The Changing Shape of Today’s Media – Part 2

Today’s episode of the EU for You podcast is the last of a series of six podcasts, featuring unedited recordings from our November 2005 conference on Media and Politics. The conference took place in three sessions, each consisting of a keynote address, followed by a panel discussion. The recording you are about to hear wraps up the third session, The Changing Shape of Today’s Media. To hear recordings from the first session, Freedom Movements and the Press, and the second session, Transatlantic Media Wars, be sure to check out previous blog posts.

In the previous episode, you heard a keynote speech by Orville Schell, Dean, Berkeley School of Journalism; today we bring you a recording of the panel discussion that followed Schell’s remarks. Speakers included Fred Barnes from The Weekly Standard, Martin Simecka, then Editor-in-Chief of Sme, and Eugeniusz Smolar, Senior Fellow at the Centre for International Relations, Warsaw. The discussion was moderated by James Hoge, Editor-in-Chief of Foreign Affairs.

The third session of our confernece addressed the question of journalism’s future in light of media concentration, the growth of the Internet, and declining circulations of regular newspapers. In his keynote speech, Orville Schell admitted that he does not have an answer to the question how to react to these changes. He cited a conversation he had had with Peter Jennings during a dinner just before the war in Iraq, in which he inquired when the issue of whether America should go to war would be debated. Jennings looked at him, rather stunned, and said, adamantly, “It is not going to happen.“ Schell commented: “So there was the contradiction, right there, staring us in the face: of all the thousands of hours that the networks broadcast in a given week or a month, there wasn’t an hour and a half to put a debate on the air about going to war.” Later, he said, the BBC did the debate, “but it was our decision, our war, our policy issue, and nobody got to see it.”

James Hoge agreed that the concentration of power in media is a threat to democracy.  He said that the pressure to make money is more intense and coverage is “timid.” Eugeniusz Smolar said that fragmentation in today’s media market and the individualistic nature of media consumption will lead to the creation of two different markets: a truly mass media, entertainment-oriented market, and another, more “elitist” yet serving the public interest.  Good governments, he said, “require openness, transparency and public control.“  Unfortunately, he added, “the only thing we see in the serious media at the moment are financial cuts.“

Fred Barnes was less pessimistic, arguing that despite media concentration, there was still plenty of competition.  He noted that the major newspapers are giving their content away for free on the Internet.  It is a consumer driven market, and ultimately, Barnes said, “we are going to have to give the people what they want.”

Both the fingerprints in his visa application and Fox News on his hotel’s TV reminded Martin Simecka of the communist regime in his own county some years earlier.  Nevertheless, he was as optimistic as Fred Barnes, for different reasons, based on the success of his own paper, Sme, with 10% of the readership of Slovakia. His focus is not on giving people what they want, but on educating readers and preparing them for times to come.  He said he guides his paper by one principle: getting it right. He said that for his newspaper, “until the last reader, it’s OK.”

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