free press in Hong Kong.

Manuel Alejandro Guerrero and Mireya Márquez Ramírez

The “Liberal-Captured” Media System of Mexico

Latin American media systems have been historically characterised –to varying extents— by private media conglomerates emerged under the auspice of various types of authoritarian regimes. Coinciding with democratization, those same conglomerates benefited enormously in terms of concentration from neoliberal and market deregulation reforms, which contrary to theoretical expectations, have not necessarily promoted freedom of the press and watchdog frames. We call this model a “liberal-captured” media system. Are there alternatives?

Martina Vojtěchovská

Czech Republic 

The entrance of business groups with political interests on the Czech media market has brought a new balance of power. Secondly, public service media are facing to possible changes in media legislation, which could increase its dependence on the political elites. What are the implications for the Czech media landscape?  

1:00pm to 2:00pm Lunch Keynote: Nick Papandreou, Oligarch media – a personal view from Greece

2:00pm to 3:50pm — Digital Media and Capture – is digital technology making things better or worse?

Is the weakening of media business models by digital making media outlets more vulnerable or are lower barriers to entry allowing more voices to be heard? Moderated by Ava Seave.

Emily Bell

Capture and Convergence

Our relationship with news is being changed by the convergence of platforms, devices and content. The promise of the 'open web' is fading behind the inexorable rise of increasingly closed environments such as Facebook and Apple's IOS. The mobile social web is revolutionizing production, news gathering and distribution, but it is seeing a consolidation of power in very few hands. These distribution platforms now control how people receive information and their access to sources of news. The ease of use and high levels of connectivity are enabling greater numbers of people than ever before to create and consume news media. However, they are also creating a distribution model for the free press which is potentially embedded within a commercial ecosystem which serves companies and governments alike. What implications do the new mega gatekeepers have for media independence? 

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

The rise of digital media is making news production less commercially attractive without decreasing its political and social significance, meaning news media are less profitable but still powerful. This development means that countries with a 20th century history of relatively independent private media maintaining a degree of journalistic autonomy in part through their profitability—like the United States and parts of North-Western Europe—are likely to see a 21st century resurgence of the kind of more captive, politically instrumentalized news media subsidized by proprietors, social and political groups, or governments, that are common in most of the world and that we know from the past.

Maha Atal

Media outlets today derive their revenue primarily from advertising, including new formats that merge advertising and editorial content. This model poses a particular threat to the viability of investigative business coverage; as such, this coverage ought to be funded independently if it is to survive.

Anastasia Kavada

Social media and online activism: the struggle for passwords and administration rights 

This presentation examines media capture in relation to digital media and social movements, focusing particularly on the case of the Occupy movement. Media capture is understood as a multiplex phenomenon, encompassing a variety of actors and affecting both the internal power dynamics of social movements and their capacity to effect change.

3:50pm to 4:00pm — Break

4:00pm to 6:00pm — Solutions

This session will look at possible solutions to the problem of media capture including changes to government regulation, new kinds of business models and the role of non-profits in promoting diverse points of view. Moderated by Rana Foroohar.

Julia Cagé

A New Business Model for Media

This session will briefly explore the state of media capture in a number of developed countries today, in particular with respect to business interests, and discuss the extent to which the newfound prominence of wealthy people poses a genuine problem for democracy. We will then discuss a bold solution: a new business model called the Nonprofit Media Organization (NMO), midway between a foundation and a joint stock company.

Mark Nelson

The role of activist coalitions, donor and other players in combating media capture

Anya Schiffrin

The limits to philanthropy

Schiffrin will present preliminary findings from an ongoing research project on the impact of donors on media independence.

Kamel Labidi

The need for regulation in MENA

The collapse of Tunisia’s dictator in 2011 led many business people to launch or buy media outlets in order to play an influential role in the country’s political life, without a genuine commitment to basic professional and ethical rules, and amid disturbing opposition to independent broadcasting regulation.

Guy Rolnik and Luigi Zingales

A Call to Action


By invitation only.

This event is co-sponsored by Columbia University's Global Freedom of Expression initiative.