Internet-based services that build on automated algorithmic selection processes, for example search engines, computational advertising, and recommender systems, are booming and platform companies that provide such services are among the most valuable corporations worldwide. Algorithms on and beyond the Internet are increasingly influencing, aiding, or replacing human decision-making in many life domains. Their far-reaching, multifaceted economic and social impact, which results from the governance by algorithms, is widely acknowledged. However, suitable policy reactions, that is, the governance of algorithms, are the subject of controversy in academia, politics, industry, and civil society. This governance by and of algorithms is to be understood in the wider context of current technical and societal change, and in connection with other emerging trends. In particular, expanding algorithmizing of life domains is closely interrelated with and dependent on growing datafication and big data on the one hand, and rising automation and artificial intelligence in modern, digitized societies on the other. Consequently, the assessments and debates of these central developmental trends in digitized societies overlap extensively. Research on the governance by and of algorithms is highly interdisciplinary. Communication studies contributes to the formation of so-called “critical algorithms studies” with its wide set of sub-fields and approaches and by applying qualitative and quantitative methods. Its contributions focus both on the impact of algorithmic systems on traditional media, journalism, and the public sphere, and also cover effect analyses and risk assessments of algorithmic-selection applications in many domains of everyday life. The latter includes the whole range of public and private governance options to counter or reduce these risks or to safeguard ethical standards and human rights, including communication rights in a digital age.
Michael Latzer and Natascha Just
For most of the 20th century, telecommunications was a matter of national governance and thus of peripheral interest to the European Union. Then from the mid- to late-1980s, the EU began to develop an intensified policy package for the telecommunications sector. Telecommunications has now grown to become one of the most prominent and extensive policy areas addressed by the EU. But what accounts for such a remarkable Europeanization of telecommunications governance? In polar contrast to its origins, telecommunications has become a key focus in neoliberal economics and policy in effecting sectoral change. This development went hand in hand with arguments around propounding the benefits of economic globalization, which sustained a move to internationalize the organization of telecommunications to the European level along neoliberal lines. However, notwithstanding the remarkable growth of the EU governance framework for telecommunications, there are nuances in the analysis of the constant resistance to the wholesale Europeanization of telecommunications policy that provide evidence of a residual tension between national- and EU-level interests. This tension has been evident in policy proposals, decision-making, and implementation at key junctures for more since the late 1980s The policy has played key roles at different times, in particular, on the national level, involving governmental, regulatory, and commercial actors. Telecommunications thus provides a classic illustration of the balance that needs to be struck in the development of communications policies in the EU between supranational and intergovernmental interests. Now part of a converging electronic communications sector, this feature of telecommunications governance is as prominent today as it was in the very early days of EU telecommunications policy development in the mid- to late-1980s.
European communications policy is defined as European level coordination of national policies by institutions such as the European Union (EU), Council of Europe (CoE), European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and European Audiovisual Observatory (EAO). The focus in this article is on European Union initiatives that are, in general, directly binding on Member States. They comprise of policies governing cross-border broadcasting (television and radio), telecommunications relating to media, content distribution (networks and subsidies), public service definitions, advertising and quotas. The focus is on current policies, with historical accounts of how they came into being. It draws on primary source material and provides secondary reading suggestions under the section Further Reading. A distinction is made between hard law, which is directly binding, and soft policy coordination, which takes place between the European Union institutions and national regulatory authorities (NRAs). The policy areas under discussion are: cross-border broadcasting (television and radio), telecommunications relating to media, distribution (networks and subsidies), public service definitions, advertising and quotas. European Union initiatives are comprised of four main components: legislation (Directives, Regulations, and Decisions), soft governance (self-regulation and other forms of European level coordination), competition law and distributive policies (the MEDIA programme and Creative Europe). Directives, regulations, decisions and competition case rulings are directly binding on member states. Soft policy coordination takes place between the European institutions and national regulatory authorities (NRAs). It is used primarily to coordinate standard-setting between NRAs and establish common EU positions on international platforms. It has also been instrumental in setting benchmarking exercises and the exchange of best practice in areas where there is no EU legal basis for legislation such as media transparency, freedom, pluralism and independence.
Digital technologies are frequently said to have converged. This claim may be made with respect to the technologies themselves or to restructuring of the media industry over time. Innovations that are associated with digitalization (representing analogue signals by binary digits) often emerge in ways that cross the boundaries of earlier industries. When this occurs, technologies may be configured in new ways and the knowledge that supports the development of services and applications becomes complex. In the media industries, the convergence phenomenon has been very rapid, and empirical evidence suggests that the (de)convergence of technologies and industries also needs to be taken into account to understand change in this area. There is a very large literature that seeks to explain why convergence and (de)convergence phenomena occur. Some of this literature looks for economic and market-based explanations on the supply side of the industry, whereas other approaches explore the cultural, social, and political demand side factors that are important in shaping innovation in the digital media sector and the often unexpected pathways that it takes. Developments in digital media are crucially important because they are becoming a cornerstone of contemporary information societies. The benefits of digital media are often heralded in terms of improved productivity, opportunities to construct multiple identities through social media, new connections between close and distant others, and a new foundation for democracy and political mobilization. The risks associated with these technologies are equally of concern in part because the spread of digital media gives rise to major challenges. Policymakers are tasked with governing these technologies and issues of privacy protection, surveillance, and commercial security as well as ensuring that the skills base is appropriate to the digital media ecology need to be addressed. The complexity of the converged landscape makes it difficult to provide straightforward answers to policy problems. Policy responses also need to be compatible with the cultural, social, political, and economic environments in different countries and regions of the world. This means that these developments must be examined from a variety of disciplinary perspectives and need to be understood in their historical context so as take both continuities and discontinuities in the media industry landscape into account.
Internet freedom is a process. Internet freedom takes place through a myriad of practices, such as technology development, media production, and policy work, through which various actors, existing within historical, cultural, economic, and political contexts, continuously seek to determine its meaning. Some of these practices take place within traditional Internet governance structures, yet others take place outside of these. Crypto-discourse refers to a partially fixed instance of the process in which actors seek to construct the meaning of Internet freedom that mainly takes place outside of traditional Internet governance structures. Crypto-discourse describes a process in which specific communities of crypto-advocates (groups of cryptographers, hackers, online privacy advocates, and technology journalists) attempt to define Internet freedom through community practices such as technological development and descriptive portrayals of encryption within interconnected communities that seek to develop and define encryption software, as well as through the dissemination of these developments and portrayals within and outside of these communities. The discursive work of the cypherpunks, interrelated discourse communities, and related technology journalism is at the core of crypto-discourse. Through crypto-discourse, crypto-advocates employ encryption software as an arena of negotiation. The representation of encryption software serves as a battlefield in a larger discursive struggle to define the meaning of Internet freedom. Crypto-discourse illustrates how social practices have normative implications for Internet governance debates regarding Internet freedom and in particular expectations for state authorities to uphold online rights. The relationship between freedom and the state that these crypto-advocates articulate as a response to specific events excludes other possible positive notions of Internet freedom in which the state has an obligation to ensure the protection of online rights.
In the past 50 years, there has been a burgeoning literature on the role of journalism in promoting governance and supporting anti-corruption efforts. Much of this comes from the work of economists and political scientists, and there is a lot for journalism studies scholars to learn from. The three disciplines grapple with many of the same questions; including the effects of journalism on society and journalists’ role as watchdogs and scarecrows. Economists are the boldest about establishing causality between journalism and governance, arguing that a free and open press can curb corruption and promote accountability. However, this is not always borne out in practice as modern technological and political developments have threatened journalism’s business model, especially in regions without a historically robust free press. Media capture continues to be a growing problem in places where government and business interests are aligned and seek to instrumentalize the media. Further quantitative research and exploration of the impediments to the functioning of a free media will help our understanding of the contemporary problems facing journalists and how they can be solved in order to improve governance across the world. There is much more to be learned about the impact of journalism on governance and studies on this topic should not only cross disciplines but must also be decolonialized so that the field has more information on how the media contributes, or not, to governance in the Global South and in the different media systems outlined by Hallin and Mancini as well as the updated analysis of Efrat Nechushtai.