Communication and Governance: A Plethora of Elements and Actors

Daya Thussu discusses in her chapter “Creating a global communication infrastructure,” the shift in communication policy that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s in which deregulation dominated the policy landscape. This deregulation drastically altered and impacted both the international market-as depicted in her article through the discussion of the world’s satellite industry-and the United States’ domestic market.

Avshalom Ginosar contributes a foundational framework for understanding this new communications landscape in his article “Media Governance: A Conceptual Framework or Merely a Buzz Word?” In this article, Ginsor describes different foundations by which we can understand the many communication systems that exist and states that “once the governance type of a communication system is exposed, it is possible to point to the type of system that might exist.” In this statement  Ginsor demonstrates how governance is pluralistic in nature. It involves numerous institutions, stakeholders, policies, modes, mechanisms, and levels.  As Ginsor states “the communication and media world is much more complex, diverse, and dynamic than in the past.”

So does the politics of governance matter in communication?Absolutely, as Ginsor shows, governance is a holistic process that involves many elements and actors who influence legislation and policy, which also impact the norms of how we communicate. The outcomes of these influences ultimately dictates how we communicate.

Thussu, Daya Kishan. International communication: Continuity and change. London: Arnold, 2000.

Ginosar, Avshalom. “Media Governance: A Conceptual Framework or Merely a Buzz Word?.” Communication Theory 23.4 (2013): 356-374.

Governments and Governance

What distinguishes governance from government, and how does this help us understand how power is distributed?

There are many significant distinguishing features between government and governance. Put broadly, governance is the process through which governments operate. For domestic governance, the government is a group of elected officials who enact laws and principles and “provide and oversee maintenance of infrastructure for the economy” as well as “steer activities in abroad selection of areas, ranging from defense to healthcare, and from enterprise to education” – all completed through the process of governance. The government establishes entities through which governance is enacted. While the United States government operates through the process of governance, not ALL governance is conducted through the government. There is also global governance, historically comprised of intergovernmental agencies, but rapidly changing to involve non- governmental organization and the private sector. While true global governance does not currently exist, the closest organization would be the United Nations. The United Nations members agree, under the Charter, to certain collective actions and governance mandates. I think the Girard reading provides a good summary on the future of global governance, stating: “Successful adaptation and evolution of the United Nations and of global governance will focus on institutional change, participation and legitimacy.” – Global governance can occur but only through the expansion and acceptance of United Nations principles, as well as the agreement by governments to be subjected to the governance of the United Nations.

Domestically, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a United States agency, is the most important means of United States governance in relation to international communication. The FCC is important because of its role as a regulator of media and communications. The FCC is a good example of governance because it is a government agency that is authorized to place regulations on an industry. The FCC, and all true governance agencies, are “instruments of government policy” and I would agree with Girard in asserting that these agencies cannot ever have a “fully independent power.” For the FCC, power is distributed to the agency through the government for the purpose of enacting regulation on the communications industry. The FCC’s role in the communications world is prescribed by the government and therefore their governance abilities are limited only to the scope given by the government. Governance entities like the FCC do not operate with autonomy; rather, they operate through a set of guidelines, or a constitution, established by the government and their power comes only from the government creating it.

Seán Ó Siochrú and Bruce Girard with Amy Mahan (2002) Global
Governance: A Beginners Guide

Governance and Parenting

Government is to governance as parents are to parenting. Although initial forms of governance may have originated with the government, today governance takes many different forms and is enforced by many different actors. Much like a mother with her child, although she was the first to provide structure for her child’s life, as her child grows and develops, her child is subjected to regulation and discipline from a variety of authority figures ranging from teachers and coaches all the way to the babysitter and even peers. When it comes to media, as globalization increases, the authority figures of governance begin to shift from government to non-state actors, NGOs and even corporations.

“To express it another way, “the formal institutional” order, which Levi-Faur refers is the order set by the traditional governmental institutions whereas in “everyday life order,” national governments and their institutions are not the only agents of social order,” (Ginosar, 362).

A better understanding of governance leads to a better understanding of how power is distributed. Because the media plays a huge role in the way culture is shaped over time, those who control the media, essentially control the evolution of culture. Media holds the power to influence opinions ranging from political persuasion, to fashion preferences to cultural values. For example, American media—including movies, television shows and commercials—generally promote capitalism and democracy as cultural values.

The parent-child analogy gets a bit tricky when Ginosar goes on to explain that governance cannot be defined in just one way. Nowadays, governance can be executed through funds, laws, influence or even binary code. And, unlike a child who has parents and guardians looking after his/her best interests, the media is governed by a powerful few with the intent of wielding said media to gain even more power for themselves.

Ginosar, Avshalom. “Media Governance: A Conceptual Framework or Merely a Buzz Word?.” Communication Theory 23.4 (2013): 356-374.

Does Governance Still Matter?

Yes, it does; however, it must be noted that the rapidly changing information environment spurred by technological advancements is shifting the significance to non-state actors rather than governments themselves. The rampant growth of mobile telephone access in Africa is a great example of how non-states are acting swiftly to seize upon the opportunity to ” seed mobile systems to gain the social, economic and political benefits accrued to publics by the formation of networks”.  In fact, the race to provide network access to emerging countries is more than just a business venture but rather a “political project” as Mo Ibrahim described.

The takeaway is that non-state governance empowers and creates advantages previously unknown.  There used to be a hegemonic control over information resources by the government, but with new breakthroughs, a plurality of actors are now relevant in this discussion.  High-resolution remote sensing satellite was utilized by an NGO, not the state, to detect Iran’s nuclear program in the early 2000s.  Such access to information used to be vested in government power and was rather costly but its low cost makes it readily disposable tool for all.

The question is not whether governance still matters, but rather what kind is emerging as more relevant in today’s information society.  The evidence above paints a clear picture.

Livingston, Steven. “The CNN Effect Reconsidered (again): Problematizing ICT and Global Governance in the CNN Effect Research Agenda.” Sage, Media, War & Conflict , .


Politics of Governance Matter

– Does the politics of governance matter in communication? If so, why?

The rise of digit media, or web 2.0, often makes people think that governance is no longer a big player in communication today. However, I would argue that the politics of governance does matter in communication, regardless of how technology of communication advances. Firstly, the politics of governance will determine the basic lines for the communication field, like media and public spheres. The politics of governance usually will establish bottom line for the communication field, either by laws and regulations or unsaid rules. For example, Singapore government’s OB Marker will serve as an unsaid marker for people to follow and restrict their expressions in communication field. Secondly, the politics of governance affects not only what can be expressed but in what ways they can be expressed as well. Some governments are afraid of certain forms of expressions in particularly and their politics of governance will reflect their fears and thus restricting forms of expressions. For example, the Chinese government is particularly concerned about photos that reveal the real situation of unrest and protest since that will directly undermine the legitimacy of the government. Before the “Occupy the Central” protest started, Instagram was blocked in mainland China region in fears of leaking thousands of photos showing the huge number of protesters in the Central area of Hong Kong. Thus the politics of governance can play a critical part to restrict or even ban a certain form of expressions in communication.

Do we really control the information age?

Henry Jenkins defined the convergence culture as “An era where media will be everywhere, and we will use all kinds of media in relation to one another.”

Specifically, cultural convergence is the phenomenon of the audience becoming the user. A great example is Time Magazine’s person of the year in 2006- “You.” The cover notes, “Yes, You, You control the Information Age: Welcome to your World.” You, or rather, we were chosen in 2006 for contributing an unprecedented amount of free content on platforms such as Wikipedia, YouTube, and Facebook. Consequently creating low-cost content from which these platform companies profited. This phenomenon has revolutionized the way we ingest media; in fact, Jenkins referred to it as a “digital renaissance- a period of transition and transformation that will affect all aspects of our lives.”

I believe Jenkins was correct. This phenomenon is impacting every aspect of our lives, but I don’t believe it’s all positive, and although there are numerous negative reasons, one that is on the minds of many Americans after the Edward Snowden affair is the issue of data collection. Not only is our information used to collect profit by these platforms, it is being collected in a more extensive way that many users are aware. Although most understand that the information they willfully provide will be used (such as their name, location, birthday, etc.), many are unaware of the additional web-site usage data that is collected. Information such as how they accessed the site, the number of their IP address, how long they spent logged into site, and other usage related statistics.

Yet, some users do not find this information disturbing. The next question that should alarm is what happens to this data when the CEO or Board of Directors of a user-generated platform changes? Is it secure? For example, in the case of Facebook, there is no such thing as deactivating one’s account. What happens to data that you attempted to deactivate and erase?

In the midst of José van Dijck’s dialogue on the “Participatory Promise of Contemporary Culture and Politics” regarding the discussion of the way in which these platforms can frame what users come to believe is “relevant or newsworthy”, he notes that “many of Facebook’s back-end decisions executed by information engineers are not only invisible and unknowable to users, but their effect goes well beyond the site proper.” Although the discussion was not related to data collection- it is still an important point that offers insight into another unknown impact of how our data is being used.

Since the convergence culture only continues to grow, it is imperative that as we provide content (as I doubt few of us are willing to cut Facebook or Instagram) we need to better understand how our data is being used and how it can compromise our personal privacy and security.

Media Participation in an Information Era

Increased participation in the media has allowed for a much wider range of discussion amongst everyday individuals as well as the political elite.

This participation has also led to quicker dissemination of information. This information ranges from breaking news and current events to celebrity gossip and local traffic. Advances in technology and social media have propelled world into an information era where essentially every individual with a smart phone is capable of becoming a correspondent or contributor to a news story.

Although open participation allows for fictitious sources, unbiased collection of information from large aggregates of sources verifies the truth. At one point, news organizations and governments were the only providers of news stories and information. That position of power allowed these sources to disseminate information under whatever frame they wanted. Now, individuals around the globe are capable of contributing meaningful information on a global scale through participation in the media. The result is full spectrum of information rather than deceptive frames from biased demagogues.