Dragomir at International Workshop in Beirut: Reboot Media Regulation

March 23, 2017

The Maharat Foundation and the UNDP Peace Building Program organized on 21-22 March 2017 in Beirut a workshop entitled “Comparative experiences from the world on the role of media in promoting peace and social stability: Regulations and Models”.

Experts, media executives and international organizations that have technical, practical and legal expertise in media regulation in pluralistic, democratic, yet divided societies gathered to share their experiences and best practices on media, democracy and pluralism.

Marius Dragomir, director of the Center for Media, Data and Society (CMDS), was part of the group of international experts invited to offer expertise and advice on regulation and self-regulation that will be compiled in a policy paper aimed at helping reforming media regulation in Lebanon. The Lebanese information ministry publicly announced that it would welcome this paper.

The workshop is part of the “Journalists’ Pact for Strengthening Civil Peace in Lebanon”, launched in 2013 through a UNDP “Peace Building Program” initiative, which opened the debate on the importance of adopting ethical and professional standards by the media institutions to promote a responsible media coverage that contributes to promoting civil peace and social stability.

Dragomir spoke in the second session of the workshop, "Media regulatory frameworks, how to balance between freedom and social responsibility", along with Dr. Zahera Harb, Ofcom member and university lecturer, and Saloua Ghazouani, Director of Article19’s Tunisia Office.

He started by emphasizing the critical need to reframe the debate and to reform the existing models of policies and regulation that affect journalism and media. Dragomir cited the many reasons for the current crisis in journalism, including major shifts in the power between governments, media, technology companies and social media, crucial changes in the scope and set of competencies of broadcast regulators, and the rise of social media companies who act as regulators in their own rights. He also mentioned the new challenges to independent journalism, elaborating the two-fold way the media’s role can manifest either supporting peace building and social stability or contributing to destabilization, especially in deeply divided communities.  

Regarding the interdependence between media, democracy and pluralism, Dragomir said that there are many experiences over the world related to the regulation of the media either in stable democratic countries or in pluralistic and divided societies who are building their democracy.

In some cases, the states regulate the media landscape and introduce criteria and professional standards through regulatory bodies supervising the media work with the aim to serve the national interest and to maintain stability. In other cases, the media institutions themselves play a fundamental role in drafting rules and standards and setting base for self-regulation mechanisms in the aim to serve media professionalism and social responsibility in covering news in a balanced way.

Dragomir also explained how the commercial model has become completely compromised, highlighting that the models for funding journalism do not work outside commercial operations, and the commercial model is not viable when it comes to accountability public service journalism. He emphasized that this is becoming a policy issue and should be part of this new form of debate.

Dragomir went on by explaining how the fake news trend and its wave affected the political life in 2016. He mentioned that CMDS is now gathering evidence that shows that the phenomenon is drastically broader with significantly more fake news perpetrators operating in Eastern Europe than we imagined. The response to that, however, has to be measured. He warned, nevertheless, that certain ongoing discussions in several European countries about how to punish fake news perpetrators will not have any effect. On the contrary, especially in countries with less progressive regimes, it will turn against journalism.

So, what are the pressing issues that need to be put on the agenda? Dragomir emphasized that the scope and remit of broadcast regulation have to be redefined, and these bodies must be reformed to respond better to these fresh challenges. There is also need for a solid regulatory platform that would cover the internet. It is crucial to ensure the independence of these bodies, including their diversity, transparency and increased involvement of civil society. 

It’s crucial to engage and involve activists and civil society in governance structures and they should be consulted when laws and policies are adopted. Debates that usually involve the industry and government are increasingly taking stock of the interests of the civil society.

As for the funding and the business model for journalism, Dragomir stated that contrary to what people think, independent, accountable journalism has never had a model. Large media companies may have had a business model but these were media companies favored by governments or regulators with disproportionate power in the marketplace. However, what we see today is the crisis of print media and media in general. There is a huge amount of funding in the media in the form of state advertising, state subsidies and other forms of state funding awarded to media. Nevertheless, there are no mechanisms to regulate how or why it is done.

When it comes to public service journalism, public service media is essentially a European product, and while it worked well in some countries, it was a failure in others. The solution is not necessarily to create new public service institutions but to think of a funding mechanism for independent media, including community media, new public service outlets, existing online journalism outlets that already play a public service and do accountability journalism.

Watch a brief interview with Dragomir on the issues discussed at the conference here: https://twitter.com/UNDP_Lebanon/status/844549529529729024