This research program was approved and funded by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada, as a three-year Standard Research Grant starting in September 2000. Robert Hackett, Professor of Communication at Simon Fraser University, is the principal investigator; the co-investigator is Bill Carroll, Professor of Sociology at the University of Victoria.
The program explores the nature and potential of emerging, politically progressive coalitions which aim to reform and democratize the mass media system. The research starts with several assumptions: that the dominant mass media in the economically advanced English-speaking liberal-democracies fall seriously short as vehicles of democratic communication; that social movements are an integral part of contemporary political life; that mass media are in turn integral to the emergence and fate of social movements; and that the 1990s have witnessed an upsurge in activism directed towards transforming the media. Such activism takes a range of forms: alternative media, media literacy, public journalism, media monitoring, policy advocacy, microradio, satirical "culture jamming," and most ambitiously, coalitions intending to democratize the structure as well as the content of the media.
Whether these forms of activism constitute an emerging social movement, and what its conditions of survival and success might be, are the broad questions posed. More specifically, we ask:
*What are the implications for a media democratization movement of current trends in the political economy and technology of communication?
*Is such a movement necessarily linked to other social, economic and political interests? Why and how?
*What resources does this movement have available to mobilize, and are the barriers to mobilization higher than for other social change movements?
*How is media democratization framed by its proponents and opponents?
*What are the compatibilities and oppositions between progressive, "free market" liberal, and social conservative conceptions of media democracy?
*What are the explicit and implicit value commitments of progressive media activism, and what tensions exist within or between them?
*What strategies are used to press for democratization?
*To what extent is progressive media activism a radical or "counter-hegemonic" project?
The research has a comparative dimension, focussing on media reform efforts in anglo-Canada and the two liberal-democracies with the greatest influence on Canada's media system, the U.S. and the U.K., with some attention to the global context. Six stages of research are envisaged:
1) analytical review of existing cases studies of media reform campaigns;
2) analysis of the programmatic statements of key media reform organizations;
3) in-depth analysis of six key organizations, urban, national and international in scope (based in San Francisco, New York, London, Amsterdam);
4) overview of other media activism in the first three of the above cities, plus Vancouver;
5) analysis of the orientations of the most likely allies and opponents of a media reform movement, mainly in Vancouver;
6) comparative analysis of news coverage of dominant media institutions, and of media reform activism. The main methodologies used are interviews, documentary research, and content analysis.
The research will potentially fill gaps in academic knowledge in both communication and sociology. It tests, applies and extends analytical approaches in social movement theory (from resource mobilization to neo-Gramscian hegemony theory) to the analysis of a new kind of movement which challenges rather than simply uses media codes. It extends communication studies beyond the critical analysis of existing media institutions, to the potential for democratic social action to transform them. The research will also interest non-academic publics: journalists, activists, community groups and policy-makers interested in improving the media's performance in relation to democratic values; as well as students and citizens interested in contemporary social movements, and the forces influencing media practices and communication policy.