Digital Media Inequalities: A Review by Nusaiba Ibrahim Na’abba

By Nusaiba Ibrahim Na’abba

Digital Media Inequalities: policies against divides, distrust and discrimination, edited by Josef Trappel is the latest book released by the Nordic Information Centre for Media and Communication Research (NORDICOM) this year (2019). Comprising of 292 pages, it contains 16 distinct chapters written by different media professionals of European background. It is published in Sweden with an unstated price and can be freely accessed.

In its first chapter, Josef Trappel paints a picture of media equality and inequality right from the inception of media organizations, giving approaches to understanding the concept of inequality. Through his explanation,some inequalities in the media business have survived the transition from traditional to digital regime while others, have emerged and even become more pronounced. Dennis McQuail, the profound academician in the field of communication, takes a look at the concept of ‘equality-an ambiguous value’. While McQuail appraises several goals that have been achieved in the media industry such as net neutrality, unlimited access to media by all and creating opportunities for more voices to be heard, he also suggests a re-visitation and re-examination of our normative goals, which have warranted strongly driven global market forces and that technology is running ahead of purpose.

Inequality, social trust and the media: towards citizens’ communication and information rights is the third chapter by Hannu Niemnen. He posits that the European media have embraced the growing gap of the haves and have-nots as the ‘new normal’, even though the media is normatively ought to address the existing gaps that might occur being central to democratic process and normalizing any form of inequality. He then proposes policies areas that are pertinent to democratic rights to communication. While in the fourth chapter, Jeremy Tunstall examines ‘scale economies and international communications inequality, 1820-2020’. Here, Tunstall explores the media in terms of how it has presented extreme scale economics over the years as well as greater inequalities especially between America and Europe. Using big media industries like Apple, Netflix and Google, he presents how the American media organizations have developed over decades to have an edge over Europe which has resulted into the inequalities witnessed today.

Chapter five by Stylianos Papathanassopolous and Ralph Negrine, establishes the relationship between political communication and digital equality on one hand and populism on the other. The advent of Internet has even provided access to infinity contents, which has affect the way politics is played in Europe and America. This has also gave rise to populist political communicators who employ the social media platforms to disseminate their ideas. Much of media landscape is largely dominated by issues that revolve around celebrities, rumour and populist attacks. While in chapter six, Barbara Thomas appraises Economic inequality, the EU and news media. She presents empirical evidences about the member countries of the EU and their economic strengths and weaknesses respectively, all in relation to news production.

In its chapter seven, Peter Bajomi-Lazar, addresses ‘Inequality in the media and the Maslow pyramid of journalistic needs in Central and Eastern Europe’, he addresses carefully, the importance and significance of ethical journalism as effective tools towards enhancing self-regulation using Maslow’s pyramid of journalism. While the eighth chapter, The illusion of pluralism: Regulatory aspects of equality in the media is presented by Judith Bayer. Here, she examines the concept of pluralism as a mere illusion and that aspects equality are not reflected in media regulatory framework of the EU.

Leen d’Haenens, Willem Joris and Quint kik, find out ‘the missing link: blind spots in Europe’s local and regional news provision, in the ninth chapter. They assess media inequalities at local and regional levels and the extent of negative impact that occurs due to such act. And the tenth chapter, discusses gender equality that has been at the core of debates around media inequality, arguing the new approaches that would be used to understand current transformation in relation to digitization and globalization. The chapter is showcased by Claudia Padovani, Karin Raeymaechers and Sarah De Vuyst.

‘Invisible children: Inequalities in the provision of screen content for children’ is explained by Jaenette Steemers in the eleventh chapter. Children also have the right to access contents that will aid in their development and understanding of their environment. Steemers suggests excellently the need to have policies that would allow for children’s rights to be taken into account while brainstorming for their contents. While in chapter 12 two professionals, Elena Vartanova and Anna Gladcover unravel ‘new forms of the digital media divide’ using Russia as a case study. They explain their ideas around the people, businesses etc who have access to information and wider usage of the internet and those who lack that opportunity. They suggest that overcoming such divide must have a systematic and complex approach that would allow for more peoples participation.

Again, Stylianos Papathanasopulos, Josef Trappel including Tristan Mattelart carefully, examine Information and news inequalities in chapter thirteen. They all agree that social and digital inequalities are intertwined in the news realm. Acknowledging earlier documentations by Sean McBride and rise of dominant information agents that pave way for this imbalance, they admit the overwhelming nature of new media and Euro-american dominance of global news flow.

In the same vein, Hallvard Moe, assesses the nature of social inequality in the Nordic region in the fourteenth chapter. He hence terms his paper, ‘why free news matters for social inequality: comparing willingness to pay for news in the Nordic region’. In their study using Denmark, Finland and Norway, they found out that even though these countries have favourable frameworks, high ICT and well functioning media outlets, these options often favoured the literate and the consequence always led to inequalities.

The fifteenth chapter talks about ‘representation, participation and societal well being: addressing inequality in agency in Europe’. The researchers behind this study, explain that the capacity to use and have access to information is one of the determinants of equality and social inclusion in emerging knowledge societies. Application of these rights according to Aukse Balcytiene and Kristina Juraite varies across different European countries.

Werner A. Meier explores ‘Towards a policy for digital capitalism?’ in the last chapter. He introduces the reader to the unique world of capitalism and its newest forms that manifest in digital, surveillance and platform capitalism, which are solely associated with transnational companies, and whose activities necessitate greater inequalities particularly in terms of not being addressed by policies. Werner suggests robust policies should be made and implemented to address the dominance of the transnational companies, through analytical approaches.

Such book undoubtedly is quite timely, coming at a time when the world is literally a digital room and addressing issues around adequate representation of society becomes necessary, it dwells on aspects media regulation as a tool for ensuring media freedom and pluralism and gives a summary of existing inequalities in both the traditional and new media.

Indeed it will be a great resource for media professionals, journalists, students, academicians among many others who would find explicit information about the ever dynamic media landscape, grasping a holistic European perspective and thus will find the ideas presented very useful.

And again, in the ever evolving field of journalism and media as a whole in this digital era, where the technology is much appreciated, inevitable and paves way for a lot issues, it must be nurtured and managed with unique approaches and ideas that run through the entire book. Truly an inspirational read!

However, all issues that are addressed in the book are European in nature, forgetting that all consequences of the issues always have effects on developing countries particularly in Africa, and in countries like Brazil who have a significant contribution to the digital discourse in terms of internet consumption. So, for such approaches to be embraced in the third world countries like Nigeria, they must be analyzed and then contextualized. A reader would find some grammatical inconsistencies that do not distort the books message but should be addressed in subsequent publications.

Again, the style of NORDICOM publications is really a commendable effort. Readers would find it very easy to contact all researchers and contributors without any hitch as contacts (email addresses) are provided. It creates a room for connectivity and interactions between researchers, writers, scholars and contributors of the books with amorphous readers worldwide. Through this, ideas, critics, opinions and views would be shared and exchanged.

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