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Thursday, March 01, 2012

Media Ownership Revisited


I suspect that we will shortly be returning to this matter of media ownership, assuming we had departed from it in the first place, of course. 

Given the thirst for post-mature forms of media - though millions of Caribbean people bear no resemblance to the wired middle classes of North America in terms of access to ICT - we still need to discuss forms of traditional media that may be more responsive and responsible to the needs of our people, certainly while embracing new technologies and forms of communication that include more voices and audiences rather than further splintering them.

Tangentially speaking, we also need to resist the temptation to cite change in some parts of the world to justify inaction in ours. Already in the Caribbean, a new 'digital elite' spread myth as gospel: so-called social media have made traditional media obsolete, that the smartphone has made terrestrial television and the newspaper and the radio irrelevant anachronisms and that the citizen as personal curator has no further need for curated information provided by the journalist.

But back to ownership question: to generate more light than heat on the matter, I encourage those of you who are seeking to address the issue of ownership structures and business models for media, to go beyond rehashed mantras or the cynicism that spews pseudo-Harvard Business School shibboleth; to consider the media trust option that puts the primacy of journalism back in journalism ownership. Once upon a time, families were preferred to moguls as owners. Perhaps, trusts can be the alternative we seek. 

Where private capital and state ownership have corrupted editorial values and compromised independence, an ownership structure that combines and also tempers those forces while bringing more media workers to the boardroom should be pursued.

There are examples within and outside the region that encourage media trust ownership, both from the perspective of financial sustainability and independent governance, two things that have eluded both public and private media in the Caribbean, though not entirely.

To inform the discussion, follow the work that the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford has done on this. You can download the executive summary from the link and order the book but the introduction captures some of my own thoughts on the subject, principally that we should consider the media trust neither out of philistinic opposition nor unbridled optimism.