UNESCO Chair in Freedom of Expression, Media Development and Global Policy
tel. +46 (0)31 786 12 19
Prof. Ulla Carlsson
University of Gothenburg
UNESCO Chair on Freedom of Expression, Media Development and Global Policy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden
The character and directions of academic inquiry are ever-changing. Old subjects evolve, their influence waxes and wanes; new subjects emerge. All this as a result of many different intellectual and social processes on different levels - national, regional and international.
It is important to collect, broaden and deepen our knowledge if we are to emerge on progress in the field of media development, freedom of expression and freedom of the press from a democratic perspective in a new media landscape and media culture.
Today, the media and communication field is broad and characterized by diversity and extensive specialization. At the same time, the challenges society faces are complex and understanding them requires considerable knowledge.
Specialization that produces studies of high quality is not a problem in itself, but it is problematic unless accompanied by inquiry on a systems level. Without these latter studies, there is no knowledge of the whole to which the various parts can be related. There is a risk that a high degree of specialization may lose its fertility for lack of impulses and an inability to formulate new and relevant problems.
What, then, is needed to elaborate the real and difficult questions regarding freedom of information, freedom of the media and media development on national, regional and particularly global arenas? There is a need for increased internationalization, and regionalization, of media and communication research. Moreover, the research community has to regain its sense of context and broaden various perspectives in a holistic direction.
The overriding long-term objective of this Chair in Freedom of Expression, Media Development and Global Policy is to generate knowledge from a much more holistic perspective regarding vital issues than is the case today.
A great deal of research has been done and is being done in many places – in different academic disciplines, but also within a variety of expert committees, all around the world. But any given researcher is probably only acquainted with a small fraction of the work done or in progress. What means do we have to obtain an overall understanding that is relevant to our needs, in view of all the differences that nonetheless characterize the global system? How do we move towards an innovative and international agenda for these issues, one that cuts across ethnic, cultural, religious and political boundaries and at the same time can enhance the quality and value of media and communication research in different parts of the world?
In this perspective, the specific objectives are as follows:
1. Elaborate key issues and retooling of concepts
Digitization and globalization processes force researchers not only to focus more on transnational phenomena in general, but also to highlight social change and difference. There is a need fora stronger focus on regional inequalities and social transformation – there are many different kinds of widening gaps and divisions. The gender issue is not to be forgotten. Moreover, all these issues have to be seen in relation to governance – global and regional as well as national and local governance.
The core conceptual apparatus established 30 to 40 years ago is somewhat inadequate. A good deal of renovation is called for if we are to comprehend the changes that are taking place. Concepts are not entities unto themselves; they acquire their meaning from the contexts to which they are applied.
In essence, this Chair will generate syntheses of research on freedom of expression, media development and global policy. In publications, the conclusions drawn from research findings, statistical data, and thoughts and reflections – not least regarding old and new concepts – will be presented. These texts of high quality – that extend to the systems level – will stand the test of time.
Overviews of this kind, when spread via effective networks in the area, will provide a basis for further research as well as for decision-making and practices.
2. Stimulate learning processes and cross-cultural empirical research projects
This project implies a learning process. There is a need for more collaboration – within the media and communication field, with other disciplines, with society at large and across national borders. Fruitful national and regional dialogues are a great boon in international exchanges and vice versa.
An important aim is to support what is sometimes referred to as the ‘de-Westernization’ of the research agenda – to become much more open than we are at present to thoughts from all parts of the world and intercultural approaches. This is an absolutely necessary prerequisite for a robust development of knowledge in the field.
There is a need to develop analytical frameworks – particularly empirical research – that will guide comparative analysis of media systems. Without such efforts there is an obvious risk that certain factors will grow out of proportion.
The research must show a strong commitment to critical assessment of mainstream standpoints that reflect only particularly or partially the conditions and potentials for achieving an inclusive knowledge society.
The Chair intends to cooperate with international and regional research organizations to arrange meeting places where researchers and others, experts and representatives of the media, from different regions can discuss the issues at hand on the basis of their knowledge, or where scholars can attempt to synthesize extant relevant knowledge. And it is most important that theoretical and methodological pluralism be deliberately cultivated in this project.
3. Elaborate measures of freedom of expression and freedom of the media
The project will raise the question of how measures of freedom of expression and freedom of the media can be constructed. There is a need for a more coherent, comprehensive understanding, and the need is urgent if measures to ensure freedom of the media – and freedom of expression – are to succeed.
Today’s media and the various platforms on the Internet operate in social contexts that are quite different from those that prevailed when most of the fundamental declarations and resolutions regarding media and communication were adopted on the global arena.
Although time has passed, these documents express the principles of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, with an emphasis on pluralism and independence of the media in terms whose validity remains undiminished to this day – online as well as offline.
An objective for this Chair is to contribute to – or at least consider – a measure of relevance, based on the above-mentioned dimensions, that takes into account the opportunities the Media Development Indicators and other sets of indicators regarding safety of journalists and gender provide for further development of the measurement.
4. Elaborate a forward-looking research framework
Ultimately, at the end of the project, this Chair will present both conclusions from already mentioned objectives and a forward-looking research framework that will facilitate critical assessments of developments in the media and communication field. Especially important is to consider syntheses of already existing research that has been conducted from alternative and critical perspectives.
This Chair will hopefully play a catalyst role in mobilizing efforts to further develop research regarding freedom of expression, media development and global policy is holistic without privileging specific disciplines or theories and methodologies.
This will be done through networking, expert meetings and publications. Target beneficiaries on national, regional, international levels will be the Research community, experts, policy-makers, media professionals and students.
UNESCO Chair on Freedom of Expression,
Media Development and Global Policy
University of Gothenburg
12 December 2014